Lot 2 - Margot Fonteyn Romeo and Juliet Skirt
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“She was always among the immortals as soon as she stepped on stage.”
Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, DBE (18 May 1919 – 21 February 1991) was the greatest ballerina of her generation – or perhaps any generation.
Born in Surrey, England and trained from an early age in China, Fonteyn spent her entire professional career with The Royal Ballet based at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London.
She made her name performing principal roles in notable productions such as Giselle, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and The Sleeping Beauty, before becoming an international star in 1949 during a tour of the United States. She brought ballet to the masses, achieving a level of fame and acclaim unlike any performer before her.
Fonteyn was regarded as the perfect physical shape and size for ballet. Described as an “intensely musical dancer”, she combined a flawless line with a superlative acting ability – often enthralling the audience with a single glance or expression as much as a graceful pirouette.
In 1961, at the age of 42, many expected Fonteyn to retire. Instead she embarked on the most remarkable period of her career, forming a legendary partnership with the young dancer Rudolph Nureyev.
Nureyev had recently defected from the Soviet Union, and was just 24 years old when the pair performed together for the first time.
Thus began a famous on-and-off stage relationship which would last the rest of their lives. Rumours of a secret affair were rife, with Nureyev stating “when she left the stage in her great white tutu I would have followed her to the end of the world."
Upon Fonteyn’s retirement in 1979, Queen Elizabeth II appointed her ‘Prima Ballerina Assoluta’ of The Royal Ballet for her services – making her one of just 12 women in history to have received the title.
She is remembered today as one of the most famous performers of the 20th century, an international star whose passion and grace captivated audiences for generations. For many, she remains the dancer against whom all others are measured.
The Romeo and Juliet skirt
This skirt is understood to have been worn by Margot Fonteyn in the role of Juliet in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Margot danced in the world premier in 1965 and continued to dance in revivals of the ballet until 1976.
The costumes for this production were designed by Nicholas Georgiadis. The skirt is made of white silk organza and decorated with fine gold thread and decoration.
The production had its world premier in Covent Garden in 1965, starring the world’s most famous ballet couple – Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev. The performance famously received a rapturous reception, with 43 curtain calls and almost forty minutes of applause which was only halted when the theatre lowered the stage’s safety curtain to persuade people to leave.
The pairing of Fonteyn and Nureyev guaranteed a box-office sell-out, and they appeared in both the production which toured the US in 1965 and the film version in 1966. Fonteyn continued to perform the role until 1976, and the ballet has since become one of the most important in the Royal Ballet company’s repertoire.
The skirt comes with an exceptional provenance, having been part of the personal collection of Hetty Baynes-Russell - former ballet dancer, actress and wife of the late British film director Ken Russell.
As a child Baynes-Russell won a prestigious place at the Royal Ballet School, and later went on to perform in productions of The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty in 1968-9. In these productions she shared a stage with both Fonteyn and Nureyev, playing the roles of a ‘Rat’ in the Nutcracker and ‘The Rainbow Fairy Page’ in The Sleeping Beauty.
Her family were also close friends with Michael Somes, Fonteyn’s first dance partner with whom she appeared in the world’s first colour ballet telecast of The Sleeping Beauty in 1955. Somes found Baynes-Russell’s mother a job in the costume department of the Royal Opera House, and later gifted the family Fonteyn’s costume in the late 1960s.
A letter by Baynes-Russell detailing her life in the Royal Ballet, her career as an actress and marriage to Ken Russell is included with the skirt. Also included is further correspondence from the Royal Opera House, confirming the skirt matches the one seen in photos of Margot Fonteyn in the role of Juliet (as seen in the colour photograph above).
Rarely do personal items relating to Dame Margot Fonteyn appear on the market, and stage-worn costumes from her famous performances are by far the most sought-after.
The last notable auction of her memorabilia came 14 years ago in 2000, when a small collection of items sold at Christie’s for £640,000 – more than six times the estimate. The sale included another Fonteyn-worn costume from Swan Lake, dating from the same period, which sold for £64,250 ($93,500) against an estimate of just £3,000-£5,000 ($4,300-$7,200).
See also Lot 1: Margot Fonteyn's Swan Lake bodice
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