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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas