When I was ten years old, all I wanted to be was a ballerina like my grandmother. I went to ballet class and my parents were considering sending me The Royal Ballet in London but it was too expensive and I wasn’t able to get a scholarship. So instead I lost myself in the world of Margot Fonteyn. To me Fonteyn was ethereal and represented an other-worldly creature that I couldn’t make sense of but was drawn like a magnet towards. Somehow in both the strength and fragility of her dancing and her inordinate grace perhaps I could sense a troubled and complex soul. Like a wild bird she could not be tamed, she was appointed as Prima Ballerina and her performances were famed.
Her most successful partnership came when she danced with Rudolph Nureyev she was 42 and he was 24 and their Fonteyn, she began her greatest artistic partnership at a time when many thought she was about to retire. Their first performance of Giselle was a great success; during the curtain calls Nureyev dropped to his knees and kissed Fonteyn’s hand. They created an on-and-offstage partnership that lasted until her retirement in 1979 at age 61, and were lifelong friends. Fonteyn and Nureyev became known for inspiring repeated frenzied curtain calls and bouquet tosses. Their partnership was incredibly loyal, he once said about her:
“At the end of ‘Lac des Cygnes’ when she left the stage in her great white tutu I would have followed her to the end of the world.” I hope there will be another Fonteyn and Nureyev in my lifetime.
What also intrigues me now as an adult is her political involvement in Panama and her extraordinary conspiratorial role in her husband’s Cuban-backed military coup aimed at overthrowing the government of Panama. She famously spent a night detained in prison for questioning.
“She knew that her husband was gun-running, she knew that he was accompanied by rebels and at one point she used her yacht to decoy government boats and aircraft away from the direction her husband was taking. I do not regard her conduct as fitting in any British subject, let alone one who has been highly honoured by Her Majesty the Queen.”
Early the next morning Dame Margot was put on a plane to New York. There she met up with two friends, Judy Tatham and Alistair Mcleod, who had helped to organise the coup and buy green jerseys for the military expedition that included 125 Cuban soldiers.
I have to admit I am compelled by her extraordinary life to love her more for her rebellious spirit and bravery in a dangerous political context that she found herself embroiled in.
I love her in the Balcony Scene from Romeo & Juliet for the sheer emotional intensity she dances with. In Giselle Act II she dances the Pas de Deux with complete grace and softness it’s like her arms are liquid flowing and floating so softly whilst her feet and legs dance with such strength and precision.
She is without doubt my prima-ballerina.