FONTEYN, Dame Margot (1919-1991)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 118 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9PA, City of Westminster
Music and Dance
DAME MARGOT FONTEYN 1919-1991 Prima Ballerina Assoluta lived here in Flat 9
Dame Margot Fonteyn is widely regarded as the greatest ballet dancer of her generation. She is commemorated with a blue plaque at 118 Long Acre in Covent Garden, where she lived while performing at the nearby Royal Opera House in some of her most career-defining roles.
Fonteyn dominated the world of ballet for more than 40 years. Her dancing was characterised by purity of line, a rare musicality, and an acting ability that conveyed the character of the many roles she portrayed.
Born Margaret Evelyn Hookham, she took the stage name Margot Fonteyn early in her career – adapting the surname of her Brazilian grandfather, Antonio Fontes. Fonteyn joined Ninette de Valois’ Vic-Wells School (later Sadler’s Wells Ballet and The Royal Ballet) in 1933 and at the age of 15 took the leading part in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Rio Grande, with music by Constant Lambert.
After a stormy start, she and Ashton established a relationship that, over the course of 25 years, produced most of her greatest roles and his greatest ballets. Performing at the company’s new home at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, their collaboration included Daphnis and Chloë (1951), Sylvia (1952) and Ondine (1958).
COVENT GARDEN HOME
Many of Ashton and Fonteyn’s ballets at the Royal Opera House were performed while Fonteyn was living round the corner in flat 9 at 118 Long Acre. Although she was only a stone’s throw from the Opera House, she would sometimes take a taxi home in order to evade the fans who waited for her at the stage door.
In 1952 she gave up the flat to her brother’s ex-wife Idell, who lived there until the 1990s. In turn, Idell lent the flat to Fonteyn for her meetings with the aviator Charles Hughesdon, with whom she had an affair for at least ten years from about 1964.
In 1955 she married Dr Roberto ‘Tito’ Emilio de Arias, the son of the former president of Panama. Tito was involved in a coup attempt against the Panamanian government in 1959, and was shot three years later, leaving him paralysed. Fonteyn devoted the rest of her life to looking after him and continued to work in order to pay his medical bills.
THE NUREYEV YEARS
It was Fonteyn’s on-stage partnership with Rudolf Nureyev that elevated her to the status of national idol. At a time when many thought she was about to retire, Fonteyn performed with Nureyev in Giselle in 1962. She had reservations because of the 19-year age gap: she was 42 and he was 23. But despite this, and huge differences in background and temperament, they created possibly the greatest of all ballet partnerships.
Individually superb dancers, they raised each other to new heights. Ashton choreographed Marguerite and Armand for them (1963), and they débuted Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet in 1965. The pair attained celebrity status in 1960s London and it is generally accepted that the partnership extended Fonteyn’s career by at least 15 years.
Fonteyn retired in 1979 at the age of 60. In a gala to mark her 60th birthday the Royal Ballet named her Prima Ballerina Assoluta – a prestigious title reserved for the best ballet dancers of their generation. Fonteyn remains the only dancer in the history of the Royal Ballet to hold the title.