It's hard to say goodbye to an idol, which is what Dame Margot Fonteyn has been to me. And it's a striking coincidence that Rudolf Nureyev, her most famous partner, should have played Salt Lake City at just about the exact time she was dying.
Strange, too, that Fonteyn should have died in obscure Panama City, far from England, the scene of her balletic triumphs; but soothing to think that she was so comfortable with herself that she could be independent of her homeland at the time of her death.She adopted Panama in deference to the nationality of her husband, diplomat Roberto Arias, and theirs was a storybook romance and marriage until the day in 1964 when a would-be assassin's bullet felled Arias, confining him to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. Henceforth, Fonteyn danced for two, remaining devoted to her husband until he died in 1989. Indeed, after his death she involved herself in carrying on his cattle breeding efforts on their Panamanian ranch.
Fonteyn's career was extraordinarily long and successful. A prima ballerina at the age of 16, she had a renaissance at 43, when she became the inspired partner of Nureyev. She was knighted in 1956 and did not formally retire until she was 60.
At age 46, she took 43 curtain calls following her debut with Nureyev in Kenneth MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet" - still the favorite version of the Prokofiev classic for many of us, from which a marvelous film was made.
"She actually convinces the audience that she is 16 years old," said danseur David Blair. "She is youth itself." Indeed, the Nureyev-Fonteyn partnership had a great deal to do with fueling the dance explosion of the '60s and '70s.
Fonteyn had the perfect balletic body and a technique to match, with a piquant, beautiful face that somehow declared "ballerina." The only woman outside of Russia to have attained the title "prima ballerina assoluta," she had star quality - that little added luminosity that made your eyes follow her whenever she was on stage.
"I think if your personality doesn't come through, then you're a little immature as an artist," she said. "It is not just doing the steps. It is part of yourself that is conveyed through your dancing."
She never lost that individual magic, or the wide, dimpled, spirited smile that was so much a part of her charm. In the 10-plus years following her retirement, she was a congenial ambassador of dance, especially with the delightful television series she hosted, "The Magic of Dance."
She died too young, and the world is diminished by her loss. A little energy has departed from that great universal fund of artistry, beauty, truth, confidence and excitement, which is the influence of the arts and artists around us and which we all draw upon when we need inspiration and comfort.
Yet one may hope that her energy is dispersed among the many young dancers who profited from her example as the ideal 20th century, Western ballerina.