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Margot Fonteyn: A Life

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Has anyone gotten their hands on the new Fonteyn biography? It's simply

awesome! I can't put it down! I don't know how it is on the East coast,

but in L.A. it was hard to find a major bookstore chain that carried it in

stock. I had Borders Bookseller order it for me, and it was worth it.

Rating Scale: 5 + Stars.

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There was a discussion of the book a while ago by people who had gotten hold of advance review copies.

I thought the book was fine. In my view it begins to tell somewhere in the second half, that Daneman is actually more of the McMillan generation than of Fonteyn's generation - obviously so, since she wouldn't be writing the book if she were that old or dead.

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Sorry, Herman, but all of pre-MacMillan people have not all died off yet! I expect that some of them will be reviewing this book.

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I am about a third of the way through this book. I have not seen it in stores at all so ordered through Amazon.

I started reading in the middle, with the early Nureyev years, since that is the period of her dancing that I saw for myself, and then went back and started at the beginning. The book is well written and very thorough but I am having the strange experience (and this is not meant as a criticism of Ms. Daneman) that I am no closer to understanding MF than before I started. It is as though I am accumulating a whole bunch of facts and still feel a certain remoteness about the actual person.

MF clearly had a way of walling herself off from facts or feelings that she could not handle, and her taste in men (Constant (what a misnomer!) Lambert, and Tito Arias??) was unfortunate, but this tendency makes her seem a rather compartmentalized personality which makes her seem less warm and appealing than I expected.

Nothing will change the fact that I adored Fonteyn as a dancer, and for me some of the most illuminating passages describe her dancing in roles I did not get to see.

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I finished this book and have seen it in bookstores. I think it is well-written, and well-researched. I put up a review on amazon (I was the very first to review the book!) :D

I agree that Fonteyn seemed like a complex, contradicting personality, and I cringed at her taste in men and also dictators. (Pinochet, the Marcoses). I wonder if her extremely disciplined ballerina lifestyle led her to crave adventure, and thus her fondness for revolutionary schemes (of Tito's). It seemed as if different people had different views of Margot. On the other hand the backstage goings-on of a ballet company are always fascinating fodder. Ninette de Valois was certainly a piece of work. And Daneman is much, much more symapethetic to Nureyev than a lot of biographies have been.

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Robert Gottlieb’s review, from The New York Review of Books:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17593

But it was not only the extraordinary breadth of her career and the drama of her personal life that set her apart from her coevals, or the exceptional beauty and purity of her performances, her early technical weaknesses long forgotten or forgiven in light of her perfection of line, her exquisite proportions, her unerring musicality, and her profound identification with her roles. It was the charm she radiated, the lovability, that made her so cherished by audiences for more than four decades.

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canbelto: for the lazy, could you put up a link here to your review at amazon?

bearing in mind, OF COURSE!, that if any ballet talkers want to purchase said book, i am sure they will come back to ballet talk and CLICK THROUGH THE AMAZON BANNER in order to make that purchase...(so that the site is advantaged)

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Here
is my review for the book. it's the first review (meaning the one nearer the bottom of the page.

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canbelto - thanks for your prompt response, but at present there is no link in your post, and i am guessing that maybe we should all GO THROUGH THE AMAZON BANNER anyway, because maybe just every click (as opposed to every purchase) DOES advantage this site. thanks for trying!

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canbelto - thanks for your prompt response, but at present there is no link in your post, and i am guessing that maybe we should all GO THROUGH THE AMAZON BANNER anyway, because maybe just every click (as opposed to every purchase) DOES advantage this site. thanks for trying!

When you click on the "here" thing it goes straight to the page.

Try this:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067...4315055-3736110

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Speaking of Gottlieb's review of the MF biography in the NY Review - am I the only one who finds it a little disingenuous to chastize Daneman for mentioning a couple sexual details, saying MF would not have wanted these things aired, and then quoting these details in the NYR?

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Speaking of Gottlieb's review of the MF biography in the NY Review  -  am I the only one who finds it a little disingenuous to chastize Daneman for mentioning a couple sexual details, saying MF would not have wanted these things aired, and then quoting these details in the NYR?

The revealing of sexual details is one of the things that disturb me in the book (and the reviews). I'm no prude, but I definitely know more about Fonteyn's body than I wanted to know. And I don't think I'm better off with the information.

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I noticed that too, and wondered if it was the hardwired publisher's instinct -- what's really important is that it SELLS :)

I haven't read this book; I read the excerpts in "The Telegraph" and that, plus conversations with a few friends who have read it, was enough for me, at least for now I am not an admirer the current school of biography, which seems to collect as many stories as one can and put them in a book without filtering them, or placing them in context. This complaint can be made about other recent books as well. If someone writes 15 letters, then all of them get in, regardless of the letter writer's importance to the subject's life, or the veracity or worth of the material in the letters. Etc.

From my own experience researching and writing a biography, people lie, or innocently repeat a lie, or can simply misperceive things. When I began writing my book, I was given, by well-meaning friends, the names of three people I absolutely had to talk to. Two turned out to be completely unreliable, at least in part maliciously so, and the third depended on the other two for his/her information. Some dancers could (understandably) only see their careers through the "why didn't I get that role!" lens and had very imaginative answers to that question, which did not include physical or artistic limitations that seemed clear to choreographers, teachers, other dancers, etc. Do you just put in the "I didn't get the role because I never invited him to my birthday party" story and leave it at that? Or do check it and consider that a dancer's torn Achilles tendon may possibly have something to do with an artistic director's casting decision and toss the story out? I also found that some people just lied for the hell of it. There was one particularly vicious rumor that I'd heard from three or four people, checked it with at least a dozen others who were eyewitnesses, and found it false; then I heard it again. When I asked the fourth person, whom I'd trusted, where he had heard this, saying I'd checked this and it simply wasn't true, he was completely nonplussed and said, "Oh, you're checking these stories? That's good. That's good."

As for repeating third hand sexual gossip from only one source, there's no obligation to put everything in a book, and there should be some ethical stop in oneself to prevent one from repeating an offhand comment someone made in his kitchen, or at a party, or in the shower, that was never intended to be repeated, much less preserved for posterity.

I'm assuming that editors and publishers are driving this trend, and I eagerly await The Next New Thing. But all this said, I was interested to read the (very good!) Amazon reviews that indicated at least two readers, when I checked, liked the book very much, and were NOT drawn to it primarily for its more juicy bits. (Perhaps publishers might check those reviews once in awhile.)

Edited by Alexandra

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daneman appears to be the Kitty Kelly of ballet biography. I am at the halfway point, and it has been an uphill climb...I was looking forward to her explanation of her marriage---but I am at that point now, and I have stopped reading for a while---I can wait for what looms ahead! :)

I do think Daneman was a bit carried away in describing Fonteyn's American debut. Writers tend to take this episode 'out of its time'. It's very true, Fonteyn's reception was tumultuous---BUT, in 1949 New York was welcoming back its wartime allies. During the war years New Yorkers saw thousands of servicemen from England, Australia and New Zealand and they were looked upon affectionately as 'our boys'. It was more than "The Sleeping Beauty", and I really believe that if Moira Shearer had been the Aurora on the first night---she would have received the same adulation.

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I enjoyed this book mostly as a history of a ballet era. This book focuses a lot more on parts of Fonteyn's career that she didnt like to talk about (namely, before she became Ashtons muse, and was simply a "reliable" Sadlers Wells dancer). I editted my Amazon review to say that I consciously separated what I felt was genuine biography and what was backstage gossip. It's pretty easy to do. For instance, theres a lot of secondhand and thirdhand storytelling: "Margot was overheard saying ..." or "someone said Lynn Seymour said ..." Plus all the sex stories -- I mean, the people are dead, so who really knows? But as a chronicle of Fonteyn's very long career, with a lot of ups and downs, the book was very valuable to me. I suppose this is becaus eI'm American and know the NYCB through and through (I can name the succession of Balanchine muses off the top of my head :) ) but the RB history was a lot more unfamiliar.

As for Nureyev, I find again that Daneman's kind of mean about him, and some of the descriptions have a faint whiff of homophobic judgementalness. And I kept thinking that Margot, despite her right-wing leanings and taste for rightist dictators, was NEVER judgemental and was supportive to her last break about Nureyev's very flamboyant life.

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Fonteyn started working with Ashton when she was 16 (the year that, according to a quote in the Vaughan biography of Ashton, P.W. Manchester said, after one of her performances in "The Lord of Burleigh," "That was the night we all knew she was the one!") If the book portrays her as "simply a reliable Sadler's Wells dancer" that certainly does shed a different light on things. But what? :)

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Fonteyn started working with Ashton when she was 16 (the year that, according to a quote in the Vaughan biography of Ashton, P.W. Manchester said, after one of her performances in "The Lord of Burleigh," "That was the night we all knew she was the one!")  If the book portrays her as "simply a reliable Sadler's Wells dancer" that certainly does shed a different light on things.  But what? :)

Well there was a certain period when Ashton didnt really care for her, and she got solid if middling reviews of Giselle, et al. At least that's what the book says. It also makes Ashton's favor of Fonteyn seem very connected to his anger of Markova leaving.

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Well there was a certain period when Ashton didnt really care for her, and she got solid if middling reviews of Giselle, et al. At least that's what the book says. It also makes Ashton's favor of Fonteyn seem very connected to his anger of Markova leaving.

That Ashton didn't care for her is true, I think, (by several accounts, including his) and she did get middling reviews for not only Giselle, but Aurora and Odette -- she first danced them as a teenager and had never seen the ballets, so her first performances couldn't have been of ballerina caliber. (I write that, of course, not having seen them!)

Just curious -- and then I'll stop debating by proxy a book I haven't read :) -- what does she say about Vera Volkova? She worked with the Sadller's Wells dancers for most of the 1940s and was very influential on Fonteyn. and coached her extensively in Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.

Edited by Alexandra

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Vera Volkova is portrayed as a very positive influence on Fonteyn's dancing, being called the "Lilac Fairy" in Peggys career.

I think Daneman is a bit in love with the "typical" storyline of a ballerina: that is, a girl with imperfect technique but great determination arrives backstage at a ballet, is discouraged at first by middling reviews, but one night becomes a Star. (That night being her SB debut in the US). She tries to make Fonteyn;s life fit that storyline.

As for Fonteyn, Daneman seems to think Constant Lambert (who she calls a "genius" which I thought a bit much -- I mean, Beethoven's a genius. Constant Lambert? Not so much) and Ninette de Valois are the driving forces behind Fonteyn's stardom. She doesnt much seem interested in the Margot-"Freddie" relationship, maybe because unlike some other choreographer/muse relationships this one had a minimum of tears and tantrums and thus isnt as interesting.

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Vera Volkova is portrayed as a very positive influence on Fonteyn's dancing, being called the "Lilac Fairy" in Peggys career.

Thanks!

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Dear Alexandra,

pardon my French, but I think you should just get the book. You're obviously curious and eager to have an opinion of it. Well, there is only one way of satisfying those perfectly honorable wishes, and that is to read it for yourself (and a little bit for us too).

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Herman, I was curious on one point (Volkova), and that's been satisfied. If I have the time, I'll read it, but it's the end of a very long list. The excerpts in The Telegraph were enough for me.

atm, I agree. If Shearer had opened I'd guess she would have gotten a tumultuous reception because of "The Red Shoes". She was known; Fonteyn was unknown.

Other opinions of the book? The Amazon reviews so far have been favorable; people are enjoying this book. ARe there others here who liked it?

Edited by Alexandra

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Well, I was EXTREMELY put off by the excerpts in the Telegraph. I am no prude at all, but I thought that a Margot Fonteyn biography which quotes Clive Barnes using the f word would not be a book I'd want to read. (Of course, I've been living in the US for over a year so I'm not really used to seeing the f word in newsprint as perhaps Brits are?)

After reading all the opinions here, I'm likely to try it - but I probably won't buy it. I'll take it out of the library and If the photos are amazing, I'll buy it later.

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I don't know what the Telegraph excerpts are - and no doubt they were chosen for sensationalist reasons - but this is 2004. Everybody knows people have sex. You can't have a 500 page biography without discussing sex, even if you're writing a nun's biography. It's been awhile I read the Daneman but some of these comments make me like the book better and better.

At the time I was reading the Daneman I was pleased to learn that MF had an interesting and varied sex life. I don't think that's a prurient view. On the other hand I believe there is a well-established tradition for prurience in dance / ballet biographies, from all the speculation about Nureyev's anatomy to Buckle quoting Mme Niinsky about you know what.

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I don't know what the Telegraph excerpts are - and no doubt they were chosen for sensationalist reasons - but this is 2004. Everybody knows people have sex. You can't have a 500 page biography without discussing sex, even if you're writing a nun's biography. It's been awhile I read the Daneman but some of these comments make me like the book better and better.

I don't think the description of the inner workings of MF's (and others) genitalia is needed in a biography of this sort. No. Sorry. And I don't think I'm being old fashioned. I like good smut just as much as the next person. I just don't think in this case, it was a good idea. And how is Daneman going to double and triple-check those facts, may I ask?

I'm working my way through the book. I think discussing MF's romantic involvements is fine, but Daneman also just races through her stage work. Masterpiece ballets are described in a graph, but MF's hookup at some cocktail party is discussed for two pages. After several chapters of that, it can be equally as boring as a bio that just says, "and in 1968 he made this ballet..." instead it is "and then in Italy MF slept with this guy...everybody loved her robe..."

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