Nureyev put spring back in Fonteyn’s step

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Alis­tair Jones

IT was a mo­ment of mirac­u­lous bal­ance dur­ing the Rose Ada­gio of The Sleep­ing Beauty on open­ing night in New York when Mar­got Fonteyn, Bri­tain’s great­est bal­le­rina, ap­peared to float and the com­pany’s for­tunes were set in the US.

World War II had not long ended and Fonteyn, still in her 20s and al­most mute with nerves be­fore the show, hit the stage af­fect­ing the blithe spirit of a 16- year- old, be­daz­zling her fel­low dancers and the au­di­ence.

Flick­er­ing footage from the tour in this 2005 three- part doc­u­men­tary by Tony Palmer gives some idea of just how fine Fonteyn’s form was, in a perky Christ­mas fairy kind of way. And it’s in­ter­est­ing to see how dancers’ body shapes were more rounded and nat­u­ral- look­ing in those days, with some of the men strain­ing their pas­tel tights with back ends like rubgy play­ers.

Thirty years on Fonteyn was still turn­ing in re­li­ably flaw­less dis­plays, so much so that the next gen­er­a­tion of dancers, im­pa­tient for their turn, were mut­ter­ing: ‘‘ We never thought Mar­got would get off the stage.’’

She had thought of re­tir­ing in the early 1960s, when she was in her early 40s, but then an elec­tri­fy­ing 23- yearold Ru­dolph Nureyev turned up and it was game on all over again. ‘‘ You are great bal­le­rina? Show me,’’ he de­manded. Talk about putting a spring back in her step. Their first Giselle launched one of dance’s great draw­card part­ner­ships and, in her 50s, Fonteyn was still per­form­ing in­genue roles such as Juliet with him.

Fel­low dancer Avril Ber­gen spec­u­lates that the mis­car­riage Fonteyn had at 45 was Nureyev’s child, and it’s this kind of in­sider gos­sip — along with good clips — from a cast of wit­nesses, fa­mous names and for­mer per­sonal as­sis­tants out to set the record straight that makes Mar­got so watch­able.

De­spite Nureyev’s some­thing- forevery­one sex drive, he was ap­par­ently more sup­port­ive than other men in Fonteyn’s life: from preda­tory mu­sic di­rec­tor Con­stant Lam­bert, when she was un­der age, to ghastly Pana­ma­nian hus­band Tito Arias, a scion of dic­ta­tors who spot­ted a ma­nip­u­la­ble meal ticket. The Arias fam­ily comes across like the in- laws from hell.

Fonteyn had a pat­tern of abu­sive re­la­tion­ships, but she al­ways man­aged to put a pos­i­tive spin on things, how­ever fixed the smile be­came.

Tonight we dis­cover how dumpy pre- teenage Peggy Hookham from Eal­ing was re­made, abet­ted by her for­mi­da­ble stage mother Hilda ( nick­named BQ, as in the Black Queen), with elo­cu­tion lessons, a nose job, pluck­ing of a dyed, low hair­line and al­ways stand­ing tall to ex­tend her neck. But Fonteyn’s abil­ity to fo­cus and con­trol, as well as that spark of danc­ing bril­liance, ap­pears to have been in­nate.

Pos­i­tive spin­ner: Mar­got Fonteyn and Ru­dolf Nureyev

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