My Connection to Margot Fonteyn

My headline may have you fooled into thinking that I have any sort of personal relationship with Margot Fonteyn. Well, in that case I have succeeded ūüėČ

To say that I have a connection with her is actually not that far-fetched, even though such a connection is not personal.

What ties me to this prima ballerina absoluta, who still is very much alive in many balletomanes’ hearts, are two vintage items that I have collected.

The first can be considered my favorite piece of ballet memorabilia¬†in my meager collection: An autographed copy of “The Magic of Dance,” written by Fonteyn herself.

The Magic of Dance by Margot Fonteyn - ©

I acquired this book a few years ago from someone who apparently did not know who Fonteyn is, and was thus selling the book on eBay at an extremely reasonable price. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ballerina’s¬†autograph in the book as well as a pamphlet for a luncheon held in London to mark the publication of this book. Whenever I look at her autograph and touch the title page, a special kind of awe springs from deep inside me. Unfortunately, the pamphlet has been lost during a recent move. Luckily I have scanned the cover. I remember the inside spread shows the rest of the guest list as well as a seating plan.

The Magic of Dance Luncheon Pamphlet - ©
In the book, there are a few lovely pictures of the dancer herself, including one taken inside the Drottningholm Theatre in Stockholm (which I had the great opportunity to visit one time), one in Shanghai and one in Athens. She wrote about dance history and all forms of dances in the book, not just ballet. Not surprisingly, one can find quite a lot of photos of her dance partner Rudolph Nureyev. This book has a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart.

The other item I want to share with you is a¬†vintage ballet postcard showing¬†Margot Fonteyn as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Act I. On the back of the postcard, a beautifully handwritten message says: “June 16, 1953 Covent Garden,¬†‘Sylvia’ Sadlers Wells Ballet. Margot Fonteyn – Sylvia, Michael Somes – Aminta. Beautiful setting and decor. Superlative dancing by both of the “stars” – also, by John Hart (Orion) and Alexander Grant (Eros). The group dancing was also near perfection.”

There is something magical in reading someone’s handwritten note that summarizes a ballet performance in such earnestness, albeit in great brevity. The magic lies in the nostalgia of a bygone era. Today, most people would not take the time to do this sort of thing. A selfie inside the theater, a short status update on Facebook or a review on a blog are the most common ways to record our experience at the dance theater. But a handwritten note on a postcard? This just feels so much more tactile, more real. Not a bad idea to revive this practice, eh?

Margot Fonteyn in Sleeping Beauty, 1953 -

Today, it is not difficult to find tons of digital images of ballet stars past and present. But owning a postcard like this helps to shorten the distance between me and the dancer. This postcard is framed and sitting on my desk, and Margot Fonteyn continues to inspire me with her beauty, grace, elegance and strength.

What are your favorite ballet memorabilia? I would love to hear from you.

Related article:

Margot Fonteyn Autobiography

Ballet Photography: My Eclectic Picks

Photo by Enrico Nawrath

Photo by Enrico Nawrath

(Note: Each photographer’s name, photo project and book is hyperlinked to the relevant website. The link appears in¬†dark¬†brown but may not be obvious on your screen. Please click if you are interested to explore further.)

In a recent post named “Saving Ballet” on his blog “A Ballet Education,” David King listed a number of excellent and well-known ballet photographers who, thanks to the rigor of their¬†skillful representation of the¬†ephemeral art form and through the efficient propagation on social media, have helped to resuscitate ballet and even cultivated a new audience who would otherwise not become aware of it at all.

Photo by Stephanie Ma

Photo by Stephanie Ma

Besides the many ballet photography projects, such as Ballerina Project and NYC Dance Project, based in New York, and Ballet Zaider, based in Los Angeles, I would like to¬†name a few photographers in my neck of the woods who are perhaps not so widely appreciated but worth a mention simply because they represent the ballet community where I live: Conrad E. Dy-Liacco‘s photos of dancers at Hong Kong Ballet and¬†Stephanie Ma‘s photos of Hong Kong dancers and dance students.

Outside of the United States, check out the work of Simone Ghera. Ghera is an architect with an interest in dance photography. His pictures connect dance and architecture. With his project Dancer Inside, he toured several major European cities, and has worked with ballet dancers in major iconic buildings in each city he visits (article).

In Germany, I like the ballet photos of, Enrico Nawrath, a former professional dancer turned photographer who shoots  for National Ballet Berlin and is known for his works of naked and half-naked portraits of ballet dancers.

Stanislav Belyaevsky

Photo by Stanislav Belyaevsky

Russian photographer Nikolai Krusser is also one of my favorites. I think his onstage and backstage shots of ballets such as Swan Lake and Giselle are so good that they really capture the “ghostlike,” ethereal quality of these “white ballets.” Another photography, a former Kirov (Mariinsky) ballet dancer¬†Stanislav Belyaevsky, is well-known for his photos of Vaganova Academy, which have, among other works of his, wowed ballet students around the world with the beauty and rigor of the Russian dancers’ form and technique.

So far I have mentioned but one female photographer, but here is notable one: Spanish-born former soloist¬†of National Ballet Berlin,¬†Maria-Helena¬†Buckley. The way she captures ballet has a distinct feminine sensitivity and energy to it… hard to explain, but if you are a woman you’d probably detect it right away.

Akira Enzeru

Photo by Akira Enzeru

A relatively little known photographer but whose work I love, is Romanian artist¬†Akira Enzeru. I’d use “unusual” and “daring” to describe his work. He uses unconventional concepts, setting and environment for his outdoor ballet shots, the results of which are often surprising and humorous. ¬†He also seems to enjoy doing a lot of nude photography, some of which uses ballet dancers as models.

In the United States, most people know about¬†Gene Schiavone through his work for the American Ballet Theater, but equally impressive and perhaps more fluid and spontaneous in style is the work by award-winning photographer Richard Calmes, who have published two volumes of dance photography, “Dance Magic” and “Lines and Leaps.”

Another photographer’s work who may send a warm and fuzzy feeling¬†through¬†your body—and sometimes makes you gasp with disbelief—is that of Jordan Mather. His¬†carefully and painstakingly planned photos of dancers leaping and flying in the air in mostly urban landscapes can be found in his new book “Dancers Among Us.”

Another dance photographer whose work has impressed me a lot is Jes√ļs Armand. The¬†Brooklyn and Boston-based multimedia artist ¬†and former contemporary ballet dancer has taken a great deal of¬†single-exposure photos of some of the world’s top ballet dancers. He cleverly¬†used a single, long exposure for each set of ballet movements in order to present the idea of¬†continuous¬†movement rather than a frozen moment in time and space (For photos, see ¬†his¬†Kickstarter campaign for Esprit de Corp¬†a year ago).

Also doing long-exposure shots is Brooklyn-based Bill Wadman. See and read about his slow-mo dance photos in this article.

I’ll be posting another article about dance photography from the viewpoint of our local dance photographer, Stephanie Ma, soon. Stay tuned.