There's so much history in the ballet world! Some of the dances that are being performed today date back to a century ago, and you wouldn't know it if you didn't study it. It's important to know the origin of the companies and choreography we've come to know and love. The following are nine legendary ballet dancers who've achieved a lot of success and created many opportunities in the ballet world.
Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake (Dance Magazine Archives)
On this day in 1919, a tiny Margaret Hookham was born in Reigate, England. Today, however, we know her as Dame Margot Fonteyn. Or Royal Ballet Prima Ballerina Assoluta Margot Fonteyn. Or simply one of the most timeless, most elegant, most famous ballerinas of the 20th Century.
Fonteyn first joined the Royal Ballet (then known as the Vic-Wells Ballet) in 1935, and by 1939, she was performing principal roles. She's perhaps most known for her partnership with Rudolf Nureyev, though their first performance wasn't until 1962, toward the end of Fonteyn's illustrious 40-year career.
Fonteyn died in 1991, but her legacy continues through the many ballets created on her (including the title role in Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella) and, of course, on YouTube. There aren't a ton of videos to get lost in, but a few clips are must-sees for any dancer.
Start with an excerpt of Fonteyn and Nureyev in Swan Lake:
Then watch the famous duo in a Le Corsaire pas de deux:
And finally, feast your eyes on Fonteyn and Nureyev in Les Sylphides:
Hey there, lucky San Francisco dance fans: There's a pretty amazing exhibition happening at the de Young Museum right now, "Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance." If features a display of 80 costumes that the dance legend and his co-stars wore—which is especially fitting because Nureyev was famously involved in creating the costumes for his performances. It's a fascinating slice of ballet history.
And if you visit tonight, there's a bonus. The museum is giving a multimedia presentation, "From Tutu to Haute Couture: Costume and the Ballet," which will not only go through the history of ballet costumes but also include a performance and fashion show by talented San Francisco Ballet School trainees. Plus, it's free! Get the details here.
Most people celebrate Valentine's Day with candy hearts and teddy bears and red roses. But much as I'm a total sap for all of that stuff, my favorite VDay tradition is watching this clip of Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca in the balcony pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. (It's from the 1998 video American Ballet Theatre Now: Variety and Virtuosity.)
I used to love this film for the wrong reasons. Pretty feet and legs were at the top of my bunhead checklist when I was 15, and Ferri's ridiculous arches were enough to keep me hitting rewind for days. But as I grew up a little, I began to understand the power of Ferri and Bocca's famous partnership—particularly in this, their signature ballet. In 1998, both dancers were in the autumns of their careers. But in this recording they're utterly believable as star-crossed teenagers, vulnerable and fragile and yet completely secure in the strength of their love. And they have sublime chemistry—it's like an intoxicating perfume.
Ferri and Bocca's R&J has been compared to that of another iconic duo, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. I believe that Fonteyn and Nureyev were just as magical. But while I can appreciate their rendition of the pas de deux, I've never been able to feel its power through my computer screen. I think it's the kind of thing you had to have seen live to understand (if only I'd been able to!).
I never saw Ferri and Bocca dance R&J live either. But for some reason, their film alter-egos are enough to knock me out. It's a different kind of rush. And it's my favorite Valentine's Day treat.