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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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A few tickets - admittedly in the upper price ranges - have appeared on the ROH website for this.

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There was a notice up by the bar in the amphi (on Tues this week) that an exhibition on Fonteyn was beginning to be installed and would be completed in about a week's time.  There were just a few empty cases at the time - it wasn't clear how extensive this exhibition was going to be, but if anyone spots further developments, please let us know. 

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There are still places available for The London Ballet Circle's celebratory event:

AN EVENING FOR MARGOT FONTEYN

Monday, 20th  May, 7.00 - 9.30pm

The Swiss Church, Endell Street, London WC2H 9DY

Dame Margot Fonteyn was born on 18 May 1919 and this event  is a golden opportunity to celebrate her life and performances. The host, Alastair Macaulay (the former chief theatre critic of the Financial Times and dance critic of The New York Times), will be joined by several luminaries from the ballet world who knew and worked with Dame Margot. There will also be a display of photos, some film footage to enable the audience to recall what was so very special about Fonteyn’s artistry, and dance demonstrations (including a short piece choreographed by Fonteyn herself).

Payment in advance of £20 each for both members and guests, which includes a glass of wine and a slice of a celebratory cake.

Applications should be made to Audrey Allen, 8 Goldsmith Road, London, N11 3JP, (020 8361 2872 audrey8allen@gmail.com) together with a cheque for £20 made payable to The London Ballet Circle.  

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If anyone's feeling rich, there are now a number of tickets available online for the previously sold-out Fonteyn celebration performance - nothing less than three figures, though.

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On 06/03/2019 at 09:28, 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

 

 

Further to this I have found some other Fonteyn / Aurora snippets online, also dated 1939 but apparently from an entirely different kind of recording (and maybe not from the Alexandra Palace BBC performances):

 

https://youtu.be/SXnRxAO15gI

 

Does anyone know any more about this?

 

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14 minutes ago, Sebastian said:

 

Further to this I have found some other Fonteyn / Aurora snippets online, also dated 1939 but apparently from an entirely different kind of recording (and maybe not from the Alexandra Palace BBC performances):

 

https://youtu.be/SXnRxAO15gI

 

Does anyone know any more about this?

Sebastian,

Interesting. From the costumes, it is from the 1939 production prepared for the 1939 state gala at Covent Garden. It is far too big a set to have been taken from a television studio, and from the viewpoint it looks as if it could have been taken from the wings of a theatre, which leads me to suppose that it probably was taken at the ROH as the sets were prepared for that stage and the slightly patchwork look of the stage floor supports that conjecture (there doesn't appear to be a floorcloth). Also, while the Fonteyn footage is from the end of the Rose Adagio, there is a brief cutaway to a snippet from the Bluebird pas de deux (and though I'm not certain, it looks as if it could be June Brae and Harold Turner - though I'm open to correction here).

Thanks for posting - it demonstrates once again some of the treasures hidden away on You Tube.

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Posted (edited)

More details on the London Ballet Circle Fonteyn Century Evening on 20th May.  Sounds interesting:-

 

An Evening for Margot Fonteyn Monday 20th May at 7.00pm (carriages at 9.30pm) Swiss Church, Endell Street, London WC2H 9DY Payment in advance of £20 each for both members and guests, which includes a glass of wine and a slice of a celebratory cake.

 

Dame Margot Fonteyn was born on 18th May 1919 and this event is a golden opportunity to celebrate her life and performances. The host, Alastair Macaulay (the former chief theatre critic of the Financial Times and dance critic of The New York Times), will be joined by several luminaries from the ballet world who knew and worked with Dame Margot. There will also be a display of photos and some film footage to enable us to recall what was so very special about Fonteyn’s artistry. The evening has been arranged in response to suggestions from Members that this centenary represents an important moment in ballet history. Our President, Dame Monica Mason, has generously taken an active part in planning the programme for the evening which, in addition to the visual images, will include the following:

• Introductory talk which will focus on Fonteyn’s place in the history of ballet and, in particular, the development of the Royal Ballet and its style.
• Panel Discussion featuring Dame Monica Mason, Dame Merle Park, Alfreda Thorogood Wall, and Donald Macleary. The Panel will share their memories of working with Fonteyn, what she was like as a person, and their view of her significance on the ‘world stage’. Members of the audience will then be invited to ask questions.
• Cake Cutting by our Patron, Sir Peter Wright, and a Toast with an opportunity to mingle and view exhibits
• Demonstration of a piece of Choreography developed by Fonteyn together with some background information on this
• Coaching/Practical Session featuring Romany Padjak, First Artist, The Royal Ballet.

• Proceedings will be brought to an end by Kevin O’Hare, Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet, who will talk about the legacy of Dame Margot Fonteyn to the current day Royal Ballet.

Applications for this unique event should be made to Audrey Allen, 8 Goldsmith Road, London, N11 3JP,  email - audrey8allen@gmail.com) together with your cheque for £20 made payable to The London Ballet Circle. Confirmation of your place will be by e-mail or by post if you enclose an s.a.e

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Sounds really good.  They may want to correct the spelling of Romany Pajdak’s surname...

 

If anyone goes please report back.  

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Thank goodness I still have a cheque book. Not everyone does!

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I haven’t had one for years!

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3 hours ago, Darlex said:

Thank goodness I still have a cheque book. Not everyone does!

 

I understand that, following the introduction of its new website, the London Ballet Circle will be seeking, in due course, to offer the option to book online/pay online. But these things take time, especially when organisations are run by volunteers.

 

The spelling of Pajdak is correct online, by the way: https://www.tlbc.org.uk/lists/1-upcoming-events

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6 hours ago, capybara said:

The spelling of Pajdak is correct online

 

For the record just wanted to say that I had copied the info from the LBC newsletter which I received today.  Glad it was correct on-line. 

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18 hours ago, Darlex said:

Thank goodness I still have a cheque book. Not everyone does!

 

I still have a cheque book, but sadly no carriage for 9.30pm! 😊

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4 hours ago, Josephine said:

 

I still have a cheque book, but sadly no carriage for 9.30pm! 😊

I think they are included in the price of the ticket!!!! 

 

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There are currently a large number of tickets for one of the "Fonteyn and Me" insights available online.  I don't know whether I was imagining it, but I thought the original running time was 1 hr 30 or some such, so didn't bother booking because I had the evening performances booked.  It's now showing as 45 minutes.  Am I going mad?

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6 minutes ago, alison said:

There are currently a large number of tickets for one of the "Fonteyn and Me" insights available online.  I don't know whether I was imagining it, but I thought the original running time was 1 hr 30 or some such, so didn't bother booking because I had the evening performances booked.  It's now showing as 45 minutes.  Am I going mad?

 

No you're not.  They sent an email to ticket-holders advising that there had been a mistake originally (the 1.5 hour timing) and that it's actually 45 minutes.

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Thanks, BBB.  That's good to know.

 

And the reason for all the additional seats is that it looks as though more seating has been added.

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Thrilled to see Fonteyn's Firebird costume (plus lovely photo) in the Amphi bar last night (next to the toilets...). Also lots of lovely photos of her.

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