Margot Fonteyn

Peggy Hookham was always destined to be a dancer. Her Brazilian/Irish mother groomed her for stardom from almost as soon as she could walk. When she was aged 8 her father’s work took the family to Shanghai. Peggy and her Mother returned to the UK when she was 14. Her father stayed in Shanghai and was interned by the Japanese for the duration of the war. Young Peggy was enrolled with the Royal Ballet School just when they were looking for a young British dancer to groom as the new Prima Ballerina. Until then all leading dancers in Britain had been Russian or French. Part of the grooming process was to change her name to Margot Fonteyn. Her most influential coach was Tamara Karsavina in London. Fonteyn also regarded her teacher Olga Preobrajenska, a disciple of George Balanchine. Fontain herself worked with George Balanchine as he staged and choreographed ballet for Sadler’s Wells. She soon showed the natural talents and dedication required of a Prima Ballerina and after many wonderful performances at Sadler’s Wells she went with the Royal Ballet on their 1949 American tour. Her performance as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty on their opening night in NYC wowed the critics and fans alike. Her performance set a new standard for the role. Success followed success and she was soon to become the most famous and most successful ballerina in the world. But one thing eluded her. She fell in love with composer / conductor Constant Lambert but he decided in favor of another. She then fell for playboy Roberto “Tito” Arias. He was a Panamanian delegate to the U.N. and the son of a powerful Panamanian family that had fallen out of political favor. Despite his reputation the couple were married at the Panamanian Consulate in Paris in February 1955. Whilst Margot continued her successful career, she was made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire in 1956, Tito planned an armed invasion of Panama City to try to win back some of the power he felt was rightfully his. Margot joined him but the invasion was a total failure. In 1962 Margot was thinking of retirement (she was 43) from ballet when she met Rudolf Nureyev who had fled from the Soviet Union. Young Rudolf Nureyev revitalized Margot and led to some of her most wonderful performances. In 1964, just when Margot was thinking about divorcing him, Tito was shot five times and from then he was paralyzed from the neck down. Margot flew to his side and from then on was his nurse as well as the wife he had never let her be before. Although she knew how he had had many affairs she dedicated the rest of her life to him. It was mainly because of the money she needed to care for Tito that she kept dancing long after most dancers would have retired. She attracted some bad publicity by performing in apartheid South Africa and in the Chile run by the military dictators. As a dancer she made her last appearance in Nureyev’s 1979 summer season, and in February 1986 (aged 66) she appeared on stage for the last time, as ‘The Queen’ in “The Sleeping Beauty”, for the Birmingham Royal Ballet in Miami. She subsequently retired to Panama where she and Tito ran a cattle stud. When Tito died in 1989 Margot discovered that he had mortgaged their farm and she had to auction all her jewelry to pay for her own medical care for the newly discovered cancer. Dame Margot died on February 21st 1991. She was buried in the Arias family plot in Panama beside her Tito.

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