Dame Margot Fonteyn dies in Panama helped create English style of ballet

February 22, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Dame Margot Fonteyn, 71, one of the most celebrated and beloved ballerinas of our time, died yesterday in a hospital in Panama City, Panama, after a long illness.

As muse to the late Frederick Ashton in the many ballets he choreographed for Britain's Royal Ballet Ballet, formerly the Sadler's Wells Ballet, Dame Margot helped create the English style of ballet, with its emphasis on a lyrical, simple body line.

Prima ballerina of the troupe from the 1930s into the 1970s, she brought it international fame. In 1962 she embarked on what wouldbecome a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.

Dame Margot asked Mr. Nureyev, who had defected from the Soviet Union in 1961, to dance at a benefit for the Royal Academy of Dancing, which she headed. In 1962 they made their Royal Ballet debut in "Giselle."

Dame Margot was born Margaret Hookham in Surrey, England, on May 18, 1919, to an English father and a mother of Irish and Brazilian ancestry.

She took ballet lessons from the age of 4 and continued them in Shanghai, China, where her engineer father worked.

In the early 1930s, Mrs. Hookham moved her daughter back to England, where she would have a better chance of becoming a professional dancer.

She auditioned for Ninette de Valois, the driving force behind British ballet and head of the Vic-Wells Ballet, precursor of Sadler's Wells.

During the war years, she and the company became a symbol of resistance to the Nazi threat by performing through German bombings in England.

In 1955, she married Roberto Arias, who was descended from a prominent Panamanian family. A year later, he was named ambassador to Britain, and she was made a Dame of the British Empire.

In 1964, Mr Arias was shot by a political rival in Panama and left paralyzed from the waist down.

Dame Margot's last performance in New York was in 1981 with La Scala Ballet, when she performed the non-dancing role of Lady Capulet in "Romeo and Juliet."

Dame Margot spent her later years in Panama with Mr. Arias, who died in 1989.

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