Famous Finsbury Park folk - Dame Alicia Markova
By LiseS | Thursday, August 26, 2010, 14:52
Here at Finsbury Park People we're proud of our N4 heritage, and so we thought it was time to celebrate some of the influential people who have their roots in our fair locale. Today, we're taking a look at the life of Dame Alicia Markova DBE, one of the outstanding classical dancers of the 20th century.
Prima Ballerina Assoluta and former Finsbury Park resident Alicia Markova performs the Dying Swan, 1948
The future Royal Ballet principal and founder of English National Ballet was born Lilian Alicia Marks in 1910 and grew up in a Finsbury Park flat with her Jewish parents, Alfred and Eileen. Initially training in ballet for medical reasons, the young North Londoner soon demonstrated prodigious talent and her stage debut drew comparisons to the great Anna Pavlova. Markova was spotted in class by Russian ballet impressario Serge Diaghilev and taken into the famous Ballets Russes at the tender age of 14. Here, she received the exoticised moniker that would identify her for the rest of her life.
As a dancer, Markova was known for her exquisite technique, graceful lines and expressive performances. At the Ballets Russes, Markova performed in works by the foremost choreographers of the time, George Balanchine and Bronislava Nijinska, and is said to have influenced Balachine's more athletic, modern style. On her return to Britain in 1929, still aged only 19, Markova became a founder dancer of the Ballet Rambert, and was the first British dancer to be made principal of any professional ballet company.
In 1931, Markova was invited by Dame Ninette de Valois to become Prima Ballerina at the newly-founded Vic Wells Ballet. The company would later develop into the internationally renowned Royal Ballet. As a Prima, Markova created many roles in ballets by the young Sir Frederick Ashton, now one of the best-loved British ballet choreographers.
She was also instrumental in the revival of the Romantic ballet Giselle, at the time a largely forgotten and little-performed archive work. Giselle became the dancer's favourite role, and her celebrated performances of the ballet over the years made it almost synonymous with Markova's name.
During the 1940s, Markova toured internationally as star of the re-formed Ballet Russes. In 1950, as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, Markova co-founded the Festival Ballet with dance partner Anton Dolin. The Festival Ballet, now known as the English National Ballet, continues to tour nationally, with Markova remaining the company's President after her retirement from the stage in 1963.
Markova was awarded the CBE for her services to dance in 1958, and in 1963 she was made Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE). A great inspiration to younger dancers, Markova continued teaching, directing, choreographing and staging ballets into her advanced years. In 2004, aged 94, Dame Alicia died in Bath, Somerset. A memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey.
The first British Prima, Markova is one of only two British dancers (the other being Margot Fonteyn) to be styled Prima Ballerina Assoluta. From humble beginnings in N4, Markova grew into one of the most internationally celebrated - and influential - dancers of her age.
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