There doesn't seem to be much curiosity about Alicia Markova as a ballerina. The first time I saw her dance was my very first ballet performance, in April 1944 at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York. She performed 'Les Sylphides' with Anton Dolin. Since she was born in 1910 she was 34 years old--usually considered 'prime time' for a ballerina. At various times I saw her dance 'Giselle', 'Aleko', Tudor's 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Firebird' (the Chagall sets), 'Swan Lake Act 2', 'Nutcracker PDD', and 'Pas de Quatre' (Taglioni).
She enjoyed a good 'press'. The so-called 'Dean of American Dance Critics' (I don't know who bestowed this title on him) John Martin of the NYTimes was besotted with her. He proclaimed "....not only the greatest ballerina in the world, but very possibly the greatest that ever lived". He was a bit carried away! To her credit though, she was quoted as saying: "That's all well and good...it's easy to write that, but it is I who has to live up to it". I suspect she enjoyed ther accolade. One of my reservations about her is that she performed like she believed it.
One balanced assessment of her I have read was written by Edwin Denby---"Impressions of Markova at the Met", (Dance Mag. 12/52) He commends her for her weightless descents, the slender feet, her beautiful phrasing, her mime, her stage presence. All true. She used these gifts to perfecion in Tudor's 'Romeo and Juliet')
The actual ballet technique was another matter. Both Danilova and Fonteyn danced well past their prime, but still had much more than a modicum of technique and did not have to rely solely on reputation. Elevating one's leg to a 45 deg. angle might be OK for a Romantic ballet, but it doesn't work in the 'Nutcracker', 'Firebird', or 'Swan Lake'...all staples of her performances. Denby states: "She cannot keep a brilliant speed, sustain extensions or lift them slow or high; leaps from one foot begin to blur in the air, her balance is unreliable.
When Denby wrote this in 1952 she was 41 years old, but much of this was in evidence when I began watching her in 1944. This was my frustration in watching her perform. But, I had friends who adored her, and were willing to overlook anything." 9/19/03