Ballet: Artistry vs. Technique

Margot Fonteyn, considered by some the greatest classical ballerina of the 20th Century, and certainly immortalized by her partnership with Rudolf Nureyev, has often been the subject of the controversy:  artistry vs. technique.

With this in mind, I found a fascinating article written on this subject by Marisa Wright, someone who worked at the Royal Academy of Dancing while Margot Fonteyn was still dancing in the 60’s and very early 70’s. Here are excerpts of her article, (which can be found in it’s entirety by clicking here.)

Was Margot Fonteyn the greatest ballerina of the 20th century? I think so. It’s a great pity current generations have no way to judge her greatness.

I say that because even though it’s well worth seeing the recordings of Fonteyn dancing, they don’t do her justice. For one thing, most recordings were made during the Nureyev years, when she was already past normal retirement age for a ballerina. For another, her great gift was her incredible charisma, which the camera doesn’t fully capture.

There’s no denying that today’s ballerinas have better technique and a much greater repertoire of tricks than Margot Fonteyn. But ask any audience after her performance, and chances are very few of them could analyze her technique. They simply knew they had seen a phenomenon.

Margot Fonteyn had such a presence you could sense her, even before you could see her. That charisma flooded over the footlights to her audience. Watching Fonteyn dance, you were simply mesmerised.

My first experience of that charisma wasn’t at a ballet performance. It was in the hall at the Royal Academy of Dancing, at a prize-giving. While the General Manager was speaking, I felt a sudden change in the air. Without prompting, everyone in the audience turned to look at the back of the room (she had arrived late).

There, quietly, Fonteyn was entering the hall. The GM motioned for her to come forward and take her place in the reserved seats. I watched her walk down the aisle. I have never seen such penetrating black eyes. It was amazing how such a tiny, unassuming person could fill the room so effortlessly!

I did see Fonteyn dance, in June 1971 at a Gala Performance arranged by Richard Buckle. Here is what I had to say about her performance:

“Fonteyn was out of this world. She wore a Romantic tutu in shimmering purple. I scarcely noticed her footwork. All I could see were those beautiful, beautiful arms, rippling and flowing, curving and extending – sheer poetry! She could have bourree’d the whole time and still captivated me with those arms.”

….”Fonteyn and Nureyev provided the grand finale [from Sleeping Beauty]. And what a finale! Her face looks so young, as they say Pavlova’s always did. Even though it was only the pas de deux, she gave a complete and convincing picture of the young, newly-in-love Princess Aurora. It was an experience.”

One thought on “Ballet: Artistry vs. Technique

  1. I’m so glad you liked my article! As you can tell, Fonteyn left an indelible impression on me. Younger dancers nowadays look at me blankly when I mention her name – it’s such a pity our art is so ephemeral!

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