Review: Markova 2014 (talk) - Ivy House Music and Dance
Born in 1910 as Lilian Alice Marks, Alicia Markova became the first British ballerina. Now ten years after her death, the London Jewish Cultural Centre celebrated her legacy in the very same Ivy House room that she once danced for Anna Pavlova.
Making her stage debut at the age of ten, Markova was quickly hailed for her talent and billed as the ‘child Pavlova’. She then joined the Ballets Russes, before dancing with the Vic-Wells Ballet, the Ballet Club and numerous other international companies. Both technically and artistically gifted, Markova inspired and created roles for renowned choreographers including Frederick Ashton, Ninette de Valois, Michel Fokine and George Balanchine. In 1935, she founded the Markova-Dolin Ballet and later created the London Festival Ballet, now English National Ballet.
“She’s one the greatest ballerinas this country has produced,” explained dance writer and event chair Gerald Dowler. “To pay tribute in just two hours is impossible.”
Jane Pritchard, Curator of Dance at the Victoria and Albert Museum, introduced footage of Markova in Act I of Giselle. Even in the brief extract, Markova’s lightness and grace was immediately apparent. In Giselle’s solo, her musicality, neat footwork and suddenly-held balances made the choreography look utterly effortless.
An illustrious panel – Dame Beryl Grey, Clement Crisp, John Auld, Katherine Wade and Alain Dubreuil – then discussed memories of Markova, with several themes emerging: her artistry onstage, her devotion to dance, and her willingness and generosity to coach others.
Former ballerina Dame Beryl described seeing Markova’s “breath-taking” dancing in Earl’s Court as well as the “magical” experience of meeting her backstage afterwards. “She was lying on a chaise longue and looked as beautiful as she did onstage. She carried her magic with her everywhere – there was something special about her presence.
“Markova’s every movement had a thought – a reason – behind it. She never lifted her leg higher than hip level but she was a beautiful interpretive artist. She studied every role in detail, which made her so convincing and moving in her performances.”
The Financial Times’ dance critic Clement Crisp spoke about Markova’s tough upbringing, as her father died when she was very young. “She had to fight every inch of the way… She devoted her life so completely to her work and to her art.” Crisp also described how Markova was not considered beautiful by the theatrical standards of the time, but when asked if she would like to have her nose fixed, she replied that it “might ruin my arabesque”.
After retiring from dancing in 1963, Markova coached both students and professional dancers in a variety of ballets. “She was incredibly clear-sighted – someone you could trust completely,” explained Grey. “She was able to speak to everyone about her experience and knowledge. She was so sweet with youngsters – whether talented or untalented. She had a real love of dance.”
“She considered all the roles, choreography and teaching she’d had to be a gift, which she wanted to pass on” continued Crisp.
The event finished with three dancers performing some of the roles associated with Markova. The playful polka from Ashton’s Façade was brought vibrantly to life – complete with frilly knickers – by English National Ballet’s first soloist Laurretta Summerscales. ENB first artist Alison McWhinney gave a controlled and elegant interpretation of the prelude from Les Sylphides. Royal Ballet principal Laura Morera completed the afternoon with a neat and very musical performance of the Sugar Plum Fairy solo from The Nutcracker.
The event and its impressive line-up of speakers and dancers was a fitting – albeit all too brief – celebration of Markova, a woman who has truly shaped British ballet.
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