Zoe Anderson: She'd dance through air raids

Share

The Second World War was a turning point in Fonteyn's career, as it was for the company that became the Royal Ballet. Audiences who had seen her dance through air raids, holding balances on stages that trembled with the impact of bombs, never forgot it. She was a national heroine by the end of the war, but her greatest triumphs lay ahead.

Fonteyn was a dancer of lyrical simplicity. Her proportions were ideally graceful: the choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton once said it was hard for her to make an unpleasing shape. She was intensely musical. And she had a heart-catching quality.

Fonteyn was born in Reigate, Surrey, in 1919, under the name Margaret Hookham, and moved with her family to Shanghai. Her mother, noting her daughter's talent, brought her back to Britain, where she joined the fledgling Vic-Wells ballet - which became the Royal Ballet - in 1934.

Her chance came the next year, with the departure of Alicia Markova, the company's star ballerina. Ninette de Valois, the company's founder, had spotted Fonteyn as a future star. Constant Lambert, its music director, adored her. The most resistant was Ashton, the chief choreographer. Having worked with Markova, he was not impressed by the gentler Fonteyn. Then, after a nagging rehearsal, Fonteyn burst into tears, flinging her arms around him. Won over, Ashton created a long series of roles for her.

Fonteyn led the company through the war, sometimes dancing three performances a day. At the end of the conflict, the company moved to the Royal Opera House, reopening it with The Sleeping Beauty. The show went to New York in 1949, when Fonteyn's first-night performance made her a world star overnight. Newsweek and Time put her on their fronts.

She was approaching retirement when, in 1961, Rudolf Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union. Their partnership extended her career by many years.

Fonteyn was perhaps one of the best-loved ballerina of the 20th century. Other dancers had stronger techniques but few could match her beauty of line, her eloquent musical phrasing or her ability to win the affection of audiences.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Defendant Personal Injury 2+PQE

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - NICHE DEFENDANT FIRM - Defendant Pe...

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Fist bumps will never replace the handshake - we're just not cool enough

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on