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Subject: "Remembering Margot Fonteyn" Archived thread - Read only
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Bruce Madmin

14-09-99, 11:36 PM (GMT)
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"Remembering Margot Fonteyn"
   We thought it would be nice to start a thread for people to be able to share some of their reminiscences and thoughts about the greatest of British ballerinas Margot Fonteyn.

It's particularly apt at the moment with the RAD conference, The Fonteyn Phenomenon, coming up on the 24-26th September. You can find more details on the conference at:


I'd love to be able to kick things off with a choice memory, but alas I never saw Fonteyn dance. But I have a quote (from 1964) and I hope people will add many, many more:

Richard Buckle: "Have you done what you set out to do in life?"
Margot Fonteyn: "I didn't set out to do anything"

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn Carly Gillies 16-09-99 1
     RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn Anneliese 16-09-99 2
  RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn Barbara Corbett 16-09-99 3
     RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn Kevin Ng 17-09-99 4
  RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn JIM 20-09-99 5
  RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn felursus 24-09-99 6

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Carly Gillies

16-09-99, 03:48 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn"
In response to message #0
   There seems to be some reticence about responding to this thread. I wonder if others, like me, find it difficult to pick one thing to say about someone who was such a hero and role model of my childhood.

The first time I saw Fonteyn dance was in '69 in 'Pelleas et Melisande' and it was also my first visit to the ROH ( although I never heard it referred to as the ROH - it was always 'Covent Garden' then ), and it still ranks as one of the top 10 most exciting evenings of my life so far. (You'll just need to take my word for it that some of the others have been fairly spectacular !)

Probably because I didn't see her till near the end of her career, memories about Fonteyn are inextricably linked with Rudolf Nureyev, and that amazing on and off-stage romance.
I saw them as Giselle and Albrecht in'70 and apart from the ballet itself being quite spectacular, I remember the wonderful curtain calls - you know the sort of thing - she's handed a bouquet of roses - hands one to him - he scoops up more roses from the stage and hands them to her, and so on. It probably is just a trick of memory but life seemed so much less cynical in those days.

I honestly don't think she has been surpassed as a dancer. Some have been technically more brilliant but Fonteyn had a fluency about her movements that made everything seem effortless, which along with her musicality and perfect proportions made her magical to watch.

A single disconnected memory is a quote from Nureyev from about '67 or '68:

" When I dance with Margot, our eyes meet, there is rapport "

A last thought. I remember being entirely unimpressed as a child by one of my aunt's going on about having seen Anna Pavlova on stage. I suspect todays young Darcey and Sylvie fans may feel the same about Fonteyn. - They can at least see her on film but it just isn't the same.

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16-09-99, 07:26 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn"
In response to message #1
   Sad to say I never saw her "in the flesh". But having heard her being interviewed, seen her on film and TV and read her autobiography, the things that I remember are that she didn't take "ballet lessons" as a child - she took DANCING lessons. That was why she called her TV series "the Magic of Dance" - she felt that it was very important. Another thing I remember was that she only once managed 32 perfect fouettes as Odile - and that was during a power cut so no-one saw. That she was invited to dance in a south american nightclub and couldn't handle the latin style at all - when her partner returned her to her seat his words were "you're a pretty girl, shame you can't dance". And finally, her pointe shoes were referred to by other dancers as "Margot's bedroom slippers" they were so soft.

She was an artist, no doubt about that, even from the dreadfully old-fashioned films and photos that I've seen.

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Barbara Corbett

16-09-99, 09:09 PM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn"
In response to message #0
   The only time I saw Margot Fonteyn dance was right at the end of her career when she danced with Nureyev during his season at the Coliseum. It was a matinee and you can imagine the ripple that went through the audience when the announcement was made that the ballerina scheduled to dance was indisposed and that Margot Fonteyn would replace her. She danced L'Apres Midi d'un Faune and Spectre de la Rose. My one abiding image of the afternoon is the reverence Nureyev showed to her - obviously she was nearly 60, so the dancing was no great shakes - but that reverence was absolutely palpable and I can see him kneeling in front of her now.

My other very embarrassing memory is of my turning down my mother's invitation to take me to see her when I was about 14, because it would be "uncool" in front of my friends. She was touring with Lynn Seymour and David Wall, so I am still kicking myself to this day!

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Kevin Ng

17-09-99, 04:50 AM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn"
In response to message #3
   The only time I saw Dame Margot Fonteyn dance was in October 1984 at a gala at Covent Garden celebrating the 80th birthday of Sir Frederick Ashton. Fonteyn did a 'piece d'occasion' which was a funny parody of the Rose Adagio. I remember that she was presented with four red roses by Ashton at the end.

The gala also consisted of the last act of "Daphne and Chloe", an excerpt from "Jazz Calendar" danced by Sibley and Wall (?), "Sylvia" pas de deux, and other excerpts from Ashton's works.

My first sight of Fonteyn was actually in Hong Kong in 1976, at a book-signing ceremony in a local book shop to publicise her autobiography. I still have this book with me today.

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20-09-99, 09:21 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn"
In response to message #0
   I saw Margot Fonteyn dancing three times, twice as Giselle, once as Ondine. Even as a teenager, I could tell there was something very special happening in her performances (and it wasn't just the "Fonteyn Surcharge" one had to pay!). Her "Shadow Scene" in Ondine haunts me to this day. I remember going round to the stage door in Floral Street for her autograph, and she is the only ballerina I know who was allowed to wait inside the stage door, where we plebs had to file past in awestruck wonder for her autograph. (It is with not a little embarrassment that I recall that one night I went round twice - once to sign my programme, and once for my autograph book!)

The last time I set eyes on her was after the Gala in her support on 30 May 1990. She was already riddled with cancer and died shortly afterwards. It was therefore the more precious that, just as she was about to be whisked away in the limousine, I tapped on the rear window. She turned round and I caught her eye. I blew her a kiss, and she blew one back.

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24-09-99, 07:11 AM (GMT)
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6. "RE: Remembering Margot Fonteyn"
In response to message #0
   Although I saw Fonteyn dance many times both pre- and post-Nureyev, I have a number of personal memories. I worked as an assistant stage manager for a season of Nureyev and Friends at the Colisseum. The programme for the first week included Les Sylphides (with Nureyev, Fonteyn, Makarova and Seymour), Dances in the Manner of Isidora Duncan (Seymour), either the Don Q pas de deux or Corsaire (I can't remember which) and Marguerite and Armand (last performances of this, by the way). During the "get in" on the Sunday, we had some problems with the stage union people and so had to cancel a planned rehearsal of Sylphides. For some reason we were unable to reach Fonteyn, who thus showed up at the theatre while the stage hands were busy setting things up. "Never mind," she said, "I'll just hold onto the proscenium and do a barre. If I'm in the way, please do tell me." She then went on to do her barre - the work slowed down appreciably! The next day, Monday, was also the first performance. Nureyev refused to rehearse after 2 pm, but Fonteyn soldiered on. We still had to rehearse Marguerite and Armand. Fonteyn told all the "boys" (the "Franz Liszts") what to do: "You're too young," she said to one, "so I'm going to ignore you." "You're just right, so I'm going to flirt outrageously with you," she said to another, etc. The "boys" were entranced.

And then every night I had a job of holding a torch so that she didn't trip over the cables backstage when she came off (after the scene in which Armand rips the necklace from her and throws the money at her) and again when she went back onstage to "die". Every night she took my arm and said: "Thank you."

Fonteyn was always very concerned for all the other performers. She wanted to make sure that all the soloists received flowers after every performance, so I was told to take flowers from her dressing room in the event someone else hadn't got any. She was also always there to cheer the others on. When Seymour held a fabulous balance, she jumped up and down and clapped her hands like a schoolgirl.

During that week, someone sent her the most amazing bouquet I've ever seen: 4 dozen triple-headed,long-stemmed roses (they looked like miniature tridents). This creation was enormous and VERY heavy. It was held together mainly by the cellophane wrapping. Fonteyn didn't like cellophane wrapping on her presentation bouquets, and one of my jobs was, by the light of two small torches, to remove the wrapping and figure out some way of making her bouquets stay together long enought to be presented onstage! This particular bouquet was extremely challenging - especially as everyone of those roses had to be dethorned as well! I have a photo of my husband, Alec, who had been roped in to present the flowers, actually placing the flowers on the floor in front of Fonteyn (it was too heavy for her to hold easily and gracefully), and I have pot-pourri made from the dozen roses she gave me afterward. Worth every thorn prick! Until that season I had never been a particular "fan" of Fonteyn; after that I would have walked through fire for her.

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