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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
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
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
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
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
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