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Margot Fonteyn: A Life


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2004 - 08:09 PM

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? :)

#17 canbelto

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Posted 13 November 2004 - 08:16 PM

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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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.

#18 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2004 - 08:37 PM

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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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, 13 November 2004 - 08:46 PM.


#19 canbelto

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Posted 13 November 2004 - 08:46 PM

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.

#20 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2004 - 08:55 PM

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


Thanks!

#21 Herman Stevens

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 02:25 AM

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).

#22 Alexandra

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 06:21 AM

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, 14 November 2004 - 07:16 AM.


#23 GWTW

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Posted 14 November 2004 - 03:47 PM

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.

#24 Herman Stevens

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 04:35 AM

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.

#25 Dale

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 05:47 AM

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..."

#26 dirac

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 10:49 AM

I hope people arenít deterred from reading this book. I'm enjoying it very much, and finding much of value in it.

#27 Cygnet

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 01:07 PM

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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I'm on page 305 and I totally agree with you Dale. Talk about speaking ill of the
dead. I'm comparing Fonteyn's memoirs with Daneman's work. It seems to me that she had what G. Smakov said of Kchessinkaya's tome many ". . . slips of the pen." Its interesting to me that Daneman majors in the minors regarding her sex life. For example, the irrelevancy of a 90something-year-old man, who as an also ran, and in the interest of full disclosure, wants to get on record that he had a relationship with her. Daneman glosses over other things, which I think are far more interesting, like focusing on the 'how' of her artistry, and less on the 'why' and 'what' it looked like to those who witnessed it, (way before my time - or my parents').

In 'Autobiography' Fonteyn didn't delve too much into the area of how she arrived at her interpretations, or how they evolved, - except to emphasize the 'tape recorder' in her mind, and simply repeat what Ashton and coaches like Karsavina told her to do. It read like upbeat fiction - a ballet novel (ie 'E' True Hollywood Story stuff) only it was non-fiction. For example, Farrell thoroughly covered the 'how' of her artistry, which IMO is a much more rewarding memoir.

I do give Fonteyn the benefit of the doubt, though. I will allow that she lived in an era where scandal was to be avoided if possible, at all costs, and when the media gave celebrities and royalty a free pass. Today she'd be fair game. I also give her this: She was discreet, in that she knew how to keep her mouth shut. She was never the one who made a scene, (like Lambert's first wife). She knew how to charm and handle the press. When she was quoted, she sounded as gracious as a queen. She also had the added advantage of the loyalty and love of a company that wouldn't give or sell any of her secrets to the press.

What isn't cool for me was her propensity to be a freeloader, (ie. free servants, free vacations at the expense of others etc.). IMO, in the autumn and winter of her career she was calculating and ruthless with individual rivals, as well as the men she rejected, and unwilling to mentor younger dancers. Yet the paradox is that no one in the rank 'n file of the Royal would dare censure her - because she was egalitarian with them all. She knew the concept of CYA very well. Therein lies a wealth of professional wisdom. I hope I'm not being too harsh, but that's my take on her. I'll keep ploughing through til I'm done.

#28 canbelto

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 10:19 AM

I'm so fond of the arts (opera, ballet, theater, etc) that I've long ago given up judging performers who are perhaps rather "ruthless" with rivals, because I've found that dig hard enough, and NO ONE is completely innocent of this. It's not just Maria Callas shoving Renata Tebaldi out of La Scala, it's Tebaldi having a pretty iron grip on the Met and particularly, Rudolf Bing, who bent over backwards to please a diva known as "dimples of iron." Enrico Caruso, supposedly a "very nice" guy, who dutifully attended performances of up-and-comers and decided whether decisive action needed to be taken. Nellie Melba used to wire Covent Garden: "It's her or me." Today, I've even heard rather blood-curdling stories of Placido Domingo. And that's just opera.
In ballet, Natalia Dudlinskaya demanded exclusive rights to Giselle. I think essentially performers are insecure people, and they want to hang onto stardom. Some are more successful than others. They overplay their hands very often -- when Rosa Ponselle, neurotic and afraid of anything above the staff, insisted on Adriana, the new GM Edward Johnson decided to throw out Rosa with the bathwater altogether. It was a desperate move by a prima donna and a coldhearted one by the GM, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.
So I have no doubt Margot Fonteyn was very shrewd and hung onto stardom, but I also have no doubt that she was not alone, and probably nowhere near the very worst, of stars who could not tolerate other stars in tha galaxy. I mean, for every performer who humbly retires and devotes their life to teaching, there are just as many who stay too long, and say they'd rather starve than help the next generation. (In Rasponi's Prima Donnas, Renata Tebaldi declares she has no patience for the newer generation of singers, whom she calls "mosquitoes.")

#29 grace

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 04:00 PM

in response to cygent's comment, on fonteyn's artistry:...

'what' it looked like to those who witnessed it, (way before my time - or my parents')

please cygnet - NOT meaning to be at all rude, just explanatory or curious!...i can't help wondering how young you are! i am 'only' middle-aged ('middle-aged' being defined in my mind as half of a not IMpossibly reasonable lifespan, these days :thumbsup: ), and i have clear memories of fonteyn dancing with nureyev in giselle. i was about 10, as far as i recall... (yes, i KNOW i'm lucky!! )

#30 dirac

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 04:56 PM

For example, the irrelevancy of a 90 something-year-old man, who as an also ran, and in the interest of full disclosure, wants to get on record that he had a relationship with her.




Cygnet, may I suggest with all courtesy that you might have a different opinion if you were that 90 year old and felt, rightly or wrongly, that you had become a nonperson in the life of someone who meant a great deal to you?

Without addressing the pros and cons of Danemanís own choices and judgments, I would also add that biographers will often come across information that reveals someone to be more (or less) significant in their subjectís life than previously supposed -- in that biographer's opinion.


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