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MARGOT FONTEYN CENTENARY

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26 minutes ago, Scheherezade said:

A ballet for our gender-fluid times.

Oooo careful, not sure we are allowed to make little jokes anymore!   :)

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You are almost certainly right, Sim, and all the more reason to wave the flag for freedom of expression as opposed to the bland leading the bland.😜

Edited by Scheherezade
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Just checked ROH website today for updates as I received a reminder re various levels of Friends booking dates. At the moment I can’t find any more information. Does anyone know anything re content?

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Had a really charming reply to my email to Iain Webb, AD of Sarasota Ballet. In it I praised the Company for it's Ashton productions and revivals and asked if there was any chance they would visit the UK. He thanked me warmly for my interest and went on to say:-

 

'I openly admit that I see all of Sir Fred’s ballets through rose tinted glasses, but he meant so much to both Margaret and I, and I feel that whilst I am in a position where I can keep his name and his ballets alive that I have a duty to do all that I can to give him a ‘home’ in the United States.

 

We have just revived Sir Fred’s Varii Capricci, and although we were unfortunately unable to use the original sets and costumes, we were able to have the fifth movement’s reorchestrated score recorded, as the only available recording of Walton’s music doesn’t include the changes he made at Sir Fred’s request. This hopefully means that the ballet can be performed by other companies as well, as it is a remarkable example of his choreographic genius and wit. And of course we are weeks away from our most important production of the Season and the most important revival the Company has undertaken, Apparitions, which is in honor of Dame Margot’s 100th Birthday.'

 

What a wonderful way to celebrate Dame Margaret's centenary and really puts the RB paltry, half-hearted 'gala' to shame. it's great Sir Fred has a home in the States but how much better would it be if he was valued more in his adopted country and Company. Iain went on to say that a theatre would have to 'invite' them if they were to visit the UK and he hoped the interest in Apparitions where UK journalists were seeing it, might pave the way for an invite. I would certainly second that!

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I've been sent all the info in advance but no mention of the actual content of the evening, nor indeed the dancers performing.  So far, I've turned down the chance to buy a seat at the exhorbitant prices mentioned plus the associated social gatherings. I will have a look again when I can book on the website under "normal" conditions, but for me content is all.    

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Well “Friends’ Booking” opens tomorrow, and there is still nothing up on the website. Well this friend is feeling more like a fiend, and I’m not sure whether membership is worth it after all. I wouldn’t mind if they billed it as a gala of surprises...I seem to remember way back when the jubilee programme or queen mum or Princess Margaret or someone was marketed as such. But surely they know the what’s and who’s by now?! It’s just 3 months away!!!

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25 minutes ago, Bruce Wall said:

So wish this could be part of London's Fonteyn Gala:

 

 

 

So wish Sarasota Ballet could come over here!  Thanks Bruce for linking this enticing trailer.

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I'm a Friend + and have just ordered a ticket on spec so to speak.  I'm figuring I can always return it for resale when I know more about the programme/ dancers!

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1 hour ago, Jan McNulty said:

 

So wish Sarasota Ballet could come over here!  Thanks Bruce for linking this enticing trailer.

 

Juat waiting for the sun to rise over the gulf coast... 

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3 hours ago, Vanartus said:

Well “Friends’ Booking” opens tomorrow, and there is still nothing up on the website. Well this friend is feeling more like a fiend, and I’m not sure whether membership is worth it after all. I wouldn’t mind if they billed it as a gala of surprises...I seem to remember way back when the jubilee programme or queen mum or Princess Margaret or someone was marketed as such. But surely they know the what’s and who’s by now?! It’s just 3 months away!!!

 

"The Royal Ballet pays tribute to its Prima Ballerina Assoluta, Margot Fonteyn, to mark the centenary of her birth. The exquisite lyricism and passionate characterizations of Margot Fonteyn have influenced generations of ballet lovers, from her Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty to her Firebird. Frederick Ashton created numerous ballets for her including Ondine, Sylvia, Cinderella and Symphonic Variations. Her partnership with Rudolf Nureyev captured the world’s attention from their first Giselle through many classical works and Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, also created for them.

In this special celebratory performance, The Royal Ballet performs The Firebird alongside some of the works indelibly associated with one of ballet’s most revered and influential dancers".

 

One might assume that by referring to "some of the works indelibly associated with......" we might expect some extracts from the particular works mentioned, as well as  The Firebird in full. As the latter is being performed anyway as part of the Summer season, along with A Month in the Country and Symphony in C,  for anyone already planning to see that triple bill  I think the attraction of the tribute night will depend on the particular additional pieces chosen, along with the casting.  

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I'm thinking the Shadow Dance from Ondine definitely ought to be in there - maybe Naghdi?  (I think Ed Watson is the only remaining Palemon in the company, isn't he?  But presumably they would be dancing Firebird, as the first cast)

 

And her Birthday Offering variation - by someone who can perform it "properly", whatever that may mean :) 

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Posted (edited)

O In my book being able to dance a choreographer's work or a section of it "properly" means dancing it idiomatically showing that the dancer has complete mastery of the steps and the style rather than giving the impression that the performer has not fully mastered the way in which the choreographer has chosen to modify the classroom steps it contains or that he or she has chosen to ignore the inflections which the choreographer has chosen to give them. When dancing Ashton's choreography it means dancing it as a flow of movement until you reach the end of the choreographic phrase, which almost invariably coincides with the end of the melodic phrase; not hesitating every time you get to a challenging bit which is difficult because it calls for a quick and a tricky change of direction; clean footwork; no dancing at half speed and no interpolated freeze framing. Basically it is the antithesis of "doing the steps but forgetting to dance the ballet".

 

I don't imagine there is any chance that if Apparitions is well received at Sarasota we shall see it here any time soon. It failed to please when it was revived by ENB in the 1980's but reading between the lines that may well have been attributable to artistic differences with the cast rather than problems with the designs or the materials used as was suggested when the critics came to explain the revival's failure . The Ashton biography suggests that both Ashton and Jean Bedells who assisted him were anxious to have their names removed from the credits for the revival. I think that the Webbs have better judgement when it comes to casting Ashton's ballets than Kevin sometimes shows. Will he go for suitability or seniority when it comes to casting for the Fonteyn Gala?

Edited by FLOSS

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35 minutes ago, FLOSS said:

I think that the Webbs have better judgement when it comes to casting Ashton's ballets than Kevin sometimes shows. Will he go for suitability or seniority when it comes to casting for the Fonteyn Gala?

 

How do you know this, FLOSS. Do you go to Sarasota regularly?

I think that there are some very good Ashton dancers at a 'senior' level within the RB and the last run of Two Pigeons revealed to me some currently junior artists with the 'right' presentation - well, as far as I can judge as a non-expert.

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2 hours ago, alison said:

I'm thinking the Shadow Dance from Ondine definitely ought to be in there - maybe Naghdi?  (I think Ed Watson is the only remaining Palemon in the company, isn't he?  But presumably they would be dancing Firebird, as the first cast)

 

 

I believe Federico Bonelli danced Palemon about 10 years ago, although I did not see him in this role.

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I understand Fonteyn finally retired 40 years ago in 1979, aged 60, but  understandably had been retired from full performances for some years prior.  Consequently many of us will never have seen her live, particularly  during what might be regarded as her "peak" years. Available snippets of her dancing online are of poor recording quality and make it difficult, perhaps, properly  to appreciate why she was so  fêted so much at the time, and indeed since.  I am wondering  what particular qualities others on here (better judges than me) think she had that made her such a legend, and how her dancing would compare with that of ballerinas performing  today? 

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I never saw her live but some years ago I did see a BBC programme about a lost recording of Sleeping Beauty that had been found.  The programme showed Margot Fonteyn performing the Rose Adagio.  That one snippet convinced me that all the accolades were well deserved.

 

It is almost impossible stylistically to compare the dancers of yester year with those of today but really great artists transcend the differences in technique, they have that indefinable something that radiates out even in grainy films from years ago.  For me, Margot Fonteyn falls into that category.

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I had the tremendous fortune to be able to see her dance in Swan Lake at Coventry Hippodrome in the late sixties. I was only eight and yet the impression she had on me was one that has stayed with me. Simply put, she was Odette. I knew little about technique, I can’t remember her fouettés in Act 3. What I do recall was the gorgeous, figure before me.  I was very lucky to be in a box (as a birthday treat) and I remember vividly how expressive her eyes were and the frightened, despairing  creature she was able to convey with every part of her body. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. At the curtain calls, she  curtsied towards our box, and I still like to think to this day, that curtsy was for the little girl who hung on her every movement from the moment when she first entered the stage to the apotheosis. 

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I did have the good fortune to see Fonteyn - late in her day it must be said - in London, Vienna and New York.  For me, those embossing eyes - which stepped through as much as her feet - and her extraordinary musicality were IT.  Might I suggest, Richard, the next time you are in New York you drop into the Robbins Dance Collection in the NY Public Library in Lincoln Center (right next to the Met).  They have a HUGE collection of films on Fonteyn - including fan shot pieces from her performances - and many gala accounts - which - as far as I am aware - are not available anywhere else.  It is free; the space is very comfortable and the staff very accommodating.  

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15 hours ago, Richard LH said:

how her dancing would compare with that of ballerinas performing  today? 

 

I never saw her live although I’ve watched performances on dvd because I’ve been interested in the differences. I’m not any sort of expert but what struck me most is the obvious and this applies not only to Fonteyn but that whole era. It was a totally  different style of dancing: principally lower extensions and  noticeably faster tempi, together they change the entire feeling of a ballet - it connects to flow of movement which Floss talks about in relation to their post about Ashton above. 

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Might this be a good place to remind people of the short pieces of footage of Fonteyn dancing Aurora in 1939 (so far as I know the earliest recording of her)? They went up on YouTube in 2008:

 

https://youtu.be/YxOoSds2tBc

 

Apparently nothing else of these recordings survives but I would love to know more. Sadly the website for the Alexandra Palace Television Society is dead so does anyone know how to contact Simon Vaughan or John Bliss?

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As a Friend+, booking opened for the summer season yesterday.  Sadly, both Fonteyn insight evenings on 5th and 6th June were completely sold out at 9.00 am yesterday.  It is a shame that such unique evenings have already been snapped up by those Friends able to pay more for their membership.  This inevitably means that for many balletomanes, such evenings are not accessible - a great shame.  One hopes both evenings may be recorded - I do hope so.  As for the Celebration Evening on 8th June, very few seats left, but managed to purchase one within budget.  Again, by the time general booking opens for balletomanes not on the Opera Houses's Friends scheme, I should think this evening will be sold out.  I understand the ROH needs funds but such a shame that tickets are sold on a hierarchical system, which very often omits the afficionados.  

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3 minutes ago, fashionista said:

As a Friend+, booking opened for the summer season yesterday.  Sadly, both Fonteyn insight evenings on 5th and 6th June were completely sold out at 9.00 am yesterday.  It is a shame that such unique evenings have already been snapped up by those Friends able to pay more for their membership.

 

I doubt this is true; the release of tickets for Insight Events seems to be a dark art!  I am a Supporting Friend and more often than not find that Insights are sold out when I try to book them the moment it opens (I don't know if this is true of the Fonteyn insights as I didn't attempt to get one), but am then later able to secure tickets either on public booking day or (more often) when the house later releases additional seats they find they do not need for their own purposes.

 

Another member of this forum who is a Premium 2 Friend finds that the Insight tickets he is able to book during priority booking are often inferior to those seats released later.

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28 minutes ago, fashionista said:

Again, by the time general booking opens for balletomanes not on the Opera Houses's Friends scheme, I should think this evening will be sold out.  I understand the ROH needs funds but such a shame that tickets are sold on a hierarchical system, which very often omits the afficionados.  

 

I fear that there will be slim pickings at best for the Gala evening when general booking opens.

 

 I contacted the box office before booking opened for the highest level friends to ask whether there would be a cap on the number of tickets individuals could buy, given the recent experience of people trying to book for Forza. They replied to say that there would be limits other than “the usual ticket limit of 9 tickets per person”.

 

 I did try :(

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1 hour ago, fashionista said:

As a Friend+, booking opened for the summer season yesterday.  Sadly, both Fonteyn insight evenings on 5th and 6th June were completely sold out at 9.00 am yesterday.  It is a shame that such unique evenings have already been snapped up by those Friends able to pay more for their membership. .  

 

But, don't forget that The London Ballet Circle has An Evening for Margot Fonteyn on Monday 20th May. Details will shortly be posted online where you can also join up as a member: https://www.tlbc.org.uk/ The LBC's March Newsletter (circulated to members) will give full details as to how to book for this event.

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Posted (edited)

Friends' booking just opened and I see this event is already sold out apart from in the Amphi.  So it seems just the associated name of Fonteyn is enough to sell tickets, despite lack of confirmation as to casting, or what is to be danced, other than Firebird which can be seen already on other evenings as part of the triple bill.

(Regarding the latter, first night tickets  also now have relatively  limited availability). 

 

3 hours ago, Bruce Wall said:

Might I suggest, Richard, the next time you are in New York you drop into the Robbins Dance Collection in the NY Public Library in Lincoln Center (right next to the Met). 

 

Bruce, thanks - if  ever I were to go to NY, that sounds like a good plan!

 

3 hours ago, annamk said:

I’m not any sort of expert but what struck me most is the obvious and this applies not only to Fonteyn but that whole era. It was a totally  different style of dancing: principally lower extensions and  noticeably faster tempi, together they change the entire feeling of a ballet

 

Yes I think this is right, from what I have seen, and it seems Fonteyn's dancing was an exemplar of this style, as well as expressive acting. Unfortunately  it is not easy to appreciate  these things fully, I find, on the various snippets of poor quality recordings that are online.

I  also feel though that (more modern?) stylistic forms with greater extensions, and slower tempi and movements, can be particularly graceful,  musical, and moving, if danced with  fine control and expression.

Edited by Richard LH

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4 hours ago, Sebastian said:

Might this be a good place to remind people of the short pieces of footage of Fonteyn dancing Aurora in 1939 (so far as I know the earliest recording of her)? They went up on YouTube in 2008:

 

https://youtu.be/YxOoSds2tBc

 

Apparently nothing else of these recordings survives but I would love to know more. Sadly the website for the Alexandra Palace Television Society is dead so does anyone know how to contact Simon Vaughan or John Bliss?

 

Thank you Sebastian.  What I love about these snippets is the glorious flow of the movements with no apparent preparation.   Just gorgeous and a good illustration of what Floss often waxes lyrical about.

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Posted (edited)

a Richard LH

As far as Fonteyn's reputation as a dancer is concerned we have to remember that her reputation was based on the experience of seeing her live. An inordinate number of people in this country saw her in live performance before, during and after the war on tour and in London long before she went international and became the incarnation of ballet for so many . We all know that live performance is a very different experience from one that has been recorded and it can be very difficult to assess the effect that being in the theatre with a performer, exposed to their stage personality has on our understanding of them and their art. Most people who saw her say that she lit up the stage and that you were compelled to watch her even when she was simply standing still on stage. That personal, physical impact of being in the same theatrical space as her is something which no recording can hope to replicate you just have to accept what the people who saw her tell you about the experience. As far as recordings are concerned we have to accept that at best they only tell you half the story. I have the same problem with the limited amount of footage that is available of Pavlova dancing.However I am prepared to accept that her teachers recognised that she was different and that there was something special about her and that her  performances made her contemporaries, including her fellow dancers,believe that she was a truly great dancer in a way that other more obviously technically accomplished dancers were not. I also believe that she entranced the teenage Ashton and that he never recovered from the experience of seeing her. Many of the dancers who worked with him were aware of her influence on his choreography; there is always the Fred step and then there are the stories he told about her whenever he had the opportunity. Perhaps it is easier to accept the assessment of Pavlova by her contemporaries because there is so little evidence than it is to accept the assessment of Fonteyn by her contemporaries because there seems to be so much footage of her.

 

As has been said the  performance style, particularly in the earlier recordings, is so very different from what we are used to seeing today it can appear more than a little disconcerting to anyone who began going to the ballet in the last twenty years or so. In the early recordings the technique is lighter; steps are faster;with more time spent apparently off the ground than on it; more off balance; far less straight up and down; far more concerned with movement than held poses; little, if any, obvious preparation ;passing through steps without lingering over them  and rarely if ever reproducing steps in performance as they would be performed in class. In other words full recognition that ballet is a theatrical artform in which the classroom prepares the body for performance but does not dominate and obliterate the choreographer's individual style. Fonteyn's career began when the aesthetic of ballet was largely agreed to the  be the one which Fokine advocated in reaction to what he saw as an overemphasis on technique as an end in itself in the ballets which Petipa had created to display the prowess of a series of Italian bravura technicians who had came to St. Petersburg as guest ballerinas. For Fokine classical ballet needed to return to its French roots and concern itself with ease, elegance and harmony rather than technical tricks treating technique as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. This is why Fokine's Chopiniana,   renamed Les Sylphides by Diaghilev for marketing purposes in the West, is such a revolutionary work. It was concerned with the evocation of mood and the pure style of the French Romantic ballet. He wanted the audience to see easy elegance in performance. The audience was not to register the technical difficulties it presents to the dancers in performance. Working in that aesthetic the dancers of Fonteyn's generation did not see performance merely as an opportunity simply to display their technique or as a "display of dance".

 

Richard I don't know which recordings you have seen of Fonteyn I suspect that they are largely the Margaret Dale recordings for the BBC. Here are a few performances  that I would recommend you watch in full. They are on the  DVD  "An Evening with the Royal Ballet"(1963) which contains a recording  of Fonteyn, Nureyev and the Royal Ballet dancing Les Sylphides and a recording of "Aurora's Wedding" basically Sleeping Beauty Act 3 with Fonteyn and Blair as Aurora and Prince Florimund and Sibley and Shaw as Princess Florine and the Bluebird.Then there are the performances on  a DVD called "The Royal Ballet" from 1960 which contains Fonteyn in an abridged Firebird, Act 2 Swan Lake and an abridged Ondine. Then there is the recording of Act 2 Giselle with Nureyev and Fonteyn in glorious black and white. Finally there is the Rose Adagio filmed for Rank as part of a full length Sleeping Beauty which was abandoned because of cost. Once you have got your eye in with these recordings watching them for what they contain rathr than what they lack you are likely to see more will see more in the snippets on the internet. 

 

Performance style has changed so much since Fonteyn was dancing in her prime not simply because dancers now flaunt their extensions at every opportunity and dance more slowly to accommodate their display but because the dancers of Fonteyn's generation and the one which followed it seemed to dance with greater interpretive freedom and were not afraid to look "untidy" if the interpretation of a role required it. Somehow in the  desire to be seen to be dancing correctly something has been lost in performance. Somebody described the snippet of Seymour as the Young Girl in Two Pigeons as looking "untidy" in performing the role she created. If she did not know how Ashton wanted the character to be played I am not sure who does. The performance style of Ashton's choreography has shifted as fashions have changed. Today in performance it is much more "correct" in classroom terms and far too prim, proper and well behaved as a result. There is no room in modern performance style for what Dowell describes as the point at which in his ballets Ashton goes "completely mad". Dancers appearing in his ballets are far more straight up and down than they should be; they are far more on balance than they used to be and there is far less internal contrast in speed in performance than there used to be. The result is that Ashton's choreography has lost a great deal in contrasting light and shade in performance and has become safe, sedate and a little dull. If you compare the early recording of La Valse with the modern one you can see exactly what has been lost. All the recordings floating around on the internet have done two things. They have blunted the contrasting styles of choreographers in performance and  the knowledge that their own  performances may be recorded has encouraged most dancers to perform cautiously and more obviously in accordance with the rules of the classroom than is appropriate if stylistic differences are to be observed. The result is that performances of Ashton's ballets have been slowed down to accommodate every step being seen to be performed in perfect textbook fashion and hardly anyone one dances them idiomatically,  "dangerously" and  "off balance.

 

  Fonteyn the ballerina was the creation of Ashton, De Valois and Lambert. She was the Ashton ballerina personified and between them they created a house style which was recognisable in performance into the 1990's. It was more lyrical than it would  have been had Markova continued working with the VIc-Wells Company. Ashton had to accommodate Fonteyn's limitations, she did not have much of a jump and emphasise her gifts which included speed and extraordinary musicality. We have to  remember that Fonteyn was never a bravura technician nor was she the company's greatest classical dancer. Pamela May Sibley's teacher was the company's classicist and Shearer seems to have been more suited to Balanchine than Fonteyn was. If you watch Fonteyn's recordings expecting to see a display of technique or a display of dancing a la Russe you are going to be disappointed. She does not appear to be doing anything and that is the point. She does not appear to make any preparation, steps just seem to happen. She makes everything look normal and natural. Indeed she is reported to have said that she wanted to make the Rose adagio look as normal and natural as getting on and off a bus. For her as for Karsavina technique was a means to an end never an end in itself. Film clips of dancers speaking about her broadcast at the time of her death emphasise her physical beauty and the harmonious beauty of her movement (Sibley); her consistency in performance (Shearer)and her ability to move not only audiences but her fellow dancers who were on stage with her(May) while Dowel seems to think that it was the harmony of her body which set her apart and made her inimitable. Another dancer whose gifts seem to have got lost in the rush for easily discernible technical accomplishment " in displays of dance" is Ulanova who reportedly had a picture of Fonteyn executing a chastely beautiful classical arabesque. I recall reading somewhere that they had a connection through their teachers in that one of Fonteyn's teachers had been taught by the teacher who had trained Ulanova's mother.

 

 

Edited by FLOSS
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, FLOSS said:

Richard I don't know which recordings you have seen of Fonteyn I suspect that they are largely the Margaret Dale recordings for the BBC. Here are a few performances  that I would recommend you watch in full.

 

Thank you  FLOSS, for these suggestions (I have placed an Amazon order)  and for taking the time and trouble  to post such a full, informative and interesting response.

 

 

Edited by Richard LH
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