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Alicia Markova

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#16 atm711


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Posted 05 December 2004 - 11:07 AM

If I were more 'computer savvy' I could post by 'blog' comments on Markova here; I saw quite a lot of her in my early years of ballet-going---in fact, she was the first ballerina I ever saw on stage...the comments can be found at Google by typing in: Alicia Markova Ruminations.

#17 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 December 2004 - 11:36 AM

Here's a direct link: Alicia Markova

atm's blog, "Ruminations" is a treasure. Take a look.

#18 Alexandra


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Posted 05 December 2004 - 05:41 PM

atm's blog is, indeed, a treasure!

Ari gathered together a wonderful collection of obits and appreciations for Dame Alicia on Links, December 3, and I thought they should also be on this thread:

Dame Alicia Markova died yesterday at the age of 94.

Dame Alicia Markova, prima ballerina assoluta and one of the most influential figures in British dance, has died in hospital in Bath on the night after her 94th birthday. A friend said she had been "gradually fading away this year".

As one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century, Dame Alicia's contribution to British cultural life was profound. Born plain Lilian Alicia Marks in Finsbury Park, London, she was renamed "Markova", by the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, her early champion, when she was plucked from her Chelsea ballet class to join his famous Ballets Russes in 1925, aged 14.

Diaghilev called her his "English daughter"; she called him "Sergypop".

She was crucial to the invention of British ballet, dancing for Marie Rambert and with the Vic-Wells (now Royal) Ballet from the early 1930s.

Alicia Markova, who has died at the age of 94, epitomised all the qualities of a great ballerina: a total dedication to the art of classical dancing together with an imaginative understanding and insight into establishing a character through mime.

She will for ever be associated with Giselle — her 1960 autobiography is called Giselle And I — but her range was far, far wider than that. She created roles for all the great choreographers of the 20th century and, during her performing career, she was an ambassador for ballet comparable only to Anna Pavlova, dancing in places where classical dancing of her quality had never been seen before.

Audiences never tired of watching Dame Alicia in "Giselle"; she, in turn, never seemed to tire of dancing it. Reviewing a 1958 performance by Ballet Theater in which Miss Markova appeared as guest artist, John Martin, then the dance critic of The New York Times, remarked: "Markova has danced the role so many times that she could undoubtedly do it in her sleep; what is so notable is that she never does. She is as fresh, as sensitive, as creatively alert as if she had never done it before; but what a wealth of background she has accumulated for it!"

Alicia Markova was Britain's first ballerina and became a living legend. She seemed to be made of superior, more durable material than other mortals: she concealed muscles of steel under the frailest possible exterior; at 92, she was still skimming across a studio floor demonstrating nuances of phrasing to dancers a quarter her age, her exquisitely narrow, unblemished feet still supple. . . .

Unlike Pavlova, though, Markova always welcomed the new. Giselle was the ballet most closely associated with her, but she combined a love for the classics with an appetite for modernity. She was the clay for some of the 20th century's greatest choreographers when they too were just starting out — George Balanchine, Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor. She starred in some of Leonid Massine's biggest, most important ballets.

Markova had a unique relationship with the impresario. Her father had recently died and she called Diaghilev her second father. He developed a paternal attitude towards her.

Her undeveloped androgynous body and fearless male-type technique contrasted with the sophisticated femininity of Diaghilev's famed ballerinas, and was a valuable spark to the modern revolution.

Henri Matisse designed daring all-over leotards for her (now standard ballet kit), Igor Stravinsky found her able to absorb new musical ideas readily, and — because of her emotional immaturity — the choreographer George Balanchine began to conceive a more abstract kind of female dancing, driven by music rather than drama.

Alicia Markova learned from her fellow ballerinas how to be glamorous, and she assuaged her dissatisfaction with her looks with a life-long love of haute couture. A tiny woman, she had minute feet, and once she could afford it she would wear only handmade shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo, with very high heels. She was even known to rehearse Swan Lake in full-length mink and heels.

Minute they may have been, but those feet had arefined strength. Her technique, according to the choreographer Agnes de Mille, was "prodigious". Yet she exhibited none of the muscularity of today's dancers, who have a lighter workload than she ever had. As Markova once said: "The great dancers were all great athletes — if you analyse Pavlova, for instance. But they didn't look it. That was what fascinated the audience."

With the beginnings of regular ballet seasons by British dancers later that year, Markova was immediately in heavy demand, and she became Ashton’s first muse. At the Ballet Club and for the Camargo Society he made a great many highly contrasted roles for her: among them the title part in his languorously poetic La Pen, the witty polka in Façade (ending with a double tour en l’air in pointe shoes which nobody attempts nowadays), a sexy Creole girl in Rio Grande, the insolently proud ballerina in Foyer de Danse, the immensely chic and naughty lady friend in Les Masques, and the tragic Marguerite in Mephisto Valse. Many roles she took brought out a gift for shrewd comic characterisation far removed from the pure classic perfection for which she was widely celebrated.

But the tiny fee which was all Rambert could afford was only enough to keep Markova in ballet shoes; to support herself she also had to dance three times a day between films in a cinema at Marble Arch, the choreography again by Ashton.

One of the histories of the Royal Ballet states that "the dancer who did most to launch the company was Alicia Markova". Over the years, as great names have emerged, Markova’s role has been too easily forgotten. Her influence on generations of dancers was immense. Her teaching was incisive and authoritative and brought fresh insights to an interpretation.

Markova was one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century. She had a delicate physique, a tungsten technique masked by a gentle appearance, and a flawless musical understanding. Everything she did had to appear effortless, which she achieved by an implacable will and total concentration. I adored her, and her knowledge and her prodigious memory for dances and dancers taught me infinitely much ("Alicia, tell me about . . . ." "Well, dear, I remember Mr Diaghilev saying . . ."). Uniquely, she had ballets created for her by Fokine, Massine, Nijinska, Balanchine, Ashton and Tudor. A fascinating portrait of her, still working at the age of 90, appears in Dominique Delouche's film Markova, La Légende (2001). Until the end of her life she remained a marvel of grace and dance intelligence.

#19 Amy Reusch

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Posted 05 December 2004 - 07:38 PM

Alexandra, I think it's part of her mystique that someone threatened her life over her dancing... and went to lengths to try to stop her... Markova put it in her own biography, I don't think she felt embarrassed by it... if it's something she wrote herself, does it really count as gossip? I don't own the biography and it's not in my library... I was hoping someone who had it in theirs would refresh my memory on the incident. Should we not mention that there was a riot at the premiere of Rite of Spring? If she were insignificant, no one would have gone to the bother. I think it's history not gossip.

#20 Dale


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Posted 05 December 2004 - 09:38 PM

It's been so long since I read her biography, I'm afraid my memory isn't holding up... but weren't there attempts to sabotage her Giselle in New York? Something about the costume going missing and turning up soiled ...and ... was it.. a note with a death threat? I can't remember why anyone would want to threaten her. ...
Alexandra, I think it's part of her mystique that someone threatened her life over her dancing...  and went to lengths to try to stop her...    Markova put it in her own biography, I don't think she felt embarrassed by it...I think it's history not gossip.


Funny thing about history is that it is sometimes gossip repeated so many times that it becomes "true." Markova, in her book "Markova Remembers", does not mention sabotage and the whole incident appears to be a mistake:

Although I was scheduled and announced for the first performance, the wardrobe had -- curiously -- make costumes only for Toumanova, who was to dance Giselle later in the week.  I was thus presented with costumes which fitted only where they touched.  I took a firm stand, saying to Massine that he must announce to the public that I was ready to dance, warmed up -- indeed spiritually I was very warmed up -- but my costumes were not available.  As the minutes passed, I suddenly remembered that I had my Bakst costumes from the Markova-Dolin company production, which could be quickly brought to the theatre.  Despite Lifar's protestations that he could not have his production "ruined" by my wearing anything but the Benois designs, Sol Hurok announced that of course I should dance in my own costumes....

Markova had one of the most remarkable careers, hitting every major point in 20th century dance: Diaghlev, Fokine, Balanchine, Massine, famed Ballet Russe spinoffs, Ashton, Sadler Wells, Tudor, ABT, Robbins, a great partnership with Dolin, starting the London Festival Ballet, bringing ballet to the regions...

Of course, I never saw her dance live, but her taped solo in the opening act of Giselle is the best I've ever seen and I subconciously judge all dancers by it.

#21 Amy Reusch

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Posted 05 December 2004 - 10:55 PM

Thank you, Dale. There was nothing about a note? I wonder if I'm mixing up someone else's NY Giselle debut with Markova's. (who? Danilova?? Fonteyn? I could have sworn it was Markova). I believe I read "Giselle and I" rather than the "Markova Remembers".

#22 atm711


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Posted 06 December 2004 - 10:01 AM

Thank you, Dale.  There was nothing about a note?  I wonder if I'm mixing up someone else's NY Giselle debut with Markova's.  (who? Danilova?? Fonteyn?  I could have sworn it was Markova).  I believe I read "Giselle and I" rather than the "Markova Remembers".


The incident you refer to is in Maurice Leonard's book "Markova The Legend". It is very lively reading (all you need is to put Serge Lifar in the mix). Leonard fully covers the 'costume' scandale and then goes on to her debut in New York (with Lifar, who was still smarting over the 'costume' incident). Someone thrust a note into Markova's hands---"Don't dance Giselle tomorrow night or....." Danilova and Hurok warned her not to be alone for the evening---and along with Danilova, Franklin and Youskevitch went to a Rodeo (not the ballet, but a genuine event at Madison Square Garden). Nothing sinister happened but she spent the night with Danilova....Next day she told Hurok to let Toumanova dance...he refused but implemented a full-scale security alert and omitted the trapdoor.

It gets better---Lifar used real lillies in Act II which could be slippery....and on the se cond performance in Act I, as she sat on Lifar's knee, he slipped and Lifar rolled on top of her and crushed her foot....without telling the audience, Slavenska showed up in Act II---a brilliant redhead. (I saw Slevenska in later performances of Giselle and I can attest to the brilliance of her hair; a sexy terre-a-terre dancer)

Do we have any performers today who could compare to this skulduggery?

#23 Natalia


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Posted 06 December 2004 - 10:02 AM

The December 2nd performance of Ashton's 'Cinderella' at the ROH (Cojocaru/Kobborg cast) was dedicated to the memory of Dame Alicia. The Royal Ballet's director, Monica Mason, made the announcement in front of the curtain, just prior to the commencement of the ballet. I was very surprised & saddened by the news, not having had access to the media all day...this was a shock. To think, just a few minutes earlier, I was admiring an exhibit of some of Dame Alicia's mementos -- including the ivory dressing table given to her by Anna Pavlova -- in the glass cases in the main lobby.

Excerpts of Dame Alicia's fabulous Giselle may be seen in the commercially-released (ca 1980) VHS tape, 'A Portrait of Giselle.' She also appeared in various long-ago-telecast documentaries, such as 'Tales of Helpman,' 'Central Ballet of China On the Go,' and Makarova's 'Ballerina' series.

#24 Amy Reusch

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Posted 06 December 2004 - 07:25 PM

Thank you ATM. I wonder if the changing story about the costume going missing was made up to cover for Lifar's error?

I think Markova also made a pilgrimage to visit Spessitseva, but, typically, I can't remember much of that either. Perhaps Spessitseva was already in an asylum. (talk about drama... there's Hollywood material in Spessitseva's life... but perhaps the outcome is too sad... I suppose it would have to be about another ballerina's obsession with Spessitseva, just to have some plot outlet from the impending doom).

Back on topic, however, here's a link to and excerpt from Jane Pritchard's "Appreciation of Dame Alicia Markova, DBE" on ENB's site. Jane Pritchard is the archivist for the English National Ballet. Dame Alicia Markova, Prima Ballerina Assoluta, Founder and President of English National Ballet: "The People's Ballerina"

Diaghilev had hoped that little Alicia would dance in his famous production of The Sleeping Princess (1921) as the smallest of the fairies at Aurora's Christening but she was prevented by catching diphtheria. He took her to watch performances when she recovered and Diaghilev became a father figure in her life guiding his ‘English daughter' in all aspects of life when she joined his company in Monte Carlo in 1925. As a member of the Ballets Russes she studied under the great ballet teacher Enrico Cecchetti and her later teachers included Nicholas Legat and Vincenzo Celli. Having created special roles for the Ballets Russes as she grew she combined working in the corps de ballet with featured parts. In 1927 she took over the role of the Cat in La Chatte , brightly realising that she would benefit from attaching rubber tips to her shoes so that unlike her predecessors in the part she did not slip on the special shiny floor the ballet used. When she first danced Princess Florine in the Bluebird pas de deux Diaghilev suggested that feathers for her head-dress should be made of bird of paradise feathers and diamonds as he felt the traditional ostrich feathers and pearls were too ‘heavy' and vulgar for her delicate features. He gave Alicia's Mother £10 with which to find the feathers on a Monday morning in Manchester (where his company was performing) and she continued to use the resulting head-dress throughout her career. At the time of Diaghilev's death in 1929 he was planning to revive Giselle for the great ballerina Olga Spessitseva and wanted Markova to learn the role for which she later became famous.

-By Jane Pritchard, Archivist, English National Ballet.

I didn't realize La Chatte had a special floor. I wonder what it was made of?

#25 sandik


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Posted 06 December 2004 - 11:27 PM

"I didn't realize La Chatte had a special floor. I wonder what it was made of?"

This is off the top of my head, but I think some of the settings were made of mica. I don't know about the floor.

#26 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 December 2004 - 04:31 AM

There seem to have been a great many transparent or semi-transparent materials used in the sets and costume ornamentation of "La Chatte". The advertising of the day had it that the whole thing was made of cellophane. Photos and survival artifacts of the production reveal that a number of different things like mica, islinglass, gel and yes, cellophane were used. The last-named is actually a cellulose product, like rayon, except in sheets rather than fiber. It must have been a riot to dance on and in!

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