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MARGOT FONTEYN CENTENARY

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My memories of Margot Fonteyn are centred around what we are now used to calling her musicality - the way she seemed to step into the music, inhabit it. and make it her own. I have often wondered how much of that she gained from Constant Lambert. I was very young and I suppose pretty impressionable - but I was not alone. When in later years I talked to men and women who, more ofter than I had seen her dance, tears would come into their eyes as they remembered. We are a diminishing band but those of us who saw her on stage do not forget. Like Gigli's farewell performance at the Royal Albert Hall, Vivian Leigh playing the 2 Cleopatras with Olivier at the St James Theatre, even Donald Wolfit hamming it up as Lear, these early memories are special and I have gained many others over the years. But none are so poignant as my memories of Margot Fonteyn!         

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On 05/03/2019 at 12:23, Richard LH said:

 

"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".

 

As far as I'm aware, and according to Meredith Daneman's biography, Ashton's Cinderella was created for Moira Shearer. Admittedly, (if I remember correctly) Fonteyn was to be the lead role but she was seriously ill. Of course, Fonteyn came to be strongly associated with the role but I'd have thought the ROH would get such details correct?

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2 hours ago, _emeralds said:

 Fonteyn was to be the lead role but she was seriously ill.

 

Injured, not ill - she tore a ligament during the first performance of Ashton's Don Juan, about a month before Cinderella opened.

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3 hours ago, _emeralds said:

As far as I'm aware, and according to Meredith Daneman's biography, Ashton's Cinderella was created for Moira Shearer. Admittedly, (if I remember correctly) Fonteyn was to be the lead role but she was seriously ill. Of course, Fonteyn came to be strongly associated with the role but I'd have thought the ROH would get such details correct?

 

That would seem to be a big ask these days, _emeralds

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I don’t think it’s factually inaccurate to say that Cinderella was created for Fonteyn. Just because she was injured during the creative process for the ballet doesn’t mean he hadn’t intended it to be for her and starring her; she was, after all, his muse.

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Posted (edited)

Well, I disagree, I think it's more factually accurate to say Cinderella became 'strongly associated' with Fonteyn.

 

Personally, I think otherwise it's doing Moira Shearer a disservice. Shearer wasn't simply an understudy, she worked with Ashton in rehearsal and created the role with him. I don't dispute Fonteyn was Ashton's ultimate muse, and he must have missed her tremendously in rehearsal.

 

According to Daneman's biography, Fonteyn and Shearer were originally down to alternate performances, though the premiere was to be Fonteyn's. This apparently was unprecedented, and Fonteyn was surprised to not have been given every performance.

 

Anyway, I guess I am splitting hairs :)

 

Back to the discussion which I have been reading with interest.

 

I would have loved to see some rarer Ashton/Fonteyn revived for the centenary. I can't help but feel it's a great missed opportunity.

Edited by _emeralds
clearer wording
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Posted (edited)

eSometimes biographers disagree about why events occurred and their significance. This is perhaps inevitable because not only will each writer's focus be on the individual whose biography they are writing but they are unlikely to be looking at exactly the same source material, either because they deem it irrelevant to their researches or they have not been granted access to it. Having said that I think that  in general if I have to choose between two or more accounts of Ashton's choreography; his reasons for creating a ballet in a specific style on a particular subject or theme ; his choice of dancers and who was in the studio with him as he devised his choreography I am likely to prefer Julie Kavanagh's account of those matters over that of anyone else. If only because I think that Kavanagh is more likely to be right about such matters as her primary focus is on Ashton and his ballets rather than on one of the interpretative artists involved in their creation. I should have thought that Kavanagh had far more to lose in reputational terms than Daneman from being found to be inaccurate or partial in her account of the creation of a particular ballet.as it was Ashton's reputation as a choreographer which led to her major in depth biography being written  in the first place.

 

When we consider the conflicting accounts of the creation of Cinderella it helps if we remember that Kavanagh was writing an account of Ashton's life and Daneman was not.According to Kavanagh Ashton intended the role of Cinderella to be shared by Fonteyn and Shearer because it was not practical to expect a dancer in a new three act ballet to perform the lead role on consecutive nights. As we know Fonteyn became injured and it was Shearer rather than Fonteyn who danced at the premiere. Kavanagh says that Fonteyn only found out that she was to share the lead role with Shearer from the press. She reports Fonteyn saying that the news 

" …. hit me like a slap in the face". I had always understood that a good part of Cinderella's choreography was created on Shearer rather than Fonteyn and that it explains the dance vocabulary he used and why the choreography draws attention to Cinderella's feet as much as it does. My understanding is that it was not until Birthday Offering that Ashton decided to create choreography which drew attention to Fonteyn's feet. I am sure that I read somewhere that Ashton had described the creative process as one in which  Shearer had "dragged" the choreography out of him. Shearer danced the role in the first season while Fonteyn did so in the following year.Those who saw both dancers in the role say that it was Fonteyn who made Cinderella a character by the pathos and innocence she brought to her interpretation of the role. "Artistry" is an elusive concept which is sometimes employed to excuse technical weaknesses but on other occasions it is simply used to explain why one performer is  judged to have achieved greater effect in a role than a talented colleague has done. The early history of Ashton's version of the ballet seems to  provide two examples of artistry and expressiveness being found to be more effective than undoubted technical prowess. The first was in his choice of the dancer to play the Jester where the young and inexperienced Alexander Grant,  later described by at least one eminent Russian critic as a "great actor- dancer" was chosen in preference to Brian Shaw who  was for many years the company's outstanding Bluebird and much stronger technically. The second occasion is when Fonteyn finally came to dance  the role and was judged to have brought something extra to her portrayal of Cinderella.

 

 There are a couple of film documentaries floating about on the internet which are of interest to those who want to know more about Fonteyn and her influence on the company and its development. The Patricia Foy documentary has some interesting footage including the finale of Façade with a young Fonteyn as the Debutante and Ashton as the "Dago",which I think must come from the Rambert archives. It gives you some idea of what Ashton was like as a dancer and why dancers said that if he demonstrated something it was all but impossible to replicate the movement he had demonstrated. It also includes de Valois, Ashton, Helpmann and Nureyev talking about her  as an artist. I think that the unidentified American voice on the film must be that of Robert Gottlieb as his name appears on the credits but he does not appear as a "talking head". The Tony Palmer documentary is also of interest because although it uses much of the footage used in Foy's film it includes both Parkinson and Sibley describing the effect that they felt Fonteyn's continued presence in the company had on the careers of the younger dancers within its ranks.

Edited by FLOSS
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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, FLOSS said:

 

 

 

4 hours ago, FLOSS said:

The first was in his choice of the dancer to play the Jester where the young and inexperienced Alexander Grant,  later described by at least one eminent Russian critic as a "great actor- dancer" was chosen in preference to Brian Shaw who  was for many years the company's outstanding Bluebird and much stronger technically.

 

 

... though it's worth remembering that if Grant was "young and inexperienced", Shaw was even younger (by 3 years) and also, at the time of Cinderella's creation, much less experienced, having been called up shortly after the first run of Symphonic Variations and spending the whole of the next 2 seasons in the army, while Grant had been establishing his position in the company

Edited by Jane S
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5 hours ago, FLOSS said:

The early history of Ashton's version of the ballet seems to  provide two examples of artistry and expressiveness being found to be more effective than undoubted technical prowess. The first was in his choice of the dancer to play the Jester where the young and inexperienced Alexander Grant,  later described by at least one eminent Russian critic as a "great actor- dancer" was chosen in preference to Brian Shaw who  was for many years the company's outstanding Bluebird and much stronger technically.

 

This is no doubt true, but I think it's important to note that Kavanagh hints quite strongly at more personal reasons for Ashton beginning to favour Grant over Shaw.

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I was lucky enough to see her several times, starting with Cinderella in 1958. But one abiding memory is of her entry as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, where her perfect arabesque was framed by the arch in the original old design. I don't think anyone else has done it. My late husband always maintained that her beautiful dancing was helped by her perfectly proportioned body. And her curtain calls were a ballet in themselves!

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