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So much has been written about Dame Margot Fonteyn D.B.E by critics, colleagues and fans over the length of her phenomenal career that it is difficult to summarize, in a few paragraphs, what it was that made her so unique. The qualities which are most fêted by critics however are her lyricism, musicality, expressiveness, balance, timing, beauty and sensititvity. She was unquestionably one of the two most celebrated ballerinas of the 20th Century, the other being Anna Pavlova.
Frederick Ashton paid this tribute to Fonteyn in 1986 ..She had perfect proportions, beautiful eyes, a beautiful face, wonderful arms, exquisite musicality and interpretative qualities. Artistry. She was a queen, Margot, and she never put on airs. Even on the grandest occasions when she was at the height of her fame, she never tried to make an entrance. She was always simple and natural. I adore her..(op.cit Margot Fonteyn Tribute programme notes, 1990)
When the length of Fonteyn's remarkable forty-five year career is considered, and the diversity of the roles she performed, the collection of costumes seems almost modest in its scope. These were however all that she retained at the end of her professional career. It is tempting to think that she held on to these specific pieces because they had some significance for her. This certainly could apply to those costumes for roles which she held in particular affection: the Chloë costume from Daphnis and Chloë for example, the Ondine pieces, and the headdresses from the first production of Giselle which she danced with Rudolph Nureyev. Also, others which represented particular professional landmarks for her: The Rose Adagio and Aurora costumes from the Ashton/Messel production of The Sleeping Beauty,a demanding role in which she triumphed, and in so doing, captured the hearts of America and was transformed overnight into an International Star. Also the Odette and Odile costumes from Swan Lake, possibly the most taxing of all roles, and an ordeal which she always anticipated with terror, but from which she perhaps achieved the greatest professional satisfaction.
The subsequent description of each individual costume is headed, where possible, with details of Ballet, Production, Act and Role. They have been grouped by ballet in alphabetical order. It should be noted that the frequency with which Fonteyn performed some roles, in certain productions, meant that the costumes were regularly replaced as they became too worn and fragile for further use. The costumes offered in this auction, may or many not be those used in the première or debut performances, just as they may or may not be the specific costumes illustrated in the accompanying photographs and the cited literature.
The identification of specific productions to which the costumes relate has proved extremely difficult in certain cases, not least because of the length and highly active nature of Fonteyn's career. Christie's are grateful to Francesca Franchi, archivist with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for her invaluable help in making the following descriptions as detailed as they are. Also to Jean Percival who successfully pinpointed the identity of the majority of headdresses.
Christie's would also like to thank the Royal Opera House for the loan of the costume mannequins, designed by H&H Sculptors, for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.