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The Muse Graces Us

Margot Fonteyn at Cornish College of the Arts

by Dean Speer

October 2008

We were never more excited and thrilled than the time the great Margot Fonteyn came to Cornish to rehearse during a tour she was undertaking with the New London Ballet.  She appeared in two pas de deux with David Wall: The Balcony Scene from Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and the Grand pas de deux from Act III of “Sleeping Beauty” – two roles with which she was closely identified.

Fonteyn came to Cornish to use the main ballet studio up on the third floor (walk-up at the time; no elevator until much later) as it had the most marvelous sprung wooden floor.  It was the best space for ballet in Seattle at the time – mid-1970s.  Plus wall-to-wall full-length mirrors along one side and a small grand piano, pitted with drink marks and cigarette burns.  The place had character and class – not to mention great views north and south (this Cornish building sits on the cusp of a hill).

This was the one day all classes were canceled, adding to the aura of excitement.  Nor were we allowed to stay in the area of the studios or to even think about watching.

But we got to glimpse her from afar.  The Chair of the Dance Department at the time, Karen Irvin, drove off in her enormous car [a petite person driving a big, honking vehicle] to pick up Fonteyn and be not only her taxi but hostess as well.  Smartly dressed and coiffed for working, the goddess made her way into the historic halls – where even Pavlova visited in the mid 1920s.  A photographer captured her exit, chatting with Irvin but still very much aware that she was “on” to her viewing public and adoring ballet student fans.

Attending one of the two performances was equally thrilling.  Her work with Wall in the Balcony Scene made me literally gasp and the pas de deux from “Sleeping Beauty” worked its magic.  Even though her arabesque penché was not all that deep, she used every inch of the music.  I recall she was facing stage left, and lifted herself up, reaching her gaze well beyond her arm as she began the penché sequence.  She then began her ascent with an elegant lift of her head, keeping her leg where it was.  Totally textbook perfect.

I knew it was special then to be able to enjoy her artistic dancing and all the special things that Fonteyn embodied.  I’m even more aware now of that legacy and know how privileged I was to witness a little bit of our balletic history in the making.

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