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Flash Preview, 11-21: Fonteyn for Sale
Christie's Auctions a Ballerina's Legacy in Costumes

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider

Margot Fonteyn's spirit has returned for one last encore to New York City this week, as Christie's, the London auction house, exhibits a couple dozen of the late ballet legend's costumes, rare pointe shoes, letters from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, haute couture evening gowns, and photographs ahead of a planned auction of 200 "lots" of items bequeathed to a relative, to be held December 12 in London.

The exhibit or viewing, which is free and open to the public, closes today at 5 p.m. at Christie's, 20 Rockefeller Plaza.

While the scarlet and yellow rhinestones are still sparkling on Fonteyn's orange costume from "La Peri," being sold along with its fishnet tights, gilt headdress, and jeweled cuffs (anticipated to bring in $3,600 - $5,000), it's the letters from Kennedy Onassis, commencing when John F. Kennedy was president and continuing through the 1960s, that most vividly illuminate Fonteyn's life, her milieu, and the esteem in which she was held in her time.

A costume worn by Margot Fonteyn in La Péri, expected to go for 1,500-2,500, was sold for 17,625 or $25,000 to the Royal Ballet School. Photo Courtesy Christie's.

The ballet boom of the sixties was preceded by the elevating and glamorizing of the arts in general by JFK and particularly his young wife when Kennedy was elected president of the U.S. in 1960. Reading Kennedy Onassis's letters to the ballet star, it's clear who is the celebrity, and who the fan.

"Thank you for the beautiful garden plant," Kennedy Onassis writes in one note. "You could not possibly have had as wonderful a time as we did -- I really hope it won't mean that you both come tottering on stage tonight and we will have Sol after us again." The Sol in question is undoubtedly the imposing impresario Sol Hurok, who often presented Rudolf Nureyev and Fonteyn during their legendary partnership. One might surmise that Jackie O had kept Fonteyn and Nureyev out partying until all hours, and had received a shellacking from Hurok.

A particularly poignant note is one dated June 24, 1968, not long after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, on which is type-written "I was so touched by your letter. It means so much to me at this sad time." The salutation to "Dear Margot" is handwritten, as is the following: "I do thank you -- we both saw Bobby together for the last time -- I send you all my love -- Jackie."

In another, Kennedy Onassis asks Fonteyn to pass on a message to Nureyev: "Please tell Rudi -- I can't call him Mr. Nureyev after stepping on his feet for an hour -- that he is the sweetest, most tolerant dancing partner and I just love him for being so nice." And this note: "I know you never read reviews -- but I hope just once someone forced you to. I was at the Cape where all the New York papers come days late -- when I read the New York Times about your last night of 'Swan Lake' in New York."

Tutus worn by Fonteyn as Odette and Odile in "Swan Lake" are also on display (as is a Swan Queen headdress with one feather jutting up at the back), and their unique design caught the attention yesterday of fellow ballerina Natalia Makarova. "It's a unique cut," said Makarova, who also danced opposite Nureyev in the ballet, in tutus by the same designer. Looking smart in leather pants and a fur-lined cap, Makarova explained, "The shape is so light, but it still gives very good shape."

Makarova also marveled at a gauzy sheer aquamarine chiffon gown, decorated with opalescent sequins, worn by Fonteyn in "Ondine." "It's a beautiful design," she said. "So airy, and so clever -- cut for the body, it gives the best shape for the body -- the body moves very well in this dress."

Also on view and on sale is a tutu from the Rose Adagio section of "The Sleeping Beauty," the ballet in which Fonteyn made her first big U.S. splash when the Sadler's Wells Ballet made its U.S. debut at the Metropolitan Opera House on October 9, 1949. A sleeveless, lime-colored chiffon dress from "Romeo & Juliet" was worn by the ballerina in either the balcony or bedroom scenes, says Christie's' Helen Bailey.

Four sets of Freed pointe shoes, one marked with the initials SB, are also on sale. Unlike many ballerinas, Wall Street Journal critic Robert Greskovic pointed out yesterday, Fonteyn was not wont to give her ballet shoes away, making these lots extremely rare. Christie's estimates that the pair most likely worn in "Sleeping Beauty," which are signed, will fetch $1,200 - $1,700, and the others, likely worn, respectively, in "Giselle," "Raymonda," "Ondine," and "Swan Lake" will bring in $860 - $1,100. The soles of the pointe shoes from "Ondine" are marked with the symbol of the maker that looks like "Box."

Most of the lots on view yesterday were accompanied by vintage photographs, which in many cases are included in the lots for sale. The lot of Jackie O notes, expected to bring in $1,200 - $1,700, includes a photo of Kennedy Onassis greeting Fonteyn, still in costume, after a performance of "Gayanne." On sale in a lot of its own is a photo taken by Fonteyn's husband, Roberto "Tito" Arias, of Fonteyn and Winston Churchill aboard Aristotle Onassis's yacht Christina from 1960, signed by Churchill.

A pair of hair decorations from "Giselle," made of "silvered" twigs and decorated with painted cellulose leaves and tendrils as well as aquamarine disks, is accompanied by a photo from the ballet with an ardent Nureyev kneeling at the feet of Fonteyn.

To top it all off, also on display yesterday, and up for auction on December 12, was a pair of red pointe shoes worn by Moira Shearer in the seminal ballet film, "The Red Shoes." Obtained from a make-up man from the 1948 film, the shoes are signed by Shearer and Leonide Massine.

The "Dame Margot Fonteyn Collection" goes up for auction December 12, in London. Christie's expects the sale to bring in about $150,000. To view some of the items on sale, please visit the Christie's website. Once on the home page, click on "The Dame Margot Fonteyn Collection," then on "Picture Gallery." Note: after you click on a particular number in the picture gallery, hang out for a minute and the image of the item for sale switches to a performance photo.

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