One of the loveliest ballerina
s of the twentieth century, a child prodigy, and a star of many of the greatest ballet companies in their various incarnations: the Royal Ballet
, English National Ballet
, and Ballet Rambert
in her native England, and the Ballets Russes
and American Ballet Theatre
. What made Alicia Markova most special was the lightness
of her young girl roles, notably Giselle
The great impresario Diaghilev saw her star quality at the age of eleven, but illness prevented her taking up his offer. She joined his Ballets Russes company at the age of fourteen, and the leading role, the nightingale, was created for her in Le Rossignol, which premièred in June 1925: music by Stravinsky, choreography by Balanchine, costumes by Matisse. It was Diaghilev who gave her her Russian name (stressed mar-KO-va); she was a little disappointed that she didn't get a grand new Russian name, as he only added three letters.
She was born Alice Marks, or Alicia Marks, or in fact Lilian Alice (or Alicia) Marks, on 1st December 1910 in Finsbury Park, in north London. I always thought she was Alice, but more references give her as Alicia, though the BBC website for Desert Island Discs gives her as Alice, and since that program involves talking to her in person I'm inclined to trust their version.
Returning to England because Diaghilev's own company dissolved with his death in 1929, she was the first leading female dancer of the newly-created English ballet scene, working with Ninette de Valois in her Vic-Wells Ballet at Sadler's Wells (later to become the Royal Ballet), and with Marie Rambert's company. The dancer who discovered her as a talented fourteen-year-old was Anton Dolin, and they became regular partners; in 1950 they jointly founded the London Festival Ballet (later to become English National Ballet). With the English companies she created many roles, especially for the ballets of Frederick Ashton.
In the 1930s she also worked with various successor companies of the original Ballet Russe, such as Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; and in the 1940s she worked with the American company then called simply Ballet Theatre, later to become American Ballet Theatre. Here in 1943 she created the role of Juliet in Anthony Tudor's choreography of Romeo and Juliet.
Markova was created a CBE in 1958 and a dame (DBE) in 1963, in which year she became ballet director of the Metropolitan Opera. She became a governor of the Royal Ballet in 1970, where she had long been a teacher. Dame Alicia died in Bath on 2nd December 2004, at the age of 94, last representative of a golden age of ballet.