Home Page

Preserving and Exploring our Musical Heritage

Exhibition Categories

> Past Exhibitions of the Month

> Music and graphic design

> Music for children

> Ballet

> Music and social history

> Social Dance: Tickets, invitations and posters

Past Exhibition of the Month - February 2016

Previous | Next

< Return to list

Portrait by Sue Barrowclough (copyright), 1993 after a studio photograph by Felix Fonteyn, c.1975. Acrylic on canvas 76.2 x 63.5cm. This painting was commissioned by Felix Fonteyn (the dancer’s brother). She is shown wearing her iconic evening dress, designed by Yves Saint Laurent, in a box at the Royal Opera House.

Portrait by Sue Barrowclough (copyright), 1993 after a studio photograph by Felix Fonteyn, c.1975. Acrylic on canvas 76.2 x 63.5cm. This painting was commissioned by Felix Fonteyn (the dancer’s brother). She is shown wearing her iconic evening dress, designed by Yves Saint Laurent, in a box at the Royal Opera House.

[View All Images]

Dame MARGOT FONTEYN  (Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias DBE, née Margaret Evelyn Hookham) (b. Reigate, 18 May 1919; d. Panama City, 21 February 1991)




February often proved to be a significant month in the life of Fonteyn and the 21st February 2016 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of her death.

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

20 February 1946, showing the Royal Box and on stage the Prologue.

On the 20 February 1946 the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden re-opened after the war with a Royal Gala performance of The Sleeping Beauty by the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, with Fonteyn dancing Aurora. Her Prince Florimund was Robert Helpmann, who also doubled the role of Carabosse.  Coincidentally 21 February 1951 was the date of a performance  with Michael Somes, who had by this time become her regular partner, and with Frederick Ashton playing Carabosse.

On Sunday 6 February 1955, she  married the Panamanian diplomat Roberto Arias in the tiny office of the Consulate of Panama in Paris.  There were so many press photographers and reporters present that her family and guests were unable to see the ceremony. On the previous day she had danced the Firebird at the Covent Garden matinée and in the evening the part of Chloe, which Ashton had created for her in his 1951 ballet Daphnis and Chloe.  In the last scene when she is carried round the stage on the shoulder of Daphnis (Michael Somes) the other dancers showered her with rose petals, confetti and streamers much to the delight of the audience. After a short honeymoon she appeared again at Covent Garden on 24 February when she danced The Firebird before the Queen.  This was apparently Her Majesty’s  first visit to the ballet since her accession.  Following the performance Fonteyn gave a party for the entire ballet company and staff of the theatre, including the cleaners.  The company presented her with their gift, a silver tray and signed scroll, and she again wore her elegant grey Dior taffeta wedding dress.

With her husband Roberto Arias leaving the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after a performance, 1963.  Photograph by Jennie Walton.

In 1956, she became a Dame of the British Empire and attended Buckingham Palace for her investiture by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on 7 February.


21 February 2016 is also the 54th anniversary of one of the great events in the history of ballet, the first occasion on which Fonteyn and Nureyev danced together.  She had first appeared as Giselle at Sadler’s Wells on 19 January 1937, aged only 17 - a year before Nureyev was born.

  1.  “ . . .  In Giselle she gives the most outstanding performance to be seen in ballet today : deeply emotional, but always controlled by the rigid period framework . . ” (Arnold Haskell : Ballet. London, 1938)

24 years later, with Fonteyn’s career thought to be nearing its end, Dame Ninette de Valois invited the 23-year old Nureyev to dance with her at Covent Garden.  His dramatic defection from the Kirov Ballet on their visit to Paris the previous year had created a great deal of  interest and curiosity in the ballet world.  He had been dancing with the Marquis de Cuevas company in Paris and touring with them. He  had been seen just once on stage in London, when Dame Margot had invited him to appear at her 1961 Charity Matinee at Drury Lane in aid of the Royal Academy of Dancing, of which she was President.  Nureyev had wanted to dance with her then, but she had refused, thinking the age-gap too great and not yet having seen him dance.  Dame Ninette could see that this would be a great partnership and persuaded her to dance Giselle with the exciting young Russian.

Rehearsal for the first Fonteyn-Nureyev  Giselle, 21 February 1962. Rehearsal for the first Fonteyn-Nureyev  Giselle, 21 February 1962. Rehearsal for the first Fonteyn-Nureyev  Giselle, 21 February 1962.

In 1962, Dance and Dancers (Vol 13, No. 4) covered this historic event on 14 pages of the 48-page April issue of their magazine :

  1. “Rudolf Nureyev danced with Margot Fonteyn in three performances of Giselle at Covent Garden.  Tickets were eagerly sought after, but the Queen managed to get seats for the third night. . . . . They took 23 calls at their first appearance, only 19 at the second, but 24 at the third”. [It is said that 70,000  applications for tickets for these performances had to be refused.]
  2. “. . Nureyev partnered Fonteyn superbly, and Fonteyn herself has never, never been better in Giselle.  She surpassed herself — brilliantly, wonderfully, surprisingly.   . . .Yet it was Nureyev’s night, for Fonteyn with all her genius, we know and love. Yet this strange undisciplined Nureyev, with his dazzling excitement, his huge personality, his immaculate detached dancing, his bouquets, the startling teenage shrieks of his fans, his indolently graceful curtain calls, all this was very new.  I feel sure that Nureyev has it in him to be an immense star of ballet.  I hope he joins the Royal Ballet permanently.  I hope it for the audience, for the company, and most of all for him, Rudolf Nureyev.”  (Clive Barnes)

Leaving the Opera House stage door after Giselle, 21 February 1962.  Joe Kettley, the long-serving stage door keeper, is about to make a pathway through the waiting crowd  to Fonteyn’s chauffeur-driven Mini.    Photograph by Jennie Walton.

Although she had retired from ballet to live with her husband on their farm in Panama in 1979, her final appearance on the stage was in February 1986, almost exactly five years before her death.   The Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet were on a tour of North and South America which included performances of Peter Wright’s production of The Sleeping Beauty.  There was an important Charity Gala in Miami and when no member of the Royal Family was able to attend, Peter Wright invited Dame Margot to be there and then had the idea that she might, perhaps, appear in the production playing the Queen. She eventually agreed and the gala took place on Tuesday, 18 February when “tumultuous applause greeted her every appearance”.  Clive Barnes wrote a review for the New York Times headed  ‘Radiant Fonteyn’, and went on :

  1. “ . . She was an Aurora’s mother who got more applause on entrance than some Auroras get on exit ... she still walked in beauty, the way a star danced at her birth.”

Leaving the stage door, Covent Garden, showing Fonteyn’s legendary smile. Photograph by Jennie Walton.

A draft list of February first performances and events in the life of Fonteyn :

11 February 1936 Vic-Wells Ballet, Apparitions by Frederick Ashton, Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

16 February 1937 Vic-Wells Ballet, Les Patineurs by Ashton, Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

2 February 1939 Vic-Wells Ballet, her debut as Aurora in a Charity First Performance of The Sleeping Princess at Sadler’s Wells Theatre attended by Queen Mary. This was the company’s first complete production of the ballet, staged by Nicolai Sergueeff.

1 February 1944 Sadler’s Wells Ballet, Le Spectre de la Rose revived at the New Theatre with Alexis Rassine.

20 February 1946 Sadler’s Wells Ballet re-opened the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with Sleeping Beauty.

6 February 1947 Sadler’s Wells Ballet, The Three-Cornered Hat by Léonide Massine, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  Massine also danced in the production as the Miller.

11 February 1948 Sadler’s Wells Ballet, Scènes de Ballet by Ashton, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

25 February 1949 Sadler’s Wells Ballet, debut in Cinderella by Ashton, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  She had not danced the première because of a foot injury.

20 February 1950 Sadler’s Wells Ballet, Don Quixote by de Valois, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

6 February 1955 Marriage to Roberto Arias in Paris.

7 February 1956 Dame of the British Empire.

15 February 1956 Sadler’s Wells Ballet, La Péri by Ashton, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

19 February 1956 Sadler’s Wells Ballet, television transmission of Aurora’s Wedding to mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

29 February 1956 Guest appearance with the Norwegian Ballet Company in Oslo, with Michael Somes,  followed by four more performances.

18 February 1959 Arrived in Japan for the first time to make guest appearances with Michael Somes in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya and Takalazuka.

21 February 1962 Royal Ballet, Giselle, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, her first performance partnered by Rudolf Nureyev.

7 February 1963 Royal Ballet, in Swan Lake with Nureyev, their first together at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. They had danced it just once before at the Nervi Festival in 1962.

9 February 1965 Royal Ballet, Romeo and Juliet by Kenneth MacMillan, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

12 February 1966 Dr Arias leaves Stoke Mandeville Hospital following almost two years of treatment and rehabilitation following the shooting in Panama, 8 June 1964.

18 February 1966 Receives LL. D, Manchester.

23 February 1967 Royal Ballet, Paradise Lost by Roland Petit, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

15 February 1972 Royal Ballet, British première of Poème de l’extase by John Cranko,  the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden  (created Stuttgart 24 March 1970 with Fonteyn and Stuttgart Ballet).

24 February 1972 Midnight Gala for the Sadler’s Wells Appeal Fund Le Spectre de la Rose at Sadler’s Wells, partnered by Anthony Dowell for the first time.

18 February 1986 Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet Gala appearing as the Queen in Sleeping Beauty, her last appearance in a role on stage, Miami Dade County Auditorium.

21 February 1991 Fonteyn died in Panama City. Her ashes were buried in the Arias family grave in Jardin de Paz and  later re-interred.

Plaque in the new crypt  Santuario Nacional del Corazón de María, Panama City, niche 5695, Our Lady of Lourdes wall, where their ashes are now interred.

Poème de l’extase by John Cranko. Curtain call, Staatstheater, Stuttgart, March 1970 with Stuttgart Ballet.    Photograph by Jennie Walton.


Jennie Bisset © 2016