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Dame Margot Fonteyn DBE
Tamara Karsavina n Fonteyn 'Spectre' 1.jpg
Two prima ballerinas: Tamara Karsavina rehearsing Margot Fonteyn for Le Spectre de la Rose
Margaret Hookham

(1919-05-18)18 May 1919
Died 21 February 1991(1991-02-21) (aged 71)
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place Panama
Nationality British
Occupation Ballerina
Employer Royal Ballet
Known for dancing
Title Prima ballerina assoluta
Spouse(s) Roberto Arias
(m. 1955-1989, his death)

Dame Margaret Evelyn de Arias DBE (née Hookham; 18 May 1919 – 21 February 1991), known by the stage name Margot Fonteyn, was an English ballerina. She spent her entire career as a dancer with the Royal Ballet (formerly the Sadler's Wells Theatre Company), eventually being appointed prima ballerina assoluta of the company by Queen Elizabeth II.

Early life

Margaret Evelyn Hookham was born on 18 May 1919 in Reigate, Surrey, to Hilda (née Acheson Fontes) and Felix John Hookham. Her father was a British mechanical engineer, who worked for the British-American Tobacco Company. Her mother was the illegitimate daughter of an Irish woman, Evelyn Acheson, and the Brazilian industrialist Antonio Gonçalves Fontes. Hookham had one sibling, her older brother Felix. The family moved to Ealing, where her mother sent her four-year-old daughter with her brother to ballet classes with Grace Bosustow. Her mother accompanied Hookham to her earliest lessons, learning the basic positions alongside her daughter in order to improve her understanding of what a ballet student needed to develop. Over the years, Hilda provided constant support, guidance and critique to her daughter; she became a well-known backstage presence at Hookham's performances, earning the nickname "Black Queen" from Hookham's teachers and colleagues. While some children might have balked at such overbearing attention from a parent, Hookham accepted her mother's help with "affectionate and unembarrassed naturalness".

In July 1924, at the age of five, Hookham danced in a charity concert and received her first newspaper review: the Middlesex Country Times noted that the young dancer had performed "a remarkably fine solo" which had been "vigorously encored" by the audience. Even during her early years, Hookham showed signs of the pressure she felt to succeed in her dancing, often pushing herself physically to avoid becoming a disappointment to others. Whenever a dance exam approached, she became ill with a high fever for several days, recovering just in time to take the test. Hookham's father began preparing to move his family abroad for work. It was decided, after consultation, that they would take their daughter with them but leave their son Felix at an English boarding school. For Hookham, this new separation from her sibling was a painful experience. Her father was transferred first to Louisville, Kentucky, where Hookham attended school but did not take ballet lessons, as her mother was skeptical about the quality of the local dance school. When Peggy – as she was called in her childhood – was nine, she and her parents moved to China.

For about a year, the family lived in Tianjin. This was followed by a brief stint in Hong Kong before they moved to Shanghai in 1931, where Hookham studied ballet with the Russian émigré teacher Georgy Goncharov. Goncharov's partner Vera Volkova later became influential in Hookham's career and training. Hookham had no dreams of becoming a dancer and was a reluctant student, but she was competitive. Having June Brae in her classes pushed her to work harder. She did not like the Cecchetti drills, preferring the fluid expression of the Russian style. Her mother brought her back to London when she was 14, to pursue a ballet career. In 1934, Hookham's father asked his wife for a divorce. Continuing to work in Shanghai, her father was interned during World War II from 1943 to 1945 by the invading Japanese. After the war, he returned to England with his second wife, Beatrice.

Hookham began her studies with Serafina Astafieva, but was spotted by Dame Ninette de Valois and invited to join the Vic-Wells Ballet School, which would later become the Royal Ballet. She trained under Olga Preobrajenska and Volkova. Her first solo performance occurred in 1933, as an actress rather than a dancer, using the interim name Margot Fontes, as a child in the production of The Haunted Ballroom by de Valois. In 1934, she danced as a snowflake in The Nutcracker, still using the name Fontes. Although Hookham's mother had written to her Fontes relatives, requesting their permission for her daughter to use the name for her stage career, the final response was no, possibly due to the family's wish to avoid an association with a theatrical performer. Hilda and her daughter subsequently looked up variations of Fontes in the telephone directory, choosing the more British-sounding Fontene and adding a twist to make it Fonteyn. The following year, she took the name by which she was known for the remainder of her professional life, "Margot Fonteyn", modifying her maternal grandfather's surname, "Fontes" — in Portuguese, "fonte" means "fountain". In Middle and modern English until the 16th century, it was spelled "fonteyn". Her brother, Felix, who became a specialist of dance photography, eventually adopted the same surname.


Fonteyn succeeded Alicia Markova as prima ballerina of the company in 1935. The Vic-Wells choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton, wrote numerous parts for Fonteyn and her partner, Robert Helpmann, with whom she danced from the 1930s to the 1940s.

In 1946, the company, now renamed the Sadler's Wells Ballet, moved into the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden where Fonteyn's most frequent partner throughout the next decade was Michael Somes. Her performance in Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty became a distinguishing role for both Fonteyn and the company, but she was also well known for the ballets created by Ashton, including Symphonic Variations, Cinderella, Daphnis and Chloe, Ondine and Sylvia. In 1949, she led the company in a tour of the United States and became an international celebrity. Before and after the Second World War, Fonteyn performed in televised broadcasts of ballet performances in Britain and in the early 1950s appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, consequently increasing the popularity of dance in the United States.

In 1955, she married the Panamanian politician Roberto Arias and appeared in a live colour production of The Sleeping Beauty aired on NBC. Three years later, she and Somes danced for the BBC television adaptation of The Nutcracker. Thanks to her international acclaim and many guest artist requests, the Royal Ballet allowed Fonteyn to become a freelance dancer in 1959.

In 1961, when Fonteyn was considering retirement, Rudolf Nureyev defected from the Kirov Ballet while dancing in Paris. Fonteyn, though reluctant to partner with him because of their 19-year age difference, danced with him in his début with the Royal Ballet in Giselle on 21 February 1962. The duo immediately became an international sensation, each dancer pushing the other to their best performances. They were most noted for their classical performances in works such as Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, Les Sylphides, La Bayadère, Swan Lake, and Raymonda, in which Nureyev sometimes adapted choreographies specifically to showcase their talents. The pair premièred Ashton's Marguerite and Armand, which had been choreographed specifically for them, and were noted for their performance in the title roles of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet.

The following year, Fonteyn's husband was shot during an assassination attempt and became a quadriplegic, requiring constant care for the remainder of his life. In 1972, Fonteyn went into semi-retirement, although she continued to dance periodically until the end of the decade.

In 1979, she was fêted by the Royal Ballet and officially pronounced the prima ballerina assoluta of the company.

She retired to Panama, where she spent her time writing books, raising cattle, and caring for her husband.


Shortly before her death, Fonteyn converted to Roman Catholicism. As her health worsened, she received a regular flood of messages and flowers from well-wishers, including Queen Elizabeth II and the President of Panama. Fonteyn died on 21 February 1991 in a hospital in Panama City, aged 71, on the 29th anniversary of her premiere with Nureyev in Giselle. She was buried with Arias near their home in Panama and a memorial service was held in London on 2 July 1991 at Westminster Abbey.

Death and legacy

Margot Fonteyn, Reigate - geograph-3129335
Nathan David's bronze statue of Fonteyn in Reigate, Surrey
DAME MARGOT FONTEYN 1919-1991 Prima Ballerina Assoluta lived here in Flat 9
2016 Blue Plaque installed at Fonteyn's Covent Garden residence

In her hometown of Reigate, a statue created by British sculptor Nathan David in 1980, stands in tribute to Fonteyn. Depicting her in her favourite role of "Ondine", the statue was commissioned by fans worldwide. The main hall in Dunelm House, the Student Union building at the University of Durham, is named the Fonteyn Ballroom in her honour, as is the foyer to the Great Hall of University College, Durham, in Durham Castle. In 2005, Margot's Closet, a dancing apparel and accessory shop, named in homage to Fonteyn, opened in Marietta, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb. The Margot Fonteyn Academy of Ballet established in Peekskill, New York, in 2007 is named in her honour.

In the early 1990s, the fossil plant Williamsonia margotiana was named after Fonteyn. She was one of five "Women of Achievement" selected for a set of British stamps issued in August 1996. In the 1998 film Hilary and Jackie about British cellist Jacqueline du Pre, Fonteyn is portrayed in a cameo appearance by Nyree Dawn Porter. In 2005 Tony Palmer made a documentary for ITV about Fonteyn, titled simply Margot. It includes interviews with several colleagues from the dance world, Nureyev's personal assistant, and Fonteyn's sister-in-law, Phoebe Fonteyn. The BBC made a film about Fonteyn, broadcast on 30 November 2009, based on Daneman's biography and starring Anne-Marie Duff as the ballerina. In 2016, the English Heritage Trust installed a blue plaque on the building where Fonteyn lived when she was performing with the Sadler's Wells Ballet. To mark the 100th anniversary of her birth, The Theatre and Film Guild installed a commemorative blue plaque to Fonteyn at her childhood home at 3 Elm Grove Road, Ealing.

Premiering roles

  • 1934, "Snowflake", The Nutcracker, debut the Vic-Wells Ballet.
  • 1934, "Young Tregennis", The Haunted Ballroom, first solo role.
  • 1935, female lead, Les Rendezvous, first leading role.
  • 1935, "Young Bride", Le Baiser de la Fée, role created for her by Ashton, first to perform role.
  • 1936, "Flower girl", Nocturne, first to dance the role in the debut performance of the ballet.
  • 1938, "Odette-Odile", Swan Lake, her debut in the dual role.
  • 1940, "Leader of the Children of Light", Dante Sonata, originated the role for the premiere of the ballet.
  • 1940, "Bride", The Wise Virgins, first to dance the role in the debut performance of the ballet.
  • 1941, "Success", The Wanderer, created the role for the debut performance of the ballet.
  • 1941, "Love", Orpheus and Eurydice, first to perform the role in the premiere of the ballet.
  • 1942, "Lady", Comus, created the role in Helpmann's first ballet for its debut.
  • 1942, "Ophelia", Hamlet, first to dance the role in the world premiere of the ballet.
  • 1943, "Una", The Quest, first to dance the role in the debut performance of the ballet.
  • 1946, female lead, Symphonic Variations, created the role in the world premiere of the ballet.
  • 1946, "La Bolero", Les Sirènes, first to dance the role in the debut performance of the ballet.
  • 1947, title role, Mam'zelle Angot, first to perform the role in the debut of the ballet at the Royal Opera House.
  • 1948, "Agathe", Les Demoiselles de la Nuit, role was created by Roland Petit for Fonteyn.
  • 1948, "La Morte Amoureuse", Don Juan, first to dance the role in the debut performance of the ballet.
  • 1949, "Aurora", The Sleeping Beauty, Fonteyn's United States debut.
  • 1950, "Lady Dulcinea-Aldonza Lorenzo", Don Quixote, danced the dual role in the world premiere of the ballet.
  • 1950, lead female, Ballet Imperial, first to perform the role in the debut of the ballet at the Royal Opera House.
  • 1951, "Chloë", Daphnis and Chloe, created the role for the world premiere.
  • 1951, female "Tiresias", Tiresias, first to dance the role in the debut performance of the ballet.
  • 1952, title role, Sylvia, created the role for the world premiere of the ballet.
  • 1953, "Queen of the Air", Homage to the Queen, tribute for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, world premiere.
  • 1954, "Madame Butterfly", Entrada de Madame Butterfly, created the role in the debut of the ballet at the Jardines del Generalife, in Granada, Spain.
  • 1954, title role, The Firebird, Fonteyn's premiere in the role occurred at the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh.
  • 1956, female lead, La Péri, first to dance the role in the debut performance of the ballet.
  • 1956, female lead, Birthday Offering, first to perform the role in the premiere of the ballet for the 25th anniversary of the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company.
  • 1957, "Doll Ballerina", Petrushka, Fonteyn premiered the role in the Royal Ballet company debut.
  • 1958, title role, Ondine, Fonteyn originated the role for the world premiere of the ballet.
  • 1960, title role, Raymonda "Scène d'amour", Fonteyn debuted the role in the Royal Opera House premiere.
  • 1962, title role, Giselle, Fonteyn and Nureyev's partnership debut in Britain.
  • 1962, female lead, Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, Fonteyn and Nureyev were the first to perform this duet at the Royal Opera House.
  • 1963, title role, Marguerite and Armand, was written for Fonteyn and Nureyev and they performed in the world premiere of the ballet.
  • 1963, title role, Giselle, Fonteyn and Nureyev's partnership debut in the United States in New York City.
  • 1963, "Nikiya", La Bayadère, choreography revised by Nureyev was premiered by him and Fonteyn.
  • 1964, female lead, Divertimento, Fonteyn and Nureyev premiered the ballet in Bath.
  • 1965, "Juliet", Romeo and Juliet, Fonteyn and Nureyev performed in the world premiere.
  • 1967, "The Woman" (Eve), Paradise Lost, danced by Fonteyn with Nureyev at the world premiere of the ballet.
  • 1969, "Mélisande", Pelléas and Mélisande, performed by Fonteyn and Nureyev for the world premiere of the ballet.
  • 1972, "The Diva", Poème de l'extase, Fonteyn debuted the role in the first performance of the ballet with the Royal Opera House.
  • 1975, female dancer, Floresta Amazonica, Fonteyn and Nureyev debuted the pas de deux written for Fonteyn in New York City.
  • 1979, Fonteyn, Salut d'amour à Margot Fonteyn, debut of dance written and performed by Fonteyn and Ashton on her 60th birthday.
  • 1984, Fonteyn, Acte de présence, world premiere of the ballet written and performed by Fonteyn and Ashton for the New York City Metropolitan Opera House centennial celebration.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Margot Fonteyn para niños

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