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Kansas City, Mo.
JAN 24 ;:,
Studtj by Jane Pbtz
HER LIFE AND ART
HERMITAGE HOUSE NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1953, BY ANTON DOLIN
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published simultaneously in Canada by
George J. McLeod, Ltd.* Toronto, Canada
CHAPTER i Childhood
CHAPTER ii Pantomime
CHAPTER in Astafieva
CHAPTER iv DiaghileJGE
CHAPTER v British Ballet
CHAPTER vi Sadler's Wells
CHAPTER vii The Markova-Dolin Ballet
CHAPTER viii Partnership
CHAPTER rx Abroad Again
CHAPTER x America
CHAPTER xi "War Years
CHAPTER xii Pioneering
CHAPTER xiii Applause
CHAPTER xrv Maitre de Ballet
CHAPTER xv Back to Britain
CHAPTER xvi Home at Last
Markova's Life-Story in Pictures;
A Photographic Sequence from Childhood to Fame
Facing Page 64
A chance remark overheard in the foyer of a London
cinema prompted the writing of this book.
It was in January 1934. Markova and I a few days previ-
ously had inscribed on the pages of ballet history that we
were the first two English artistes to dance the leading roles
in Giselle, popularly known as the Hamlet of the ballet. We
had won a victory for British dancing prestige, and felt rather
as we imagined the Russian ballerina, Mathilde Kschessinska,
might have felt that night on the Maryinsky stage in Imperial
St. Petersburg when, equaling the feat of the Italian star,
Pierrina Legnani, she executed the thirty-two fouett6s.
The Sunday evening after our exciting and successful Gi-
selle premiere, I called on Markova at her mother's flat at
Marble Arch, overlooking Hyde Park. We discussed, with
pardonable pride and happiness, the favorable week-end press
criticisms, and then, agreeing we had earned a little relaxation
1O ALICIA MARKOVA
after the previous strenuous six weeks, I suggested we go off
quietly and see a film at the Regal Cinema next door.
As we entered the foyer, we passed two young women
standing by the box office, waiting for their escorts, who were
purchasing tickets. One of them was obviously a balletomane,
for I heard her whisper to her friend, "Look, there's Mark-
ova!" The other girl glanced quickly in Alicia's direction and
replied, "It can't be. She's wearing a blouse and skirt!"
We laughed about the incident as we took our seats, but,
going home later that evening, I thought what a pity it was
that Alicia's public should know so little about her in particu-
lar, and dancers in general, that they should be surprised to
see her in a blouse and skirtand a rather elegant blouse and
skirt at that! And I made up my mind that one day I would
write a book about her, so that the world could really get to
know Markova the woman, and not only the dancer, as an
The unsettled, wandering life of a dancer hardly makes the
writing of a book an easy matter, and so years passed before I
was able to put my thoughts, my remembrances, and my
knowledge of the life of this great dancer on paper. However,
I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am now in a position
to give to the public a more complete book than would have
been possible at the time of our first Giselle.
The real opportunity for getting down to the writing of
this book did not occur until the latter half of 1949, when
Alicia and I were in England, making a concert tour of the
key cities in which we had not danced for eleven years.
Returning to London one week end, I decided to begin to
write the story of Alicia Markova. Curious to see her birth
certificate not that I thought it would provide me with any
new information, but it seemed as good a way as any to start
a biography I made my way to Somerset House, where all the
births, marriages, and deaths in the United Kingdom are
The certificate revealed that on the first day of December
1910 a daughter was born to Arthur Tristman Marks, a min-
ing engineer, and his wife, Eileen Mary Ruth Marks, nee
Barry, at 23 Wilberforce Road in the registration district of
Hackney and the sub-district of Stoke Newington, in the
County of London. She was named Lilian Alicia Marks.
Though I have been an intimate friend of the Marks family
for the best part of thirty years, I had never seen the place
where Alicia was bom, so, on leaving Somerset House, I made
my way to North London, just to get a glimpse of the house
which may one day bear a plaque announcing that one of the
world's greatest dancers made her first appearance under its
The dull, overcast sky, typical of a London winter, was
cheered by the paraffin flares of the Camden Town street bar-
rows opposite the old Bedford Music Hall, where Marie
Lloyd delighted applauding Edwardians with her saucy songs.
Soon the green trees of Finsbury Park and the lofty spire of
the Finsbury Park Methodist Church, which stands on the
corner of Wilberforce Road, came into view. Number 23,
which the Marks family vacated soon after Alicia's birth, bore
no evidence of being a distinguished monument in the history
of ballet. The front of this ordinary three-story house consists,
on the ground floor, of a bay window and front door, flanked
by newly-painted cream pillars and approached by a path of
12 ALICIA MARKOVA
red and black tiles. There are two flat windows on the first
floor and two more on the second. On either side of the en-
trance, in the little front garden, are miniature laurel trees.
Next door I noticed a much more imposing detached house,
where the great dancer, Adeline Gen6e, used to visit, while
Mrs. Marks, one o her most devoted admirers, would peep
shamelessly from behind her lace curtains as the idolized bal-
lerina of the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square crossed the
pavement from her car to her friend's house.
As I stood gazing at the house where Alicia was born, a
young woman walked briskly up to the door, inserted her key
in the lock, and hurried in. I wondered if she knew anything
of the house in which she lived. She may have seen a poster a
few yards away in the main road, announcing that Alicia
Markova and Anton Dolin were to appear for a week at the
Kilburn State Theatre, the largest auditorium in Europe.
And if she had noticed it, I am sure the young woman would
have been astonished to learn that the ballerina whose name
was publicized in large letters of royal purple at the end of
the road first saw the light o day in the house she was now
However, nothing could be gained by daydreaming about
the girl who had closed the front door on a stranger suspici-
ously looking up at her windows, and I finally made my way
Sitting down at my desk, I pondered the significance of the
life I was about to record. Just for a moment I wondered
whether I was the most suitable person to undertake the task.
On further reflection, without any false modesty, I had to ad-
mit that, having been an eyewitness to most of the triumphs
in Alicia's spectacular career, I had an advantage over every
other living person capable of writing her biography. I have
been so near to her both as her friend and as her partner and
have seen her and still see her pass most of the milestones to
success. I did not have to collect evidence from relatives,
friends, letters, and press reports, and then try to picture how
she felt on the great occasions when she helped to make ballet
history. In most instances I shared those occasions with her on
the stage, or else was present to see what was happening with
my own eyes. I did not have to imagine how she felt I nearly
always knew for she generally confided in me as one who
loved her, who knew all about the ballet, and could sym-
pathize, help, and advise her.
Even before I knew her, I had seen Alicia, at the age of ten,
make her earliest professional appearance in public as prem-
iere danseuse in a London pantomime. We met soon after-
ward as fellow students at the London dance studio of Sera-
phine Astafieva, where this wonder child amazed experienced
professional ballet dancers by her fantastic technique. When,
for the first time, I used the name of Anton Dolin at a charity
performance at the Royal Albert Hall, twelve-year-old Alicia
was on the same program, dancing for the first time at a pub-
lic performance, The Dying Swan. I was with the Diaghileff
Ballet when she joined the company at Monte Carlo. Four
years later we first danced together in public during the last
Diaghileff Ballet season at Covent Garden, just before Diaghi-
When Alicia returned to England to make her contribution
toward the establishment of the Sadler's Wells Ballet, I was
her partner on many occasions, including that historic night
14 ALICIA MARKOVA
when Giselle was first danced by an English company. We
were also together at the head of our own Markova-Dolin
Ballet, which did so much valuable pioneering work in the
English provinces, as well as at the King's and the Duke of
York's theatres in London.
During the war years we were together with Ballet Theatre
in America and, afterward, on the extensive tours which
Hurok arranged, with our own ensemble, presenting the
classic and romantic sequences from many famous ballets as
well as our own solos. Apart from one-night stands in the
United States, we took our small ballet company by air all
through Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, and
we flew across the Pacific to Honolulu and as far as Manila.
We returned to Europe together after the war, in 1948, to
face a new generation of balletomanes at Covent Garden, as
guest artistes with the Sadler's Wells Ballet. We also paid our
first visit to South Africa together. From September 1949 to
the end of that year, together with a full corps de ballet and an
orchestra under the direction of Leighton Lucas, we toured
England and Scotland, giving five or six performances a week.
Except for a few weeks, we appeared on a specially erected
stage in the largest available hall.
I have spent more time with Alicia, both on and off the
stage, than with any other artiste, and she can say the same of
me. This might not have happened, had we remained in Lon-
don all through the years.
As we appeared with Sadler's Wells Ballet in its infancy, it
is conceivable that we might have stayed with them as perma-
nent members of the company. In that case, I should have
lived in my studio in Chelsea and Alicia would have lived
with her mother and sisters in their flat at Marble Arch, and
we might not have seen so much of each other, apart from
rehearsals, performances at the theater, and occasional social
functions which we would naturally have attended together.
By fate and circumstance sending us to the far comers of the
earth, our careers flung us closer together, resulting in a com-
panionship that might never have existed had we remained
We have had our successes but we have shared trials and
hours of illness and misfortune, when I learned more about
Alicia than I could hope to have done in years of a purely
professional relationship in the theater.
That is why I am so eager to write this book, because I
know the real person behind the exotic, sometimes tempera-
mental prima ballerina assoluta.
When people stop me at the stage door, or talk to me at
parties, we very often discuss Alicia, and the inevitable ques-
tion arises: "What is she really like?" They cannot begin to
think for themselves how an ethereal Giselle or Swan Queen
lives and behaves offstage.
I am hoping that my book will answer their query by let-
ting them see the real human being behind this great artiste.
I want to leave a few words behind which can be read long
after we have taken our last curtain call.
Balletomanes yet unborn will hear of Markova, as we hear
of Taglioni and GrisL They may be able to gaze upon her
fragile satin ballet shoes in some theatrical museum, and they
will be able to admire countless photographs of her in all her
famous roles. I want them to know more than that, something
which no official records can possibly bring to light.
l6 ALICIA MARKOVA
The public have long worshiped the ballerina who has so
often given me a rose from her bouquet, but it has been our
mutual devotion and Alicia's dedication to her art that have
guided our relationship safely through many difficult times,
producing an artistic and personal understanding rarely
known between two dancers.
With the image of her birthplace still in my mind, and the
echo of last night's applause still in my ears, I have set about
connecting the two in what I hope will be a worthy tribute to
the first English ballerina assoluta and my first choice for a
permanent partner from all the great ballerinas with whom I
have had the privilege and good fortune to dance.
<*+*>*^> ; S*S>&> e 3*>3&>^^
ALTHOUGH there is no trace of theatrical blood in Alicia
Markova's ancestors, it is a fact that the London of 1910, the
year of her birth, bristled with the comings and goings of
Russian Ballet dancers. It seems as if the Fates excelled them-
selves in setting the stage and preparing for the entrance of
this fragile ballerina-to-be, who arrived on the scene on that
first day of December, a Thursday, when, a few hundred
yards away, Marie Lloyd, darling of the London music halls,
was singing "She's It" at the Finsbury Park Empire.
The music hall was not to be despised in that year, since it
was the medium through which some of the most famous of
Russian dancers made themselves known to the British
It was as part of a variety bill at the Palace, in April, that
Pavlova and Mordkin first staggered London with what one
l8 ALICIA MAKKOVA
critic called their "pure melody of motion." They appeared
on the same program with Albert Whelan, Arley's Athletic
Dogs, and moving pictures of Teddy Roosevelt's British East
Africa Big Game Shooting Expedition. But even in so in-
congruous a setting these two supreme artistes impressed the
audience with their dramatic power as well as their dancing.
While fascinated by the thistledown lightness and graceful-
ness of their movements, I feel sure the fashionable patrons of
the Palace were able to read a whole world of emotion and
imagination in the facial expression of these magical dancers
from Imperial Russia.
The Palace was not the only music hall presenting ballet,
which was enjoying something of a boom that year, for in
May, at the time of Edward VII's death, the London Hippo-
drome staged a variety bill which included a full-length ver-
sion of Le Lac des Cygnes with Preobrajenska and a company
of dancers from the Imperial Ballets of St. Petersburg and
Moscow, including Ludmilla Schollar and Georges Kyasht.
For the price of admission, patrons could also enjoy the risqu
songs of Yvette Guilbert, as well as Bioscope pictures of the
lying in state of the late monarch.
It was also possible to see Karsavina and Alexis Kosloff
dancing Giselle nightly at the Coliseum, while Lydia Kyasht,
the first Russian ballerina to conquer London, two years be-
fore Pavlova, was drawing lovers of ballet to the Empire,
where she was partnered by the great character dancer, Adolf
So the stage had seen a full and glorious year of dancing by
the time December dawned and Mrs. Marks presented her
husband with a frail daughter and Terpsichore with a new
disciple who was to prove one of her most devoted worshipers.
It was a happy, comfortable, and prosperous home into
which little Alicia was born.
Arthur Marks, the child's father, was a young man of the
Jewish faith, who first met his future wife when he was a boy
of thirteen, and little Eileen Barry, only a year younger, had
come over from Ireland to stay with her stepfather in Har-
ringay. Arthur Marks was particularly attracted by her pig-
tails and always seemed to be hanging about the school gates
waiting to escort young Miss Barry home. She did all she
could to discourage his attentions. Undaunted, young Arthur
made a friend of Miss Barry's young brother Willie, and fre-
quently called at the house to see him, when he thought the
sister would be at home.
It was a bunch of violets that changed both their lives. The
little girl had been ill and was taking the air for the first time
after getting out of bed. She was in particularly low spirits,
feeling rather sorry for herself. At the end of the road she
found Arthur Marks, who smiled at her and said, "I'm so glad
to see you out again. I thought you'd like these/* He pressed a
small bunch of violets into her hand, and melted her heart at
the same time. They became close friends and when she was
sixteen they were engaged, although both families disap-
proved of the union because of their differences in faith.
Eileen, with the full face and smiling eyes of an Irish col-
leen, had been reared in County Cork, proud to count herself
one of the Bloody Bourkes of Galway and to trace her descent
from the kings and queens of Ireland.
In his late teens Arthur Marks went to America where he
won early distinction in his profession as a mining engineer.
2O ALICIA MARKOVA
Both families hoped that the young people would change
their minds about marriage during the period of their separa-
tion, but that old saying about absence making the heart grow
fonder seemed to hold good where they were concerned. The
girl who had been brought up in an Irish convent was quite
prepared to learn Hebrew, take the Jewish name of Ruth, and
marry Arthur Marks, which she did, four years after their en-
gagement, at the Upper Berkeley Street Synagogue in
In 1910 the young couple went over to County Cork to
visit Mrs. Marks' family in Crosshaven and to see the in-
credibly green Emerald Isle at its loveliest, its hedgerows be-
decked with a profusion of blossoms.
Though she did not know it, Mrs. Marks was pregnant. It
is just as well that she was unaware of the fact, or she might
have been more than unduly alarmed when she was tossed by
a frisky young bull as she crossed the field of a neighboring
farm. She was still ignorant of her condition when she re-
turned to London and went to the World's Fair which at that
time was drawing thousands to the Earl's Court Exhibition.
She was eager to enjoy the fun of the fair, but, following a
ride on a roller coaster, she fainted in her husband's arms. A
doctor was summoned, and when she recovered she knew that
in less than six months she would have her first child.
At that time the mighty Assuan Dam was being constructed
in Egypt and Arthur Marks was offered work out there which
was too remunerative to be turned down by a young married
man, especially one who would soon be a family man as well.
Mrs. Marks accompanied her husband, feeling there was
plenty of time before the child was born.
She returned to England for the birth of her baby. That
both mother and child lived was something of a miracle. As
doctor and nurse fought for the survival of at least one life,
hardly daring to hope for both, Arthur Marks cried, "Let my
child die, but save my wife! I can have another child ... I
do not want another wife!" Both survived.
As Alicia has said since, "I suppose even then I willed my-
self to live, to be of this world. I have willed and struggled
ever since, just to go on and on to exist. In the very begin-
ning it was difficult. If it comes to that, it has always been so.
I suppose it was meant to be, but the fight, thank God, has
been worth while. I am quite sure of that now."
While Mrs. Marks was carrying her first child, she had al-
ready fallen under the spell of the ballet. She had been to the
Empire to see Adeline Gene, that great ballerina, whose
technique must have been nearer perfection than that of any
other dancer in living memory. No wonder she used to peep
at her with bated breath when she visited the house next door.
Soon after her marriage Mrs. Marks had witnessed those
electrifying first performances of Pavlova in London and had
seen her dancing Rubinstein's Valse Caprice with Mordkin,
conveying all "the uncertain glory of an April day." They
were rich, emotional, and artistic experiences which remained
vividly alive in Mrs. Marks' memory as long as she lived.
While staying in Cairo, Mrs. Marks paid several visits to
the Sphinx and was deeply impressed by its mysterious
beauty. One night, while she and her husband were admiring
the gigantic face by moonlight, they wondered how the
mighty monument had been created, and fell to considering
their own creation and whether it would be a boy or a girl.
22 ALICIA MARKOVA
Mrs. Marks said that she hoped it would be a girl and added
that she would be more than satisfied if the child danced a
quarter as well as Pavlova. Her husband said that he would be
very happy to have a daughter, but hoped that she might
possess just a suggestion of the eternal mystery of the Sphinx.
When, at the age of ten, Alicia made her first professional
appearance, she performed an oriental dance, and there is
still something indefinably mysterious about her face. Also in
some miraculous manner the spirit of Anna Pavlova seems to
have entered Alicia Markova. Now, as a fully-matured artiste,
I feel Markova is the nearest approach to the divine Pavlova
that this or any other age will give us. Each time I see her
dance, or when I watch her at rehearsal, or dance on the stage
with her, I am more and more conscious of this extraordinary
physical resemblance which, at times, is almost uncanny.
In time the Marks family was to be completed by the addi-
tion of three sisters. Doris arrived four years after Alicia,
Vivienne three years later, and, finally, Berenice, nicknamed
Bunny, who is eight years younger than Alicia.
The first born was named Alicia after her great-grand-
mother. There was never any suggestion of her being called
Alice. Ballet enthusiasts, proud of the fact that the interna-
tionally famous Markova is of British origin, are constantly
saying that originally she was Alice Marks. Nothing infuriates
her more, as she happens to hate the name of Alice. Her
birth certificate plainly proclaims her name to be Alicia. An-
other member of the family, apart from her great-grand-
mother, also bore the name. Her other name of Lilian has
family associations as well.
It was a strange family into which this child of the ballet
was born. It was composed of inventors and engineers. Her
great-uncle, Sir Albert Altman, designed the drawbridge
mechanism on the Tower Bridge, one of the wonders of the
Victorian Age, for which services he was knighted by the
Queen. Alicia's grandfather, Herbert Marks, specialized in
lighting and was a pioneer in the illumination of theater ex-
teriors. He made Drury Lane more conspicuous after dark,
and then went to America, where his new ideas did much to-
ward transforming Broadway into the Great White Way.
Alicia saw little of their grandfather because of his travels
and long residence in South Africa, so she and her sisters
looked upon their great-grandfather, Abraham Marks, more
as a grandparent. He and his business had a fascination for
the Marks girls. Abraham was a great friend of Willie Clark-
son, the famous theatrical costumier, who used to supply
Bernhardt, as well as many other celebrated artistes, not only
with their costumes but their many changes of headdresses
and wigs. In Islington, Abraham used to supply trimmings to
theatrical costumiers, which made his business premises at
the back of the house something of an Aladdin's Cave to the
On Saturday afternoons the children were generally taken
out by their nurse, a young Irishwoman named Gladys Hogan,
who became one of the family at the time Doris was born,
and remained with them for years. They would invariably
persuade her to take them to Islington to see Grandpa Abra-
ham. He was always glad to see them, as his wife had died
some years previously and he often felt lonely with no one
but a housekeeper for company.
The nurse, who was always known as "Guggy," used to en*
24 ALICIA MARKOVA
joy a friendly chat in the kitchen with the housekeeper, while
the girls had tea upstairs with the old man. They did not
waste much time over tea, though they enjoyed the toasted
buns and iced cakes which were piled up on silver stands.
They wanted to get into the workrooms. After all, they could
have cakes at home, but nowhere else could they see such
wonders as those which were stacked up in Grandpa's work-
Saturday afternoon was a good time to pay a visit, when the
staff had gone home and the children were free to explore the
treasures. Nothing in any draper's window compared with the
glory of the lovely things in Grandpa's establishment. His
merchandise, designed for the theater, had a glitter which was
absent from the finery displayed in ordinary shops.
The girls used to gloat over cards of jeweled buttons,
lengths of trimmings encrusted with diamant6, and gold tas-
sels rich enough to adorn a queen's coronation robe. Grandpa
would give them snippings of the most gorgeous brocades and
velvets for their dolls' clothes, as well as sequins and spangles
which made each of their dolls look like a princess.
Alicia took great pleasure in matching up the various mate-
rials and accessories for her dolls. Their dresses never looked
as if they had been made from a hotchpotch of materials sal-
vaged from the ragbag. Her color sense was good, and she in-
variably set off each dress with a touch of contrasting material
which gave her dolls a most distinctive air.
Alicia is always tastefully dressed, and that is true of her
even in the difficult years, when she never spent a shilling on
anything except the absolute necessities of life. No matter
how meager a sum she allowed herself for clothes, she always
managed to acquire the right dress, hat, shoes, bag, and gloves
which created an effect of quiet good taste.
As the girls grew older, they began to think about making
costumes for themselves rather than for their dolls. Alicia was
quick to make the most of all the lovely loot they could ac-
quire from Islington and soon devised effective costumes for
her younger sisters. Grandpa's trimmings were meant to be
worn by real actresses, singing and dancing on the stage, so
the girls hit upon the idea of having their own children's
theater at home, with Alicia as producer, designer, program
printer, and principal performer. She took complete charge,
but the others did what they were told quite willingly, as
Alicia always appeared to be right, whether she was matching
materials for a dress or teaching them new steps to the strains
of a gramophone record.
Then the Sphinx began to raise her mysterious head for the
first time. Among the gramophone records which the girls
used for their theatrical performances was one of Luigini's
Ballet Egyptien. It had a curious fascination for Alicia. She
played it over and over again, seeking her first choreographic
inspiration. When she finally worked out the ballet, she
sprang a surprise on the family by having young Bunny car-
ried in on a cushion, sitting cross-legged like an infant
Alicia printed all the programs by hand for these occasions,
which were usually attended by members of the family and
one or two neighbors. For the premiere of her Ballet Egyptien
she decorated the front of the program with a rough sketch of
the Sphinx of Gizeh, drawn from a colored plate in a geogra-
phy book. She herself danced in bare feet, as she did when
26 ALICIA MARKOVA
she first appeared in public in a pupil's display. Later, in
pantomime, she also danced in bare feet, as she did in the first
ballet created for her at Sadler's Wells, when she appeared as
Echo to the Narcissus of Stanley Judson in the Ninette de
Valois version of Narcissus and Echo, with music by Arthur
Mr. Marks was so impressed by the industry and talent of
his daughters that he built a concrete stage for them in the
garden of their North London home, and there, under a can-
vas awning, they amused themselves and their friends for
hours. They did all the work themselves, their father helping
them by working the gramophone behind the scenes.
Music was always the strong feature of these entertain-
ments. Alicia had enough theater sense, even at that age, to
realize that grownups soon wearied of children reciting their
party pieces, so she introduced music into the program on
every possible occasion. She herself had been a music lover
from the age of two. Their house in those days was situated
between Finsbury Park and Clissold Park, so little Alicia
used to spend a good deal of time in each park.
Her destination was chosen according to her mood. If she
wanted to listen to the band, she was taken to Finsbury Park;
but if she wanted to feed the swans, she went to Clissold Park.
Usually she chose the band, much to the amusement of other
strollers in the park, who smiled at the sight of this tiny child,
looking so old for her years, as, carried away by the strains of
the Blue Danube Waltz, she conducted with a pencil.
Alicia's love of music has increased with the years, so when-
ever she has a free evening, her first move is to discover if
there is a concert worth attending. She likes what she calls
meaty music, such as Wagner or Richard Strauss, but really
prefers the concert hall to the opera house, so that she can
give herself entirely to the music and not have to divide her
attention between the aural and visual side of the entertain-
ment. Music means so much to her, and she has such respect
for the works of the various composers and the way they in-
tended to have them played, that she is more distressed than
any dancer I know when a musical director takes liberties
with classical scores such as Les Sylphides or Beethoven's
I wonder if her first sight of swans gliding on the lake in
Clissold Park had any effect in later years upon her perform-
ance of The Dying Swan. She still has vivid memories of feed-
ing them and remembers how she could distinguish one from
another, so perhaps her keen sense of observation and her re-
tentive memory stored up an inspiring vision of this most
graceful of all birds, accounting to some extent for the
poignant fluttering of her sensitive fingers in that unforget-
Dress caused Alicia considerable disappointment and dis-
satisfaction in her childhood. She had her own way when it
came to dressing her dolls and when she dressed her sisters for
their theatrical performances, but she disliked the way her
mother dressed her. She wanted something rather soft and
feminine, but Mrs. Marks thought her eldest daughter
'looked French" with her black fringe, and, in consequence,
she liked to see her turned out in sailor suits, with H.M.S. em-
broidered on the cap in gold. Even on Sundays she had to
follow the same rather severe style with a white reefer coat
and a Panama hat.
2 8 ALICIA MARKOVA
The child liked the ankle-strap shoes and sandals worn by
other girls, but because she suffered from weak ankles, she
was condemned to wear either button or laced-up boots.
She used to curse her boots, especially at parties, when she
had to change them for dancing or games. Poor Alicia was
still undoing her laces long after the other girls had changed
and were assembled in readiness for the fun.
Even in the question of stage costumes, she failed to get
her own way on the occasion of her first appearance at a
pupils' display. She longed to dance in a billowing cloud of
tulle like the pictures she had seen of Adeline Gene and
Anna Pavlova in her mother's album, but looking so serious
and mature for her years, with a very definite profile, she was
cast as an oriental siren and given gold-tissue trousers to wear.
They were exotic enough, but they displeased her intensely
because she felt she could express herself so much more freely
in tulle than in tissue.
Alicia was dancing a good deal about the time of her eighth
birthday. Both she and her sisters thought it a waste of time to
play the conventional games popular with other children.
They were not happy unless they were acting, singing, or
dancing in connection with their own entertainments at
home. When inventing new steps to the music of the gramo-
phone, Alicia noticed that her left knee was liable to give way
occasionally. She told her mother, who promptly took her to
a specialist. He examined the child, looking both through
and over his spectacles, and told Mrs. Marks that her daugh-
ter was knock-kneed and flat-footed.
Secretly, Mrs. Marks felt rather angry about the remarks*
which she considered an insult. He even went on to talk about
the child wearing braces for a few months as a means of cor-
rection. That was the last straw! On further reflection, he sug-
gested that Alicia might take up some "fancy dancing" as a
means of strengthening her limbs, which seemed almost too
slender to carry even her frail little body. Anything rather
than braces! So Mrs. Marks paid her fee and decided to ar-
range for Alicia to go to an academy of dancing. It was
worth taking a chance, and in any case no harm could be
done by improving a young girl's deportment.
The Misses Thorne Madge and Dorothy had quite a
reputation in London at that time as teachers of dancing and
elocution. Madge taught elocution, while Dorothy looked af-
ter the ballet. As there was a branch of their academy in
Palmer's Green, Mrs. Marks thought it would be a good idea
if Guggy took Alicia there on Saturday mornings for some
dancing lessons. As little Doris fancied herself as a budding
actress, even at the age of four, she was sent as well, to receive
instruction in elocution. The girls seemed very happy to go
off to their classes every week, and, as far as Alicia's knee was
concerned, it began to look as if the specialist had prescribed
the right course, as it became considerably stronger and no
longer let her down.
Apart from that, Mrs. Marks did not pay much attention to
what was happening at Miss Thome's Academy.
Miss Thorne, on the other hand, became slowly aware of
having a miracle child in her dancing class. The child had an
elfin grace, picked up new steps in the twinkling of an eye,
and executed them with the ease of a professional artiste. It
was uncanny in one so young. Miss Thorne asked Guggy to
tell Mrs. Marks how impressed she was with her daughter's
gO ALICIA MARKOVA
talent, feeling that something ought to be done about it. Mrs.
Marks did not pay much attention to Guggy's remarks, feeling
that it was probably a cunning move on Miss Thome's part
to get her to spend more money on extra lessons for Alicia.
Nothing was done. Still the child continued to amaze Miss
Thorne by the effortless ease with which she performed the
most intricate combinations of steps. Surely her family would
do something about it if they knew. So Miss Dorothy called
on Mrs. Marks to insist upon her presence at the Academy.
The mother accompanied the girls on the following Saturday
and was astonished at the way Alicia had progressed under ex-
pert tuition. She agreed that something ought to be done
about the child, but what? She was far too young to put on
the stage, so matters were left in abeyance for the time being,
although Alicia still continued to take her weekly lesson.
An open talent competition supplied the next surprise for
the Marks family. It was held at the Athenaeum in Muswell
Hill, the North London suburb in which they were living at
the time. The management, as an additional attraction to
their film program, held a talent-spotting competition. The
winner received a check for five guineas as well as a contract
for a week's engagement. The public judged the best act for
themselves, the criterion being the volume and duration of
There were no two opinions in the house when they saw
Alicia dance. The child was deafened by a storm of excited
applause. It was her first taste of public adulation, and she
honestly confesses that she rather liked it, though she was a
bit disappointed at having to go home without her contract.
She received the five guineas, but being too young to appear
on the professional stage, she had to forfeit that part of the
glory. Having been baptized, so far as applause was con-
cerned, she gained a new confidence and was anxious to evoke
similar thunder as soon and as often as possible.
The next occasion occurred at St. John's Hall, Palmer's
Green, when the Thorne Academy pupils gave their annual
performance. Alicia was taught a cymbal dance for the occa-
sion and was dressed as a sultana from The Arabian Nights.
This strange child with burning eyes in a singularly old and
mature face which compelled one to look, and look again,
wore a dress of apricot chiffon with short Turkish bloomers,
a gold belt, and jeweled breastplates. On her black hair she
balanced an elaborate headdress of pearls, complete with
chin strap. To complete the effect, she carried small gold
cymbals. It was a costume such as Theda Bara might have
worn at the height of her vampire glory, but it must have
looked strangely out of place on a child of eight, with no
glamour in the accepted sense of the word.
Nevertheless, Alicia conquered another audience, and this
time she won her first press notice. It was only eleven words
in length, but every artiste has to start some time, and not
many get notices at eight years of age. The critic of The Senti-
nel wrote on February 21, 1919 that "Little "Lily Marks made
a great hit with an Eastern dance." She appears to have made
a great hit with the critic as well. He felt that she was someone
to keep in mind, for a year later, when Miss Thome's pupils
gave another performance at the same hall in Palmer's Green,
The Sentinel wrote, "We always watch for Lily Marks, and
this time, again, she did not disappoint us. There was some-
thing daintily suggestive in her Rose Poem dance to music
Already she was winning a public of her own and making a
32 ALICIA MARKOVA
lasting impression on those who saw her. When Alicia was
nine, she made her first appearance in the West End with the
pupils of the Thorne Academy at King's Hall, Covent Gar-
den, only a stone's throw from the Royal Opera House which
was to be the scene of many a later triumph. With uncanny
assurance the child was getting a remarkable hold on audi-
ences, being greeted by rounds of applause and recalled over
and over again. She put an astonishing amount of character
into her now famous Eastern dance which, according to the
Dancing Times, "supplied the best individual dance of the
After her first taste of a West End triumph, Alicia was
taken to tea at Fuller's, where she was envied and admired by
some of the less talented pupils who were being entertained
at neighboring tables by adoring mothers and aunts.
It is perhaps not quite correct to say that Alicia's appear-
ance at King's Hall was her West End debut, but it was the
first time she had been noticed by the press in the West End.
However, a year earlier she had given her services at a mati-
nee held at the Strand Theatre on April i, 1919, in aid of the
Italian Red Cross, during World War I.
The program opened with the band of the Grenadier
Guards playing Verdi's Overture to Giovanna d'Arco, and
this was immediately followed, according to the program, by
Miss Lily Marks Danseuse. It was probably a shock for the
audience to see a dancer of such tiny stature, but they gave
her a very good reception before settling down to enjoy the
rest of the bill, which included such familiar and popular
names as Jos Collins, Margaret Bannerman, Jack Buchanan,
Fay Compton and Beatrice Lillie.
Mr. Marks was rather proud of his talented daughters, for
Doris was making good headway in the elocution class at Miss
Thome's and was given every encouragement by her father,
who still had eyes for the other girls, despite Alicia's dazzling
achievements. It pleased him to hear them reciting pieces they
had learned by heart, so, if they were good, particularly on
Sunday mornings, when he had more time to spare, he would
coach them in new verses from their repertoire. Doris made
rather a hit with Gunga Din. At Miss Thome's, she and
Alicia had studied a recitation for two entitled Contradic-
tions, and this, together with the Puck and Titania scenes
from A Midsummer Night's Dream, was regarded as the high
spot at family gatherings and parties when the children were
called upon to entertain their elders.
As they were crazy about acting and had little time for the
childish pastimes of girls of their own age, it was considered
that no harm could come from allowing them to go to an
occasional theater or cinema,
Doris had been doing some child acting for the screen and
had recently appeared in a film version of The Old Curiosity
Shop, in which Mabel Poulton played Little Nell. Mr. Marks
suggested that Alicia and Doris should go and see the film at
the local cinema, not realizing the effect it would have upon
his highly impressionable elder daughter. When Quilp came
on the screen, Alicia was simply terrified, and clenched her
little hands until they turned white with tension. She had
never seen so horrible a creature and felt that with men like
that lurking about, the world was a rather terrible place in
which to live.
She looked at Doris out of the corner of her eye, but gained
34 ALICIA MARKOVA
little comfort, as Doris had met all the actors and actresses in
the film and thought them very nice people, particularly
Quilp, who had taken quite a fancy to her and bought her
chocolate and cakes at the film studio canteen. She was beam-
ing with pleasure as all her old friends came on the screen.
Alicia screwed up sufficient courage to sit through the film,
but when Quilp came on, she tried to avoid looking at him by
concentrating her attention on the illuminated clock at the
side of the screen.
She seemed strangely silent as they walked home, but Doris
hardly noticed it, as she was chattering away about the artistes
who had made such a fuss of her at the studio. It was late
when they reached home, so Mrs. Marks hurriedly prepared
supper and told them to get off to bed. Alicia refused to eat
a thing. She was thinking about Quilp and wondering how
long he would continue to haunt her. Silently she went up-
stairs with Doris to the bedroom which they shared. She
crossed over to the window to draw the curtains. As she looked
out, she uttered a piercing shriek, and fell back on the floor
in a dead faint. Doris was terrified and ran downstairs, yelling
When Alicia came to she explained that she thought she
saw Quilp outside the window and imagined he had come to
fetch her. It was more than the imaginative child could bear,
and she lost consciousness.
Alicia was so sensitive and so vividly moved by the things
she saw and read that great care had to be taken in choosing
her reading matter and her entertainment. Even The Water
Babies frightened her when she first read it. Thinking music
might be safer, her mother encouraged her to devote more
time to the piano, which she played very well. She admired
Doris's talent for putting over a song, but, soon after joining
the vocal class at Miss Thome's, she was dismissed for singing
out of tune.
Chu Chin Chow, the spectacular musical play which ran at
His Majesty's Theatre for 2,238 performances during World
War I, was considered suitable entertainment for Alicia, pos-
sibly because of the music and partly because of the oriental
setting which her mother thought might appeal to the little
Sphinx-like cymbal dancer.
The outing was a huge success, and she took great joy in
restaging the dances when she returned home. Doris, who had
been very unhappy about not being taken, was swept away by
Alicia's enthusiasm and was soon poring over a copy of The
Arabian Nights, with a view to making some new costumes to
suit the Eastern music.
Mrs. Marks was delighted to observe that Chu Chin Chow
had been more successful than The Old Curiosity Shop, and
she also noted that the dances in the show made a stronger
impression upon Alicia than any other part of it. Why not
take the child to see some ballet the next time she took her
Pavlova still remained the most cherished of all Mrs.
Marks's theatrical impressions, and she was anxious for her
daughter to share them. She had already tried twice to make
Alicia Pavlova-conscious, but possibly the child was too
young to appreciate the great dancer, as she had not appeared
unduly enthusiastic. The first time, when Alicia was only six,
her mother took her to see a film made by Pavlova. All
Alicia can recall was a graceful figure dancing through whirl-
36 ALICIA MARKOVA
ing smoke. It was very beautiful and she talked about it a
good deal afterward, but it gave her no burning desire to be-
come a great dancer.
Much later Mrs. Marks took Alicia to the theater to see
Pavlova in the thrilling Autumn Bacchanale in which, as a
bacchante, she danced across the stage in a frenzy of aban-
doned joy. The child was excited, but that was all. Her
mother felt that the time had come for Alicia to see great
dancing, so she knew it was time to show her Pavlova again.
She had obviously not missed a step of the dances at His
Majesty's, and if such mediocre choreography could make so
deep an impression upon her, what effect would Pavlova
have at this stage in her artistic development?
Very soon thereafter Pavlova gave an evening of popular
divertissement at the Queen's Hall. Alicia and her father
went on a warm summer evening to see the greatest dancer
within living memory and, possibly, the greatest dancer of all
Though Alicia was silent on the way to Queen's Hall, she
hoped that her father had taken seats in the circle. She knew
from previous visits to theaters that she was usually the small-
est member of the audience, and when she happened to sit in
the stalls behind a tall man, she found it rather trying to see
what was happening on the stage. However, Mrs. Marks had
taken care of the arrangements for this evening, and remem-
bering how much more she enjoyed ballet from the circle at
the Empire and the Palace, she suggested that Alicia should
Once installed, the child was more than pleased with the
clear and unobstructed view of the stage. Her father had
bought her a souvenir program containing pictures of the
great ballerina in all types of exotic costumes and graceful
poses, as well as a smiling photograph taken with a swan, in
the garden of Ivy House at Golders Green, which had be-
come her permanent home.
To the Glow Worm music of Hermann Finck, Alicia
watched the popular Gavotte Pavlova, in which Pavlova wore
a yellow satin dress with a train looped to her wrist. The yel-
low was more radiant than anything she had ever seen in
Grandpa's workroom. The dancer wore it with all the ele-
gance of one of the great ladies in the storybooks. She looked
a grande dame, and how gracefully she moved! How clumsy
Miss Thome's best pupils seemed in comparison! One step
seemed to melt into the next, producing a continuous fluid
movement, just as individual notes of music harmonize to
create an immortal melody. Dancing appeared to be her
natural mode of expression. Never for an instant did it seem
to be something she had learned in a classroom with a tin-
kling piano and a ballet mistress beating time on the floor
with a stick.
As Pavlova dissolved from sight, Alicia sat transfixed in
her seat. Her father knew exactly how she felt and merely ex-
changed an affectionate glance with her. Her enormous eyes
still focused on the stage, anxious not to miss a step of the
next number. Later, just before the interval, Pavlova danced
Calif ornian Poppy to one of Tchaikovsky's loveliest melodies.
Alicia, who is passionately fond of flowers, was fascinated by
this dance in which the poppy opened out in the warmth of
the sunshine and then closed up as the cool of the evening
38 ALICIA MARKOVA
approached. The child caught her breath as the dancer drew
the scarlet petals of her dress upward over her face with a
curious shuddering movement. She felt that Pavlova must be
a great lover of flowers or she could never have danced with
such expression and understanding.
Alicia used to feel sorry for the flowers in their own garden,
as they shut themselves up for the night, trying to keep as
warm as possible until the sun rose again in the morning.
Pavlova must have felt like that. Perhaps she had flowers as
well as swans in the garden of Ivy House, and perhaps she
went out to see them at dusk to make sure they were in no
danger from wicked insects or destructive animals. Even the
most lovable of domestic pets can play havoc in a flowerbed,
but Alicia was sure that Pavlova had a way with animals. One
had only to look at that picture with the swan. Alicia had
never seen anyone photographed with a swan before, but the
swan seemed to enjoy posing for the picture and being
fondled by Pavlova.
The house lights went up and the audience broke into a
flood of excited chatter. Alicia was still tightly holding her
illustrated program when her father leaned over to her. "It's
very hot, darling. Would you like some ice cream?"
"No, thank you, Daddy," she replied. "But do you think I
could see Madame Pavlova afterward?"
Her father was astounded by the suddenness and the nature
of the request. One heard of dancers casting a spell over
people, but no one who knew Alicia could have imagined her
asking to meet the great Pavlova. Mr. Marks felt that soon he
would not know his own daughter; Alicia, who was so shy
that she never spoke to strangers or newcomers unless they
first addressed her, and after answering politely in as few
words as possible, would lapse into her former silence. She
made scarcely any friends. Mr. Marks was entirely baffled by
her eagerness to meet a stranger and a grownup at that.
"Madame Pavlova would not know us, dear, even if we
went to see her/' ventured Mr. Marks. "What makes you
think you would like to meet her?"
On Alicia's lap the souvenir program lay open at the page
featuring the picture of the ballerina with her favorite swan.
"I'd like to see her, Daddy, because she is kind. She loves
animals and flowers. Please, please, Daddy, go out and see
if we can meet her afterward. I'll be all right. I'll stay here in
my seat and look at these pictures. I promise not to move. Do
The bewildered Mr. Marks made his way to the entrance
hall, wondering what to do. The child was set on meeting
Pavlova and would obviously not take no for an answer. He
was anxious to do his best for his daughter, but, having no ex-
perience of backstage manners and customs, he had no idea
how people were received by theatrical celebrities. However,
he went round to the stage door and saw a commissionaire,
asking if he might send in his card to see Madame after the
"She never sees any ov 'urn after the show," the man an-
swered. "You see gents in toppers with bunches of roses in
their 'ands, and ladies wearin' enough diamonds to blind yer,
but Madame don't see any ov 'um. She's 'ad by the end of the
evenin' and just goes 'ome with 'er old man."
Being a friendly stage-door keeper, he went on to explain
that Madame's "old man" was M. Victor Dandr^ who was
40 ALICIA MARKOVA
probably in the foyer. Nothing could be done except through
him, so he suggested that Mr. Marks go around and have a
word with him. The man at the door would point him out,
since being Madaine's business manager, he was well known
both back and front of the house.
Mr. Marks hurried round to the main entrance and had
M. Dandr pointed out to him. He looked to be quite human,
so he walked up and addressed him without any hesitation.
"Forgive my intrusion," he began, "but I have brought my
daughter to see Madame Pavlova dance this evening, and I
wonder if Madame would be good enough to see her for a
"Who is your daughter?" asked M. Dandr6 simply.
Not daring to say that she was a mere child of eight, Mr.
Marks replied, "She is a young dancer who has already at-
tracted the attention of the critics, and she would be so grate-
ful if Madame could spare her just a moment."
M. Dandr explained that Madame never received guests
backstage after the performance and hoped that Mr. Mark's
daughter would understand that the iron rule was never
broken, even for grand duchesses. Seeing the look of bitter
disappointment on the father's face, M. Dandr6 said that as
Miss Marks was a dancer and had already been singled out by
the critics, he felt that Madame would be happy to see her
dance, if she cared to present herself at Ivy House the next
morning at eleven-thirty.
Fearing M. Dandr6 might change his mind, Mr, Marks
thanked him sincerely and hastily returned to his seat. Alicia
was overjoyed at the amazing news.
Christmas was the great moment for Alicia, when Pavlova,
in an eighteenth-century costume danced, to a Tchaikovsky
waltz, The Belle of the Ball, surrounded by all the beaux of
the evening. She looked so young and lovely, just how Alicia
hoped she might look when she grew up. No wonder all those
handsome young men crowded around to pay her pretty
As Alicia moved into the aisle after the performance, she
felt a little dizzy with excitement, what with the dancing and
the prospect of tomorrow.
"Daddy," she entreated, "could we go to the stage door and
see Madame going home? It would be wonderful just to look
at her!" Alicia always asked so quietly and so appealingly
that he could never refuse any request she made. So they
waited near the stage door for the better part of an hour.
The child held her breath when the great dancer emerged
from the stage door and swept gracefully into her waiting car.
She felt a sense of contact, perhaps unconsciously realizing
that she had something in common with that famous ballerina
and feeling a great sense of pride because she would meet her
and dance for her before another twelve hours had passed.
It was Pavlova's hat that took Alicia's eye. It was so remark-
able a creation that it still remains one of the most vivid
memories of her childhood. In size it was enormous, in color
it was black, and in style it was quite novel. A long black
fringe hung from the underside of the brim, looking like
gorgeous blue-black tresses.
Because Pavlova's Dying Swan was the rage at that time,
and to the end of her career, it seems strange that she did not
dance it on the occasion when Alicia saw her at the Queen's
Hall. It is even worth noting now that Markova has made
42 ALICIA MARKOVA
such a profound impression in the same dance, that she never
saw Pavlova or any other ballerina dance it.
After that memorable visit to Queen's Hall, she saw Pav-
lova dance on only two other occasions.
"I was taken to Covent Garden to see her dance in Giselle"
Alicia recalls. "I was quite young at the time, and I have to
confess that the first act is a complete blank to me, but I was
deeply moved by the second act. The story took hold of me,
and I was moved by the sight of the Celtic cross in the forest.
I remember Pavlova dancing in pale-green shroudlike draper-
ies and not the traditional white ballet skirt favored by other
dancers who have appeared as Giselle since Carlotta Grisi
created it in the 18405. I did not see the ballet again until
Olga Spessiva and you danced it in London in 1933, the year
before I first appeared in the role.
"The only other occasion on which I saw Pavlova dance was
in Don Quixote with Laurent Novikoff. Once more the first
act has faded out of my memory, but I shall never forget her
second-act entrance. Pavlova was an exquisite vision in a silver
dress and she traversed the stage in a series of dazzling pas de
bourrees which made me, child though I was, slightly faint
with excitement. I know that I can never hope to see their
Mrs. Marks expected her daughter to return at a loss for
words, as she herself had been after seeing Pavlova and Mord-
kin at the Palace. She was certainly not prepared for Alicia to
burst in with the news, "I'm going to dance for Pavlova in the
morningl" It was the mother's turn to be at a loss for words.
After the exciting events of the evening had been re-
counted, Mrs. Marks began to think about the next day. Was
Alicia's practice costume all right? Had she a new pair of
ballet slippers? Which hat and coat did she intend to wear?
Nothing so momentous had happened to the family before, so
they all went to bed in a flutter of excitement not exactly
conducive to a good night's sleep.
The house was awake earlier than usual next morning.
During breakfast, Mrs. Marks asked, "Have you got your
comb?" and "Have you got a spare handkerchief?" When
everything appeared to be fully organized, father and daugh-
ter left to call on the great Pavlova.
It is such a vivid page in Alicia's past that I never tire of
hearing her own account of it.
"Clutching a little case containing my practice clothes, we
went up to the impressive door of Ivy House. Daddy rang the
bell and we were shown into the hall which was cluttered
with theatrical baskets, all bearing the initials A.P. Madame
was just about to embark upon another foreign tour, and the
company's wardrobe was obviously being checked and re-
paired under her personal supervision at home.
"In a few moments Madame appeared, dressed in simple
mauve draperies, looking very beautiful in her rather severe
Russian way. I had always liked mauve, and after that day it
became my favorite color, and for a long time I wanted every-
thing to be mauve. I planted mauve flowers in the garden, so
that I could cut them for my bedroom, where I persuaded
Mother to give me mauve curtains to match my dressing
gown. It became quite a craze with me as a result of discover-
ing Pavlova wore the shade.
"Looking back on the visit to Pavlova's house I cannot
imagine why I did not die of fright when the servant opened
44 ALICIA MARKOVA
the front door. I used to be so scared of people at that age that
I would do anything rather than meet strangers. Yet Pavlova
did not seem to be a stranger. I felt that she had known me all
my life and that we both knew all about each other. I was
completely at home with her, and though I was so young I
felt that we both spoke the same language and I could ad-
dress her as an equal, quite fearlessly and without a trace of
nervousness or self-consciousness. Later, at the age of fourteen,
I felt much the same way about Diaghileff. It seems strange
that I, a hypersensitive child should have no qualms about
conversing with Pavlova and Diaghileff, the two most awe-
inspiring and respected figures in the ballet world of their
time. Even in my adult years I cannot recall meeting anyone
else who put me so delightfully at ease as these two great
"I had expected to dance for Pavlova at Ivy House, but she
made it quite clear that she simply wanted to see me at the
barre. She took Daddy into a sitting room and left him with a
daily newspaper and some magazines and then conducted me
to a spacious studio, where I changed into practice clothes in
a little dressing room. When I was ready, Madame put me
through some barre exercises, giving me valuable hints from
time to time as she corrected me.
" 'Your work is good/ she commented, 'and one day you
should make a fine dancer. You must realize that your life
will be all work, lots and lots of hard work, and unless you
are prepared to face that and give up your pleasures in order
to be a dancer, it is better that you decide now to do some-
thing else. You must not be misled when you go to the theater
and see a ballerina cheered as she takes her call with her arms
full of roses. That is just a fleeting moment of compensation
in a life that is nothing but continuous work until the day
you decide to retire. Think it well over before you make up
your mind to dance for your living. Now go and change at
once, or you will catch cold.'
"I retired to the little dressing room. Before I had a chance
to get back into my street clothes Madame put her head
round the door. She took stock of the things I had brought.
" 'Where is your towel?' she asked.
"I confessed that I had not brought one.
" 'Where is your eau de cologne? 1
"I replied innocently that I had had a bath only that morn-
" 'But you must be rubbed down/ she protested. 'Stay there
until I come back/
"She returned in a few moments with a Turkish towel and
a silver flask bearing the initials A.P. and containing the most
refreshing eau de cologne imaginable. She explained to me
that I must have a thorough rubdown whenever I attended a
class or gave a performance, otherwise I might take cold and
that might quite easily finish my career. She showed me how
to do it by rubbing me down herself with all the care she
would have taken over her own child.
" 'You must take good care of yourself/ she insisted. 'Every-
thing depends upon your health if you are going to be a good
"While she was talking I was admiring the exquisitely en-
graved silver flask. How I would love to have it for my own
eau de cologne which I intended to purchase on the way
home. For one brief moment I even considered stealing Ma-
46 ALICIA MARKOVA
dame's flask by slipping it into my case with my ballet slip-
pers. I was afraid no one would believe that I had been to Ivy
House and that the world's greatest dancer had seen my work
and rubbed me down with her own beautiful hands. If I took
her flask I could show it to people as proof that my story was
true. On the other hand, it would also prove to them that 1
was a thief. I thought better of it, and resisted the temptation.
"I felt very happy as I left Ivy House, now that I had been
close to my heroine and discovered what she wore, how she
spoke, and where she lived. On the way home I asked Daddy
to wait while I looked in a chemist's shopwindow. On a glass
shelf I saw some wicker-covered flasks of eau de cologne, each
bearing a ribbon bow of a different color. 'Daddy,' I asked,
'do you think that I could have one of those bottles of eau de
cologne? I'd rather like that one with the mauve bow/
"That was my one and only meeting with Pavlova. Later,
when I decided quite definitely to take up ballet as a career
and was studying under Seraphine Astafieva, Pavlova looked
in during a class one morning. She recognized me, laughingly
referred to me as 'the little one/ and said that she was glad to
see that I was working so hard.
"The last time I saw her I was sitting in a box at a Paris
theater, watching the Diaghileff Ballet, of which I had then
become a minor member. I had no solo work that evening, so
I have no idea whether she even saw me, but I remember be-
ing told that she hated the two modern ballets which were
performed Pas d'Acier and Pastorale.
"When Diaghileff died in 1929 and ballet suffered a major
collapse, Pavlova offered to take some of his dancers, includ-
ing me, into her own company. Doubrovska, Woizikovsky,
and Jazvinsky accepted her invitation. Much as I appreciated
her kind gesture, it would have meant joining her corps de
ballet. The idea did not attract me, after the four strenuous
years I had spent working up from the bottom of the ladder
with the Diaghileff Ballet, so I declined. Perhaps it is just as
well, as Pavlova herself died a little more than a year later,
and the ballet collapsed again."
Alicia's desire to possess a Pavlova souvenir was subse-
quently satisfied. She did not come into possession of the
silver flask, but Madame Manya, who was Pavlova's dresser
for many years and a genius in the difficult art of making
ballet costumes, made many a tutu for Alicia during those
early days of the Sadler's Wells Ballet, and she gave her some
large brilliants which Pavlova had worn on the stage.
When Alicia danced the full-length version of Le Lac des
Cygnes in 1934 at Sadler's Wells, Pavlova's brilliants adorned
the crown she wore as the Swan Queen. Manya also gave her
the woolen tights and sweater which Pavlova wore on the last
occasion she worked with the company before her death, as
well as the paper marguerite she tore on the last occasion she
danced Giselle at Covent Garden. M. Dandr presented
Alicia with a dark amber necklace which Pavlova often wore
off stage, explaining that it was not a valuable piece of jew-
elry, but the one his wife liked best.
Later, Alicia acquired two prints, which used to hang in
the great dancer's bedroom at Ivy House. They depict Amalia
Ferraris in Les Elfes and Emma Livry in Le Papillon, and
have been added to the collection of Taglioni lithographs in
the sitting room in her sister's flat where she stays while in
ALICIA'S schooling presented something of a problem. At a
very early age she could walk but for long showed no sign of
being able to talk. Her parents were worried when they heard
children younger than their little girl saying, "Mama," "Da-
da/' "Raba," and the usual simple words expected of them.
Fearing something might be wrong, they had Alicia exam-
ined, only to be reassured that there was no cause for alarm.
From tests carried out by a child psychologist, it was obvious
that the baby had a highly active brain for her age and under-
stood all that was going on around her, but patience needed
to be exercised about her speech. It was emphasized that it
would be a mistake to try to force her to talk, and the parents
were advised to keep the child away from school and let her
learn naturally from observation at home.
She was eight years old before she went to her first kinder-
50 ALICIA MARKOVA
garten, but by that time she was away ahead of the children
she met there. Since the birth of Doris, four years previously,
Guggy had been Alicia's governess, and under her instruction
she had made rapid progress, particularly in history. She en-
joyed reading about the great kings and queens, and was
delighted when she discovered that such people existed in
real life as well as in storybooks.
She did not care a great deal for school, which was not
nearly so interesting as the individual instruction she received
from Guggy by the cozy fireside. The others, always looking
forward to playtime, called Alicia "goody-goody" because she
preferred to stay in the classroom reading about Mary, Queen
of Scots, or Joan of Arc, in her precious history book.
The past seemed to live for her so vividly that she found
it quite easy to remember dates, a fact that used to infuriate
the other children, who were not gifted with that photo-
graphic memory which Alicia appeared to have inherited
from her father. But they had their revenge in the arithmetic
lesson, which Alicia loathed; they would sing out the answers
to sums while she was still wondering whether to subtract or
The schooldays soon came to an end, as it took Alicia only
a fortnight to develop an attack of whooping cough. Getting
rid of it was a long job in those days, and her three sisters had
to be kept in quarantine. Months passed by, as each child
contracted the sickness in turn.
When the house had been given a clean bill of health once
again, Alicia was sent to a new school.
She liked it no better than the kindergarten and was still
convinced that Guggy could teach her more than all the real
schoolmistresses put together. Measles proved her salvation
at the second school, and there was another long period at
home while Doris, Vivienne, and Bunny all had their turn.
When Alicia was ten years old she was offered her first
In those days the Kennington Theatre in South London
was one of the most beautiful suburban playhouses. It was
built on land originally owned by King Edward VII, and
Irving performed the impressive opening ceremony in 1898.
The foyers were as spacious and ornate as the auditorium,
which seated 1,500 people. At each end of the marble vesti-
bule were two enormous carved oak fireplaces, and the man-
agement would point out proudly that each grate held one
hundredweight of coal, and that fires burned throughout
every performance during the winter months.
Lloyd George was a regular patron of the theater, and in
the intervals could often be seen basking in the warmth of
the glowing coals.
The theater feared no competition from the West End, for
scarcely an artiste of distinction failed to appear in Kenning-
ton. Martin Harvey received the notification of his knight-
hood while playing there, and many outstanding artistes-
Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Lily Langtry, Mrs. Kendal, Sir Gerald
du Maurier, Granville-Barker, Kate Rorke, Dan Leno, Sir
George Alexander, Fred Terry, and Julia Neilson graced
those historic boards.
Last, but by no means least, we may add that Alicia Mar-
kova made her first professional appearance there on Decem-
ber 27, 1920, as premiere danseuse in the pantomime Dick
52 ALICIA MARKOVA
The Kennington pantomime was always one of the Christ-
mas attractions of London. It was given twice daily for several
weeks and drew people from far and wide. In 1920 George
Shurley was responsible for the production. It was a heavy
task and needed months of preparation. Shurley firmly be-
lieved that pantomime should be entertainment for children
and be presented in a manner to appeal to the younger gen-
eration of playgoers; he was convinced that children in the
audience seemed to enjoy seeing members of their own gen-
eration holding their own with grown-up actors and actresses
in a lavish theatrical production. So invariably there were
talented child artistes in all of George Shurley's Christmas
productions, and he was always on the lookout for them, even
in the summer; therefore he would attend end-of-term per-
formances given by the leading dancing academies in the hope
of getting new recruits for pantomime.
One of those searches had taken him to the King's Hall,
Covent Garden, where a performance had been given by the
pupils of the Misses Thorne, and he had seen Alicia give her
oriental cymbal dance. He made some notes and filed them
away for future reference. When he decided to produce Dick
Whittington at the Kennington, he realized that he would
have to stage a scene in the palace of the Sultan of Morocco,
and suddenly he remembered the little cymbal dancer in her
gold-tissue trousers. She would provide an ideal specialty
number for that spot in the pantomime. Anxious to see what
else she could do, he got in touch with Alicia's parents
through Miss Thome.
Alicia knew nothing about all this. When her father was
approached by the management of the Kennington Theatre,
he thought that there could be no harm in his daughter's
dancing in pantomime during the Christmas holidays. In any
case, Guggy could take her to the theater and look after her.
So he consented to an audition, but refrained from telling
Alicia what was at stake lest she become overexcited or un-
duly disappointed if, by any chance, she were not engaged.
He merely asked her to get ready to dance for a gentleman
in the West End.
At the appointed time Mr. Marks presented himself at a
rehearsal studio near Shaftesbury Avenue, with his daughter
carrying her music under her arm. George Shurley greeted
them warmly, and Alicia was told to change her shoes and
dance for "the gentleman." In addition to the oriental dance,
she performed two others. "The gentleman" seemed very
pleased, and a conversation was held in a corner of the studio
too far away for Alicia to hear. When they left, Mr. Marks
took Alicia out to tea and ordered some luscious cream cakes
because she had danced so well. She was delighted, but
thought no more about it as they made their way home.
At breakfast next morning Guggy and Mr. Marks looked
particularly pleased with life when they told Alicia that she
had been engaged to dance in pantomime at Kennington. At
first she was a little bewildered by the news and then she
knew that it had something to do with her dancing for Mr.
To say that Alicia was overjoyed at having put her foot on
the bottom rung of the ladder would be absurd. It subse-
quently transpired that she did actually begin her career as
a dancer by accepting this engagement, but at the time she
was doing only what her father told her. She was not follow-
54 ALICIA MAJRKOVA
ing her own feelings, but following a course far too frequently
mapped out for her by other people.
George Shurley offered the child 10 a week to dance twice
daily in his pantomime, but as she was so young she had to
get a special license from the London County Council.
She was examined by official tutors and doctors and found
to be in good health and more than well informed for her
years. Because of this she was granted exemption from school,
providing she had a governess and guaranteed to put in
twenty hours of study each week quite apart from her train-
ing as a dancer. She would be called before the tutors and
doctors every six months so that they could satisfy themselves
that her health was not being impaired and that her educa-
tion was not being neglected.
Once the license was issued, the child was in a position to
accept George Shurley's offer. The necessary contract was
soon signed and the producer had the previously printed post-
ers slipped with an announcement to the effect that the
premiere danseuse would be "Little Alicia the child Pav-
"Whenever I see oranges," says Alicia, "I always think of
Kennington. Even now the smell of an orange takes me back
to that first show and the first rehearsal. Once the contract
had been signed, my father told Guggy that she was to take
complete charge of me throughout the run. She was to escort
me to the theater, dress me for the stage, stay with me in my
dressing room between the acts, and take me home again at
night. In other words, she was to be my keeper, and on the
day after the contract was signed we set off together for the
"We arrived at the theater only to be told that the dancers
were rehearsing at a nearby public house, as the electricians
were using the stage to try out some new lighting effects.
"Guggy, determined that I should hold my own in the
company, had dressed me in a black velvet coat trimmed with
ermine intending that I should look the part of a miniature
ballerina. Though she disapproved of taking me to a public
house, it had to be done, and never shall I forget entering
that room where the troupe of child dancers were rehearsing.
"It happened to be during a break between numbers, so all
the children were sitting round the wall sucking oranges. The
smell was quite overpowering, especially when so many were
being peeled at once.
"Everyone eyed me with considerable curiosity, almost as
if they had been anticipating my arrival. Later, it transpired
that I had been engaged for the pantomime some time after
the other members of the cast, and my appearance on the
scene was something in the nature of a bombshell, for origi-
nally it had been decided that the leader of the juvenile
troupe was to perform the solo dances. She was a vivacious
young girl of thirteen with dark hair, large eyes, a tiptilted
nose, and a sunny smile. Her name was Jessie Matthews.
"They were all eager to get a glimpse of me the little
vulture who had unwittingly come to snatch the dances from
under Jessie's delicious little nose. There was tension in the
air, and no one made a friendly move to put me at my ease.
I suppose they resented my presence in the show, as it denied
their beloved Jessie a chance to shine as principal dancer, but
more than anything I think the ermine caused these orange-
sucking youngsters to hate the sight of me.
56 ALICIA MARKOVA
"Nor did Guggy help, treating me as a princess, in her
opinion far too good to mix with what she considered ordi-
"Eventually I was accepted by the company, though I must
say I never really got to know them, as Guggy always insisted
on rushing me off to my dressing room, where she guarded
me as if I were a criminal, whenever I was not wanted on the
stage. If the other children considered me a little snooty, they
had every reason to do so.
"Jessie was kindness itself. As she had been a professional
dancer for three years, it was all the more remarkable that
she bore me no ill will when I was suddenly imported into
the pantomime to take over her best numbers. She seemed
content enough with a butterfly dance and a sailor's hornpipe,
in which she looked saucily attractive. So all was well as far
as we were concerned. On the other hand, Guggy and Jessie's
elder sister were always arguing about their respective cham-
pions, and on more than one occasion when I wanted to stop
and talk to Jessie, I was bundled off into my dressing room by
Guggy, who isolated me from the outside world with a slam
of the door.
"I began to hate that dressing room. At first I felt rather
important with a room to myself. Let me add it was not a
question of giving me a star room, but a case of obeying the
London County Council, who insisted that I should dress
alone, as it was against their rules for a child to dress with
adults, and I also had to do a certain amount of study at the
theater. While the other children in the show envied me the
distinction of a room of my own, I felt rather like a prisoner
in a cell.
'Immediately after the matinee Guggy would take me to
a neighboring cafe for high tea. Then we would go back to
the dressing room for a session with history and geography
books, so that my education would not be neglected. Before
the evening show I would also sleep for an hour. This was
another of Guggy's commands. She would tell me to go to
sleep, and, being an obedient child, I would do as I was told.
I have found this early training most valuable in subsequent
years, for now I can sleep to order, which is a most beneficial
manner of passing the time on boring train and air journeys.
"I was given three dances in the show. I made my first
entrance in the Highgate Hill scene. Not finding the streets
of London paved with gold, Dick Whittington, at this point
in the story, is about to leave the city, but from the heights of
Highgate he hears the church bells. These cause him to
change his mind and return to what turns out to be fame and
"The Highgate scene at Kennington was set in a cornfield
at harvest-time. The Principal Boy, Ouida Macdermott, had a
number with the chorus, and as they marched off, they left
the stage deserted, except for a small sheaf of corn. From
behind this sheaf, much to the amusement and amazement
of the audience, I leapt as a small poppy. They could hardly
believe that any child could be small enough to be completely
hidden by so modest a cornsheaf . I suppose I was fortunate
to have so novel an entrance, as I felt the audience were
pleased and on my side from the beginning, even before I
"Later in the same scene, after a quick change, I danced
as a butterfly. But my big moment was reserved for the Sul-
58 ALICIA MARKOVA
tan's Palace, when I repeated the cymbal dance. It needed to
be a more dramatic presentation in the theater, so the pro-
ducer suggested that I finish by falling flat on my back and
uttering a piercing scream. This stunned the audience, many
o whom thought I had really injured myself. As I lay on the
stage I used to enjoy hearing applause mingled with a curious
sputtering sound which must have been an expression of con-
cern on the part of many in front."
No one who saw Alicia on the first night realized that she
was suffering from chicken pox. The attack was slight, but
Doris had been sent off to Barnet, in case she should catch it
and complicate matters still further. Alicia was lucky to have
kept it at bay, as she had little resistance at the time the show
opened, mainly because of worry about the orchestra. She
pleased the producer well enough at rehearsal, but at this
stage in the proceedings she was still dancing to a piano ac-
companiment. She had never danced to anything else. Miss
Thorne had always used a piano at her studio, as well as at
those public performances when Lily Marks had first begun
to attract attention.
At the theater Alicia heard other members of the cast talk-
ing about band parts and how different their numbers would
sound with a full orchestra. She began to dread the day when
the musicians would make their appearance at the theater.
The thought quite sickened her and kept her awake at nights.
She was afraid of not recognizing her music when it was
played by the band. She had agonizing visions of standing in
the wings, sublimely unaware of her dance being played in
the orchestra pit, and suddenly conscious of that dreadful
hush which falls over an audience when they sense something
wrong. These doubts and fears made Alicia feel such a fool
that she hesitated to tell anyone about them.
Fortunately all her fears proved groundless, as everything
seemed absurdly easy and the conductor was more than help-
ful at the orchestra call. A great weight fell from her little
shoulders. She seemed so enormously improved in health
overnight, for reasons which none could understand, that
Mrs. Marks thought it would be safe enough for Alicia to go
through with the pantomime, even if she did happen to have
a mild case of chicken pox. So the child triumphed over all
her difficulties and won rewards which to her must have
seemed very rich in those days.
This Kennington pantomime was something of a milestone
in my life as well as Alicia's, as it marked the occasion on
which I first saw her. I had hoped to appear in pantomime
myself that year, and I had been to see J. B. Mulholland,
whose pantomimes were as impressive at the King's Theatre
in Hammersmith as were George Shurley's productions in
Kennington. I cannot remember what happened, but for
some reason I was not engaged, and all hope of a Christmas
engagement fell through.
J. B. Mulholland, who took considerable interest in what
talents I had as dancer, singer, and actor, told me that I
ought to make a point of seeing Little Alicia in the Kenning-
ton show. He thought that she was rather a wonderful child
and confessed that he had hoped to team us together, but she
had been snapped up by George Shurley and he had been
compelled to make other plans for his own pantomime. Even
so, he suggested that Little Alicia should on no account be
missed, as he felt we would make ideal partners one day. To
60 ALICIA MARKOVA
be sure that I went to Kennington, he even took the trouble
to telephone the manager and have two complimentary seats
placed at my disposal. I was most impressed, as I had never
been the guest of a management before. My mother went
with me, and I can remember feeling affluent, as our seats
were free, and my five shillings pocket money remained
I recollect we sat almost in the middle of the dress circle,
but though Alicia tells me that she had three dances in the
show I recall only one. That is as clear in my memory as if I
had seen it yesterday. It was her dance in the Sultan's Palace.
An amber spotlight blazed forth from the projection room
just behind me, barely missing my head. The carbon was a
bad one, and the result was far from quiet. It hissed continu-
ously, and I was worried about the disturbing influence on
Soon I forgot about it, as my attention was monopolized
by the stage. There, in a circle of flame, dressed in an exotic
Eastern costume, bejeweled, and with a veil over her head,
was a tiny figure. At first I saw no face, only a diminutive
body, slender arms, and exquisite little feet. Slowly the veil
was lifted, and the most serious little face came into view.
No make-up could ever have enhanced the oriental contour
of her features. They were Sphinx-like.
Such was my first glimpse of Little Alicia. Though she
looked such a child, her dancing was sensational in its ease,
attack, and precision. She was a past mistress of all she did,
and gave the impression that she could do even more if
demanded. For the first time in my life I felt an urge to ex-
press my appreciation of a completely unknown artiste. What
could I do? As we left the theater, I saw a man selling white
chrysanthemums. It occurred to me to send the child some
flowers, a thing I had never done in my life before. I could
well afford them, as I still had my untouched five shillings.
Much to my mother's amusement, I spent a shilling on a
bunch of flowers and took them to the stage-door keeper,
asking if he would be good enough to deliver them to Little
Alicia from an unknown admirer.
We did not actually meet until the following year when,
at the Chelsea studio of Princess Seraphine Astafieva, we be-
came fellow pupils of one of the finest dancing teachers ever
to come out of Russia.
The George Shurley pantomime at Kennington was always
considered of enough importance to draw critics from the
leading London newspapers, and Little Alicia's dancing was
sufficiently impressive to make them take notice.
The Morning Post tribute must have pleased Alicia more
than any, as it said, "Little Alicia, whom the program claimed
to be 'The Child Pavlova,' went far toward emulating her
great model." In the pages of the Daily Telegraph she read
of herself, "Little Alicia, 'The Child Pavlova/ is a very ac-
complished ballerina in miniature, and even in the trying
dance of Salome suggested much of its grim power." In the
Sunday Times, "Little Alicia, described as 'The Child Pav-
lova/ more than justifies the title/'
The critic of The People was so overwhelmed that he be-
came somewhat confused over her name, as he wrote, "Little
Alicia is perhaps the most wonderful juvenile dancer who
has yet appeared on the stage." His colleague on the News
of the World said the cast was completed by "a wonderful
youngster, Little Alicia, aptly named 'The Child Pavlova/
62 ALICIA MARKOVA
who gives solo exhibitions of remarkable grace and beauty
for one so young."
The Stage critic must have realized how difficult the orien-
tal dance was, for he wrote, "Little Alicia is the principal
dancer, and a very clever little girl she is, too. It seems in-
congruous, not to say unfair, however, to saddle such a juve-
nile with a dance of the Salome order/'
Alicia was pleased with such notices. She was in a reputable
pantomime, holding her own with Ouida Macdermott as the
Principal Boy, Dainty Doris as the Principal Girl, Dick Tubb
as the Dame, and with Jessie Matthews as her understudy,
yet she had no definite plans for taking up the stage as a
career. Kennington was simply an unforeseen result of her
attempt to strengthen her left knee by undertaking what was
popularly known as fancy dancing.
It was all rather bewildering, as no one imagined the child
would create such a stir. It was certainly never her intention.
Once again, echoing Miss Thome's words, people said that
"something ought to be done" about Alicia. But what? It
was absurd to ask the child if she wanted to become a pro-
fessional dancer. What child of ten knows her own mind?
On the other hand, there was no question of her having to
earn her own living, as Mr. Marks was successful in his
career and affluent enough to be able to run a Rolls-Royce.
Even had the child expressed her desire to become a bal-
lerina, she would not have received the same encouragement
from people then as would be the case today. They didn't
have the same faith in youth in those days. There was a ten-
dency to retard youthful development in the igstos, whereas
it would be encouraged today.
It says a great deal for Alicia and her family that she did
not become precocious at this stage, with such glowing praise
in the press and so many people paying her pretty compli-
ments both in and out of the theater. It would have been
enough to turn the head of any child, but Alicia's home,
from the very first, was always a sane anchorage.
Mrs. Marks, though she worshiped her child, saw that she
was given no preferential treatment. The four girls received
an equal share of everything and so they enjoyed a normal
family life. Alicia's connection with the theater in no way
affected the family circle. The girls were naturally very proud
of Alicia, but, as Vivienne says, when they used to see that
frail little figure spinning on the stage, they could hardly
believe she was their own sister.
In some odd way she used to pass out of their lives when
she went to the theater, just as she might go on a journey to
some distant place and, for the time being, no longer seem
to be one of them. At the week end, the only time she had
any leisure during the run of the pantomime, she would join
her sisters in their usual pursuits and behave just as she had
always done, quite uninfluenced by her triumph as Salome.
There was never any question of jealousy or resentment on
the part of the other girls.
That word "career" was often in the air during the run
of the pantomime. In her heart of hearts Mrs. Marks hoped
Alicia would become a great professional dancer, but as she
was still very young, she had naturally never discussed the
subject with her daughter to any extent. The mother had no
desire to impose such a career upon her child, lest later her
interest in dancing suddenly wane. She could think of no
more dreary life sentence than hours at the barre for one no
64 ALICIA MARKOVA
longer In love with the art. Nothing could be done while
the pantomime was running, with its twice-daily perform-
ances, but in the New Year Mr. Marks decided that they
would make up their minds what was to be done and call in
an outside authority to express an unbiased opinion.
Meantime Guggy took her charge by the subway to Ken-
nington each day, guarding her as if she were a miraculous
marionette. The only time the child left Guggy's side was
when she went on the stage to dance, and even then Guggy
was in the wings, watching that no harm came to her.
"She would have come on the stage with me had it been
possible/' reflects Alicia with a nostalgic smile.
Eventually the last night of the pantomime was announced.
Guggy and Alicia used the family car that night to bring
home Alicia's possessions. "When Mrs. Marks saw the luggage
dumped in the hall, she was reminded once again that the
time had come for the next practical move.
Alicia at Two Years
Alicia at Age of 3& Months
Alicia Aged Five Years
Alicia at Five
Alicia, Her Father, and Her
The Marks Sisters
Alicia Doris Vivienne
Alicia at About Nine
At About Twelve (Upper
And at About Eleven
Alicia, at the Age of Eight,
in Her First Ballet Dress
and Ballet Shoes
Posing at a Photographer's
Studio When About Nine
Alicia Markova with Her
Mother Just After She
Joined the Russian Ballet
Topical Press Agency
Wearing Cap and Gown at
Cambridge When About
Twelve Years Old
Papillon in Carnival c. 1926
La Chatte at Age 17 (Up-
Alicia at Monte Carlo at
Age 14 (Lower Right)
*lf v ' r 'i ;-: . ^^xgff-fy^i'^' "":"*f * ' jsjijssfy^: " .. .>;->.-*; ,
Photograph by J. W. Debenham
Fiist Production of Com-
plete Suxzn Lafee by Sad-
Alicia Markova, Robert
Helpman, Jay Newton,
Bunny Barry (Alicia's
Marriage a la Mode
Photograph by Navana
Photograph by "Anthony"
Swan Queen in Swan Lake, Sadler's Wells (Upper)
On Tour with the Diaghileff Ballet (Lower)
(L. to R.) Tchernicheva, Mr. King, Markova and Mother, Savina, Dubrovslca,
Leon Woizikowsky, Danilova, Serge Lifar, Roger Desormieres, Balanchine
Photograph by Walter E. Owen
Rehearsal for Pas de Quatre
(L. to R.) Mia Slavenska, Dolin, Markova, Natalie Kras-
sovska, Alexandra Danilova
Photograph by Houston Roger
Alicia Markova with Anton Dolin
Photograph bij Walter E. Owen
On Stage in Pas de Quatre
Mia Slavenska, Alicia Markova, Natalie Krassovska, Alexan-
Photograph by Maurice Seymour
Markova as Camille
Photograph by Maurine
As Camille on Mexican
Photograph by Maurine
Markova with Igor
Youskevitcli in Rouge
et Noir. Shadow by
Markova with Mas-
sine in Vienna 1814
Markova with Dolin in Giselle, Act II
Markova and Dolin in The
Markova and Eglevsky in
Photograph by Maurice Seymour
Markova in Giselle, Act II
Another Pose from Giselle.,
Photograph by Maurice Seymour f''l^)'
Photograph by Alfredo Valente
Markova and Dolin in Firebird
Markova as Snow Queen
in The Nutcracker
Photograph hj Anncmaric Heinrich
Photograph ly Houston Roger
Markova and Dolin, 1951
Dressing for Les Sylphides
at Metropolitan Opera
Markova Backstage with
Keystone Press Agency
Photo-graph by Constantine
Markova Beside Bust of
Pavlova at Museum of
Modern Art, New York
Photograph by Murray Korman
La Sylphide at Jacob's
Holiday at Ponte Verde (Top)
(L. to R.) Beatrice Lillie, Frederick Franklin, Alicia Markova, Anton
Dolin Photograph by V. R. Deane
Anton Dolin, Alicia Markova, S. Hurok (Lower Left)
Danilova and Markova Vacationing at Danilova's Home ( Lower Right)
Markova and Her Sisters
Vivienne, Alicia, Doris,
Markova and Dolin Dunn;
Tour in South Africa
Photograph by Vivienne London
A Study of Markova, 1951
<*&&*ifr&*S*>^>$*S^z>> ! ^^
A charity matinee at the Shaf tesbury Theatre, soon after the
run of the pantomime in 1921 suggested the next line of
action to Mrs. Marks.
The Thorne pupils figured on the program in A Mid-
summer Night's Dream sequence, with Alicia as one of the
fairies, a part particularly suited to her elfin grace as she
drifted about the stage with no apparent effort.
Holding a more conspicuous position in the entertainment
were the pupils of Princess Seraphine Astafieva, one of the
most colorful figures in the ballet world of her time. Besides
being a daughter of Prince Alexander Astafiev, a grand-niece
of Count Tolstoy, and sister-in-law of the fabulous Imperial
Russian ballerina, Mathilde Kchessinska, Seraphine Astafieva
was a very fine dancer in her own right. Her greatest triumph
had been in the Diaghileff production of Fokine's Cleopatra^
66 ALICIA MARKOVA
in which she gave an unforgettable impression of burning
pride and passion. She had settled in London in 1914, the
first great Russian artiste to open a studio in England, where
she proved that British dancers could make a mark for them-
selves if they had the right training.
Apart from admiring the work of these young dancers of
Astafieva's school at the Shaftesbury Theatre matinee, Mrs.
Marks, who spent most of the matinee backstage, was im-
pressed by the manner in which Astafieva looked after her
pupils, and fought for them, so that they gained the best
place on the program and were seen to good advantage by
the audience. Each girl was given an individual word of
guidance or encouragement as she took her place in the
tableau discovered on the rise of the curtain.
It was so skillfully organized and the girls danced with
such assurance that Mrs. Marks felt that she ought to take
Alicia to the Astafieva Studio. Madame could see the child
dance and give them that outside opinion which seemed im-
portant at this stage of development. If she thought the child
had no future, then they would at least know where they
stood. If, on the other hand, she appeared to be impressed
by Alicia's talents, she might even consent to give her some
lessons. An early visit to Astafieva was the obvious course to
It was an unfortunate day for Mrs. Marks when she chose
to take Alicia to be inspected, and possibly accepted, by
Astafieva. She discovered that Madame held her class at a
studio known as the Pheasantry in King's Road, Chelsea. So,
without making an appointment, she decided to take the
child along during class one morning and ask Astafieva to
give her an audition.
Mrs. Marks took one of the cards she had had printed for
the Kennington pantomime, on which, in tasteful Gothic
lettering, was inscribed LITTLE ALICIA THE CHILD PAVLOVA.
They arrived in the middle of a lesson, which, to begin with,
hardly pleased Astafieva, who sent out word that she could
not see them. Mrs. Marks refused to beat a retreat without
some resistance. Perhaps, she thought, Madame would come
out if she realized Alicia was The Child Pavlova. How right
The card was sent in, and Madame came out like a
"How dare you call your wretched child a Pavlova!" cried
the enraged Cleopatra. She could never have looked more
imperious, even in all the dazzling jewels and exotic finery
she wore in her Diaghileff days. "You not realize," she went
on scornfully, "that Pavlova devote her entire life to dance,
and because this young infant has one or two lessons, can
stand on her toes, you have this impertinence to call her
child Pavlova! Ah, I not give auditions, and, in any case, I
have no time thank you very much for prodigies/' Flaming
with rage, she turned on her heel.
At that moment Alicia raised her voice in the form of a
piercing wail. She could not bear the disappointment of not
being allowed to dance for Astafieva.
The great woman's heart softened a little when she saw
this mite with her large eyes brimming over with tears. Much
as she loathed anyone who dared to call herself The Child
68 ALICIA MARKOVA
Pavlova, she gave Alicia a second glance. She looked no
bigger than a good-sized doll and must have weighed less.
After all, she could not blame the little girl for the preten-
tious cards which had evidently been printed at the request
of her parents. Finally Astafieva consented to see the child
dance if they would wait until she had finished with her class.
Mrs. Marks agreed, and Alicia dried her eyes, as she sat
down quietly between her mother and her governess on a
window seat to wait for Madame to complete the morning's
Astafieva was cross, both with the interruption and the
offending card, and when she reached the end of her lesson
she instructed all the pupils to stay.
"Now we see what this little genius can do/' she cried with
No one dared to leave the studio, and with their towels
round their necks, to dry the perspiration from their exer-
tions, they lined the walls in readiness for the humiliating
display. For half an hour they watched Astafieva put Alicia
through her paces, and saw the child executing steps with an
ease far beyond the capabilities of most adult dancers. They
were flabbergasted, and so was Madame. And they were still
more flabbergasted when they saw Madame stoop down and
kiss the child's forehead.
Turning to Mrs. Marks, and pointing to her daughter,
Astafieva said, "This does not happen every day. Please, my
hastiness you forget it, eh? How many loving mothers try to
Inflict their terrible children on me. Your daughter will be
great dancer. She look like graceful race horse. She has
strange beauty she has speed but she is very delicate. Take
ner home, keep her wrapped in cotton wool. At all costs you
must take great care of her. Then perhaps we live to see her
dance like the other great ones. Bring her back tomorrow.
Eleven o'clock in the morning. She shall have her first
She then gave the pupils permission to depart, and the
studio emptied amid whispered remarks of wonderment.
Alicia began to cry from sheer sense of relief, but soon
recovered. Mrs. Marks could only think of the folly of those
cards, and decided to destroy the remainder without delay.
She herself had learned from Astafieva a lesson in the value
of modesty. When they reached home, she went directly to
her bureau, picked up the bundle of cards, and dropped
them on the fire in the sitting-room grate.
It was in Astafieva's classroom that I first met Alicia, the
miniature Salome, to whom I had sent the white chrysan-
themums at Kennington, and it was there that I first danced
with her. At the age of eleven she had a technique which can
only be termed fantastic. Madame used her as a demonstra-
tion model, to show the others in class, including many pro-
fessional dancers, how certain steps should be danced.
I loved to partner her, and showed her off in front of ad-
miring guests and friends who visited the studio from time
to time. It was quite simple to make her turn thirty times on
one pointe, or, having balanced her on one pointe, to go out
of the room and leave her. Coming back, she would still be
there, as motionless as a piece of carved ivory. We used to
stand in wonder and watch her. Nothing like this had ever
been seen before in one so young.
Yet what a strange child she was! She really looked older
70 ALICIA MARKOVA
at the age of eleven than she does now. At that time she had
the same mature face which we know today, but on the tiny
body of a child. The years have given her youth, vitality, and
mobility of expression so that, to me, she is now far more
lovely and attractive than at any time since 1 have known her.
Even at that early stage her technique was phenomenal.
Yet one could not watch her dancing so surely and with such
uncanny confidence without feeling that, because of her
completely unemotional quality, something was missing in
her. For it was almost impossible to realize her tender years.
The dancing was perfection, but it was quite, quite cold.
She might have been an exquisite little marionette turned
out from the workshop of Dr. Coppelius, and just as non-
human and heartless.
She never had a word to say for herself. She would answer
a question politely but would never attempt to start a con-
versation. At first she did not mix freely with the other pu-
pils and when not wanted in class, she would immediately
run to her governess and stay at her side.
Astafieva's cat inspired the first signs of real animation I
ever saw on Alicia's little face, and provided proof that she
was really human, after all. When she saw this none-too-
attractive animal, she rushed to it and murmured affection-
ately, as she had never done to a human being, as far as I
I learned later that cats were her grand passion at that age
and formed the one topic of conversation in which she took
a live interest. It seems that Mrs. Marks had given her a black
cat named Smut just before Doris was born, so that she
might not feel lonely or neglected with all the fuss made over
the new baby. She was only four at the time, and could just
manage to call her new companion "Mut," but they were the
closest of friends and, like all subsequent cats in the Marks
household, Smut was treated as one of the family.
Even today Alicia has an extraordinary fascination for cats.
More than once I have seen the theater cat come and seek her
out, even in places where we have stayed only a few hours to
dance a single program.
The early days at Astafieva's were enough to prove to Alicia
that she would never be a ballet dancer without an abun-
dance of sweat and tears. It was her first experience of taking
a lesson from a teacher of the old Russian school. She dis-
covered that there were literally hundreds of steps and move-
ments to learn, and each one was drilled into her until she
felt like crying. Many times she did weep with Guggy in a
discreet corner of the studio.
Though her knee had become stronger, it still pained her
from time to time and made her wonder whether it would
eventually stand up under the strain. When she had heard
the audience at Kennington clapping her Salome dance, she
imagined herself a ballerina, but she soon found that she had
to start almost from the beginning when Astafieva took her
as a pupil.
Astafieva gave one class a day. It was supposed to begin at
eleven and last about two hours, but as Madame was Russian
to the core and had no idea of time, it was often nearly one
o'clock before she appeared. The pupils were quite happy
and would amuse themselves by practicing pirouettes or by
gaining early experience in the art of partnering. They re-
72 ALICIA MARKOVA
garded Astafieva with such devotion that they would will-
ingly have waited for her until three or four o'clock.
Alicia used to attend class every morning, and also had
some private lessons with Georgina Constable, one of Asta-
fieva's star pupils, who later left to join the Pavlova company.
Alicia preferred private lessons, and still does. She is never
at her best in class or at rehearsal, and throughout her career
she has always tried to budget for private lessons, even if it
meant going without something else.
"As a teacher," Alicia recalls, "Astafieva had an inventive
brain and devised most remarkable combinations of steps for
her pupils. She prepared such difficult material for us and
steered us through it so skillfully that no other choreographer
scared us when we went out into the world to make our way as
ballet dancers. We knew instinctively that we would be able
to master his ballet, no matter how complicated it might be.
"I have always managed to adapt myself to the demands
made by all the different choreographers I have encountered,
and I thank my early Astafieva training for it. Astafieva fitted
us to tackle anything. She would arrange a chain of steps and
make us do them from the right, then from the left, and
finally in reverse. She demanded that pirouettes be executed
on both sides and both ways, so that her dancers were equally
developed. She would spring unexpected commands on us
while we were executing our pirouettes, so that we had to be
ready to perform any number, and stop the moment we were
" 'Do four!' she would cry. 'Now six, two, four, one, three!'
And so we had to be ready for anything. The great advantage
of this training was that it developed the brain as well as the
body. That was what made my darling Madame so great a
teacher. She taught her pupils to be quick thinkers. Some-
times she would devote the entire lesson to one step, varying
the speed and the direction.
"She stressed the fact that our dancing lessons did not end
when the class was over. Though we danced for only two
hours each morning, she insisted that for the rest of the day
we concentrate upon what she had taught us. There is a
theoretical side to ballet and, as far as I was concerned, Asta-
fieva was the first to emphasize the importance of contempla-
tion on dancing.
"She was only thirty-eight when I had my first lessons with
her. She was a great beauty, and moved with a grace which
was a joy to watch. A woman of temperament and spirit, she
was a commanding personality, and I felt sorry that I had
not had the good fortune to see her as Cleopatra, for one felt
the breath of the theater, even as she entered the classroom.
She had what is known as a presence that could be felt, even
by the less sensitive pupils.
"Though she was strict, I was never afraid of her. That
stern approach to the work in hand simply made me more
alive to the importance of discipline in a dancer's work and
life. Every pupil was given individual consideration. She
would not let me join the character class which she taught
once a week, because she had singled me out to become a
classical dancer, and maintained that character work would
spoil my line and the shape of my knees, so I was permitted
only to sit and watch with Guggy.
"As a spectator, I once went to the mime class, but never
again! Being a highly sensitive child, far too easily impressed,
74 ALICIA MARKOVA
I was carried away by these pupils making strange gestures
and grimaces. I had the most horrifying nightmare about
nine cats, so I was never permitted anywhere near the mime
class after that."
When I first saw Alicia at Astafieva's school I was still
Patrick Kay. Not until two years later did I change my name
to Anton Dolin. I suppose I was a rather flamboyant young
man who quite fancied himself and his youthful good looks,
and I took a delight in scaring Alicia with my exuberance.
Secretly, though, I used to feel she enjoyed it all. I suppose
it was the conceit in me, even at that early age, that enabled
me to be at ease with people, and except for Astafieva, who
always called me Patte now only Alicia calls me that I was
known to everybody as Pat.
I told Alicia how I had first seen her at Kennington, but it
was not until some years later that I told her about sending
the white chrysanthemums. Her reaction to the first admis-
sion was a timed "Oh yes/' and to the second, a smile of
She fascinated me, she was so small, like a doll. I used to
tease her as one would a kitten and as one does at that
wretched age of seventeen.
I suppose because I liked to pull her hair when Madame
was not looking, she always tried, and nearly always suc-
ceeded, to place herself at the barre as far away from me as
possible. Still, I was able to watch her and observe at the
same time the envy of others at her uncanny ease and exacti-
tude. I suppose pulling her hair and lightly pinching her
tiny waist were hardly actions of affection, though I am sure
they were meant to be. Yet In Alicia they elicited no response.
Neither of rebuke nor of pleasure. She remained quiet and
composed, as if embarrassed, and not knowing how to re-
spond. My own swollen sense of importance later on had
for the first time, a justifiable raison d'etre; I was a member
of the famous Diaghileff Russian Ballet, though a very minor
one, it was true. Still I could put on my visiting card "Patri-
kieff, Corps de Ballet, Diaghileff Russian Ballet." Diaghileff
had put my Christian name and surname together, and, as
Patrikieff, I first figured in this illustrious ensemble.
Though Alicia has always said that Anna Pavlova was the
object of her first hero worship, I like to feel that perhaps
I was the second. Not because of any attraction I might have
had for her, but because of the glamour of my wonderful
position, dancing in the great Diaghileff Ballet production of
The Sleeping Beauty at the Alhambra Theatre.
If I was an object of wonder to her, I was no less an object
of disappointment to myself. For only now, seeing real danc-
ers, did I realize how insignificant I was and how little I
knew. Only Alicia seemed to have at her command an equal
facility for doing all the same steps that I was able to watch
being performed by so many great dancers.
The most famous dancers in the world were gathered to-
gether for that unforgettable production of Tchaikovsky's
most popular ballet Spessiva, Trefilova, Egorova, Lopokova,
Brianza, Nijinska, Tchernicheva, Nemtchinova, Sokolova,
Doubrovska, Vladimiroff, Vilzak, Woizikowsky, and Idzikow-
sky. What a breath-taking collection of dazzling names!
I feel sure that chance and lucky contact with so many
illustrious names at so early an age brought Alicia and me
76 ALICIA MARKOVA
nearer together at that period. We began to have a mutual
respect for each other, she because of the fact that working
together as we were in class and because I would soon be
appearing on the same stage with these great ballerinas gave
her a contact a secondhand one, perhaps with the impor-
tant world of ballet and took her mind outside of the class-
room. As I began to pay her more attention, she, in turn,
seemed to warm and grow up.
As I have said, our teacher was not always punctual in
beginning her morning class, and it was during those precious
minutes that Alicia and I began to practice double work. I
had watched how the two premier danseurs of the Diaghileff
Ballet, Pierre Vladimiroff and Anatol Vilzak, had handled
Alicia was light, pliable, anxious to learn, and even willing
to suffer, at the beginning, my not-too-sure knowledge of the
art of partnering. It was this wonderful confidence that she
had in me then that above all else influenced our careers and
carried us to the success we have had as partners.
Alicia saw The Sleeping Beauty four times. I taught her
the adagios and explained the intricacies of the variations
which I had watched during weeks of rehearsals and months
of performances. She was fearless in my arms and, together,
we gave each other a supreme confidence. Just as she sensed
and knew she was dancing the great moments from the fa-
mous ballet, so I knew instinctively that this was no ordinary
being whom I held.
Once, just as we were completing the pirouettes, the lift,
and the final pose in the pas de deux of the last act of The
Sleeping Beauty, we heard the voice of Astafieva, who had
quietly opened the door from her room leading on to the
studio. "Bravo, Little Alicia. Bravo, Little Patte." I am sure
she discerned even then that we would make ideal stage
partners. Eight years passed, though, before we danced to-
gether the Blue Bird pas de deux in public.
I was not the only lifelong friend Alicia made at Astafieva's.
It was there she first met Mrs. Haskell, mother of the ballet
critic, Arnold HaskelL Mrs. Haskell had long admired Asta-
fieva's work on the stage, and enjoyed coming to the studio,
almost daily, to watch the lessons. She was keenly interested
in Alicia's work and used to encourage her with kind remarks
from time to time. Once she took Guggy and Alicia to her
house to lunch, and she talked about the excitement the
Diaghileff Ballet had caused in London during that first 1911
season, and told them that she had an undergraduate son,
Arnold, at Cambridge. At a Christmas party some time after-
ward Mrs. Haskell introduced Alicia to Arnold, who was not
then particularly interested in dancing. He had heard about
Alicia from his mother, who eventually persuaded him to
accompany her to class one day.
That one visit changed the whole pattern of his life. He
fell under the spell of ballet. He saw that Alicia was on the
brink of a career which he imagined and she secretly hoped
would be spectacular, and he wanted to watch it step by
step at close quarters. Since then he has devoted his life to
ballet, observing it in class, seeing it at the theater, and
reading every known expert, until he has become one of the
greatest living authorities.
Valia Golodetz was another great friend Alicia made in
78 ALICIA MARKOVA
those days. With her husband, Nathan, she had just escaped
from Russia after the Revolution, and came to Astafieva for
classes. Alicia found her easy to talk to, and she seemed like
a second mother to the child. Curiously enough, Alicia's
mother took to her at once. They seemed like sisters, and soon
Valia and her husband were friends of the Marks family.
They gave Alicia her first ballet skirt as a Christmas present
and, having studied her likes and dislikes, they chose pale
I liked Alicia's new friends, and particularly Mrs. Haskell,
who used to bring us chocolates from time to time. It was our
custom, at the end of class, to perform a circle of pirouettes,
which gave Mrs. Haskell particular pleasure, as she enjoyed
watching us. I loved an audience, even in those days, and al-
ways seemed to work better when I knew I had one. Often
before I started the pirouettes, I would walk up to Mrs.
Haskell, bow in front of her, and ask, "What will you give
me if I do two circles instead of one?" In this way, quite
shamelessly, I earned many a box of chocolates from our gen-
Toward the end of her first summer at Astafieva's, Alicia
had her first major disappointment. The great Diaghileff was
in London, making plans for his spectacular revival of The
Sleeping Beauty > which was to be the realization of a long-
cherished dream. No expense was spared, and the greatest
dancers in Europe were already rehearsing in London under
Nicolas Sergueiff, a famous old Maryinsky regisseur, who had
come from Russia especially to stage this Tchaikovsky master-
piece. The ballet had never been seen in its entirety in west-
ern Europe, so preparations were going ahead with great
Diaghileff and Astafieva were old friends, and whenever
he visited London, he would call at her school to see if she
had any promising talent. It was at this time that Diaghileff
first saw Alicia. Though she was only ten, he engaged her on
the spot after seeing her dance Rubinstein's Valse Caprice.
He had never hoped to find a dancer who was small enough
to look like a real fairy while possessing the necessary tech-
nique to triumph over genuinely difficult choreography. As-
tafieva had indeed produced a miracle child, and Diaghileff
was so pleased that he expressed his intention of interpolating
a special solo in the ballet to show off her miniature artistry
to perfection. She would add the last touch of enchantment to
"She shall be the tiniest fairy who comes to Princess Au-
rora's christening," he exulted. "She shall be dressed all in
white, and as she is so small, we will call her Fairy Dewdrop.
The Lilac Fairy shall introduce her, and I will get Nijinska
to arrange a special variation for her.**
Then came a bitter blow of Fate. Two days before she was
due to go to the Alhambra for her first rehearsal, Alicia
was stricken with diphtheria and rushed to the hospital. The
contract had to be canceled. There was no time to wait for
her recovery, and in any case, there was the possibility that
she might never be strong enough to return to the ballet after
so serious an illness.
" I was distressed to hear of this tragedy, but as I thought
of Alicia lying in the hospital, I wondered if she quite
8o ALICIA MARK.OVA
realized the great honor which illness had so cruelly snatched
from her. I could do no more than wonder, for her quietness,
her almost morbid lack of verbal expression, gave no hint
of her thoughts. Only now, after many years, when Alicia
recalls the sad chapter, can I appreciate what must have been
happening in her mind at the time.
"I felt," says Alicia, "that I did not care very much
whether I lived or died. It might almost be better to die. I
had lived in such close touch with the ballet world at Asta-
fieva's that I fully realized that DiaghilefFs production of
The Sleeping Beauty might well be the greatest artistic event
of my lifetime. Subsequent history has proved that I was not
"After some days of complete listlessness, with the haunt-
ing Tchaikovsky music continually in my head, I felt an
urge to see the production at the Alhambra. That was surely
something to live for. I could see the ballet, even if I could
not dance in it. Having expressed that wish, I began to get
better, as I had a reason for wanting to get well. As soon as I
was on my feet again I was taken to see The Sleeping Beauty
for the first time. I went four times in all, and saw both
Spessiva and Trefilova as Aurora.
"I shall always be grateful for being old enough to appre-
ciate that great artistic treat, because I am quite convinced
that I shall never see anything like it again. The magnificent
Bakst decor and costumes, the Tchaikovsky music, and the
incomparable dancing of the entire cast left one intoxicated
"For the first time in my life I really wanted to become a
dancer. I felt happier than ever to think that Diaghileff had
ASTAFIEVA 8 1
given me the opportunity to dance beside the Lilac Fairy.
It was a great consolation to know that he thought me good
enough to take a leading part in a production that was per-
fection itself. It made me very proud, and gave me terrific
determination to overcome any difficulties the future offered.
I knew what I wanted, and I decided that all my time and
energy should be devoted to my work. I set myself a goal and
determined to attain it if I died in the effort."
After two years of painstaking work, Astafieva considered
Alicia good enough to appear in public. The occasion was a
milestone for both of us, in my case marking the birth of
Anton Dolin. At the Albert Hall, on Tuesday evening, June
26th, 1923, Astafieva gave a performance with her company
of Anglo-Russian dancers. I discarded my name of Patrick
Kay and appeared for the first time as Anton Dolin, dancing
Rimski-Korsakov's Hymn to the Sun, a Danse Russe by F&>-
dor Kolin, and a Chopin mazurka. Astafieva herself danced
to Gounod's Ave Maria.
Recalling the storm caused by the Child Pavlova card two
years previously, it is amusing to know that Alicia was pre-
sented by Astafieva as "Little Alicia, The Miniature Pav-
lova." Mrs. Marks must have smiled secretly as she glanced
at the program. Obviously Astafieva must have felt that there
was some truth engraved on the card, after all, because she
chose for Alicia two of Pavlova's most famous solos The
Dying Swan and The Dragonfly.
The critics were impressed. Alicia must have felt that the
grind and drudgery of the past two years had been worth
while when she read in the Daily Mirror that the feature of
the evening was "the performance of Little Alicia, a clever
82 ALICIA MARKOV A
twelve-year-old child, described as 'The Miniature Pavlova/
who combined the sang-froid of a prima ballerina with the
daintiness and freshness of youth." The Star critic was ob-
viously won over as he wrote; "Little Alicia is handicapped
at the start of her career by program comparison with the
peerless Pavlova, but she danced her way into the affections
of her audience/* Even the Daily Chronicle encouraged her,
despite the reserve of the notice which read, "The young
child, Alicia, described repeatedly as 'The Miniature Pav-
lova/ has certainly the makings of a dancer, but I thought she
attempted things far too difficult and strenuous for a child
of her years/'
This fleeting contact with the public and the press had
an exhilarating effect, and sent Alicia back to the classroom
with renewed vigor and enthusiasm to prepare for her next
Four months later Nicolas Legat, the great Russian dancer
and teacher, the first to foresee Nijinsky's phenomenal leap,
presented a troupe of Russian Art dancers at the London
Palladium, with his wife, the ballerina Nadejda Nicolaeva,
whom I was to partner. Alicia was engaged to dance a solo.
There is little to record about her engagement beyond the
fact that she was interviewed by the press for the first time.
A representative of the Pall Mall Gazette called on her.
"Expecting to find a precocious modern infant," he wrote t
"I was agreeably surprised at being confronted instead by a
shy little girl with an elfin face and large dark eyes, in a very
short coat and pokebonnet, hugging an enormous doll.
" 'Yes/ she said shyly, in answer to a question, 'I am most
excited about appearing with real Russian dancers in a Lon-
don theater. I hope people will like me. It is very hard work
dancing. I practice steps and positions five hours steadily
every day. Then I have also my lessons to learn with my
governess besides. I like them, too, but I would rather play
with my dolls than do arithmetic or history. I want to be a
great dancer when I grow up, like Madame Pavlova. Before
Madame left for America, I went to tea with her. She was
most sweet to me and wanted to take me with her/ "
It comes as something of a shock to read of an artiste who
has "the sang-froid of a prima ballerina" going home and
playing with her dolls, but the fact remains that despite her
phenomenal talent Alicia was still a child. A little later, just
before the Wembley Exhibition opened in 1924, her father
was called in by Sir Robert McAlpine to get the work finished
so that the Exhibition could be opened on the scheduled
date. During the last stages of preparation he often took the
girls along with him, after Alicia had finished her class at
Astafieva's. The children adored the Queen's Doll's House,
and helped to unpack the miniature treasures with which it
Their next favorite attraction was the Fun Fair, where
they charmed the stall holders, who allowed them to try
everything for nothing, and sometimes gave each one a prize
to take home. They hoped to go on the mighty switchback
railway, and were present the day it was being tried out.
Suddenly there was a hideous scream, a grinding of brakes,
and a rush to the rescue. A workman had been killed. The
girls were packed off home, and none of them has ever ex-
pressed a desire to go on a switchback since.
A greater tragedy was lying in wait for them just around
84 ALICIA MARKOVA
the corner. Soon after the opening of Wembley, Alicia's
father invested his entire fortune into an art cork invention
in which he was interested. It failed, and the man who had
persuaded him to invest his money proved to be a rogue and
a scoundrel. He was imprisoned, but it was of little consola-
tion to Tristman Marks, who suddenly found himself penni-
less. The shock proved too much for him. His health col-
lapsed, and he died with tragic suddenness, leaving a widow
and four daughters to face the world with no visible means
I had been concerned about Alicia's future for some time
before her father's death. After the catastrophic failure of
The Sleeping Beauty at the Alhambra, the Diaghileff Ballet
appeared to be in such dire financial straits that it looked at
one time as if it might have to be disbanded. I could have
gone with the remnants of the company to Monte Carlo
where, in a few months, Diaghileff re-established his com-
pany under the protection of the Prince of Monaco, but I
decided to stay in London. For three months I had seen real
ballet and dancing and realized how little I knew. So I re-
turned to Astafieva's, studying seriously, in the hope of
becoming a great dancer, so that one day I could take my
place as an important member of the Diaghileff Russian
I rejoined the Diaghileff Ballet Company in Monte Carlo
nearly two years later. My first partner was Vera Nemtchi-
nova, one of DiaghilefFs great ballerinas, and one with whom
I enjoyed a very happy partnership. Often, while I was abroad
with the company, especially in class, I would think of Alicia,
wondering how many pirouettes she was doing at Astafieva's,
and if she ever encountered a technical feat beyond her pow-
ers. I felt that the time had come for her to join the Diaghileff
company, which was the only ballet company in the world
that mattered in those days.
We never met outside the classroom, or wrote to each
other, so I knew nothing of her home life and precious little
about her. But whenever I did see her, I was always conscious
of an abnormal sadness in her, and in one so young and so
talented, it didn't seem right.
When I came back for the 1924 winter season of the Dia-
ghileff Ballet at the London Coliseum, where I was to make
my debut in Le Train Bleu, I was determined to try to do
something for Alicia. When I heard of the tragedy which had
struck her family life, I knew something must be done at
As ill luck would have it, the time was not propitious to
approach the great Serge Pavlovich Diaghileff. The London
press was stating that for the first time in the history of the
Russian Ballet the outstanding artistes of this foreign com-
pany were English the great Lydia Sokolova (Hilda Mun-
nings), Vera Savina Leonide Massine's first wife, whose real
name was Vera Clarke and myself, whose success was en-
tirely due to the great Diaghileff himself who had had Jean
Cocteau, Darius Milhaud, and Bronislava Nijinska write,
compose, and choreograph Le Train Bleu especially for me.
But Diaghileff, well known for his moods, was far from
pleased at this publicity.
Soon after my return to London I summoned up my cour-
86 ALICIA MARKOVA
age and reminded him about Alicia, whom he had considered
good enough to dance in The Sleeping Beauty. His reaction
was far from pleasant.
"No more English dancers!" was his emphatic reply.
No words, no persuasion could change his mind. I begged
him to see her dance, but all to no avail.
Several times during the season I had gone over to Chelsea
to Astafieva's class, to see Alicia dance. Except that she seemed
more precise than ever, time had wrought no change in her.
She was still the phenomenon, the wonder child, who had to
be seen to be believed. She was still no more than a perfectly
tuned machine. She lacked any kind of feeling. And from
having this fact constantly drummed into her, I think she
more than ever retired into herself. Why she was expected
to have feelings and be emotional I do not know. It was hard
to watch the perfection of her dancing and at the same time
realize that she was such a child. Despite her tender years
and that slender, almost spidery little body and legs, her face
was already that of a mature woman.
Astafieva was even more worried than I. She knew that
Alicia's mother was desperate for money and had already
considered discontinuing the little girl's lessons. Astafieva
would not hear of this.
Dear Astafieva, it was not only to Alicia and to me that
you said, "Ah, you pay one day. Now you learn to be great
dancer. Yes? No?"
Then she and I hit upon a plan for bringing Alicia to Di-
aghileff 's attention. Russian Christmas was imminent, so Asta-
fieva decided to give a party at her studio for the members of
the Diaghileff Ballet, of which she had once been a member.
Surely even the mighty Serge Pavlovich Diaghileff would not
refuse her invitation. True, it was a plot and a trap, but we
were quite shameless about it.
The party was attended not only by Serge Pavlovich but
by all the leading dancers of his company and many of his
London friends, as well as Mrs. Haskell, her son Arnold, and
Valia and Nathan Golodetz.
At a given signal by Astafieva, the studio was cleared. The
guests were seated all around the room and those who could
not find chairs sat on the floor. Someone at the piano played
a few introductory chords to Rubinstein's Vahe Caprice.
The large double doors at the side of the studio opened, and
Alicia appeared. Little did she realize that she was at the
great turning point in her life.
A deathly silence prevailed as she danced. Her perform-
ance was cold and strangely unreal. I smiled as I saw the great
Diaghileff ballerinas watch this little English girl of thirteen
dancing so technically correct and so flawlessly right that she
must have made even them a little envious. She turned three,
four pirouettes on the toe with an ease that was almost un-
canny. She jumped high and effortlessly into the air, and her
little feet made no sound as they touched the floor*
The applause was terrific, with far more fervor than could
be expected from a studio full of celebrities. I cast a search-
ing glance at Diaghileff, anxious to find out if our ruse had
worked. I knew at once that Alicia had captivated him. His
eyes lit up in wonderment and honest amazement. Getting
up from his chair, he embraced the little dancer. There were
tears in his eyes. Words for once seemed to fail him as he
clasped her closely to him. Then he turned to Astafieva.
88 ALICIA MARKOVA
"Seraphine, you have given a genius to the world/' he
said. "The ballet has found its next generation. We know
that the classic dance will live long after us. I will take th^
child into my company. Her name shall be let me see-
So Lilian Alicia Marks became Alicia Markova at the
word and will of Serge Diaghileff.
Yet another token of homage was paid to the child before
she left the studio on that eventful night. As Astafieva fondly
embraced her on the doorstep, she said, "Now you are no
longer a little girl; you become an artiste!"
But our victory was not really so easy as all that. When
the matter was discussed with Diaghileff he indicated that
he did not intend to take Alicia into his ballet until she was
seventeen or eighteen. That was too much for us to bear.
Astafieva pleaded for the child, explaining the financial
status of her family, emphasizing that Alicia's talents as a
dancer remained their sole hope of income. She had to get a
job, and at once. If Diaghileff would not take her into his
company, she would have to accept an engagement at Drury
Lane, dancing in a new Fokine ballet as a fairy in the Christ-
mas production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
That announcement turned the scales in Alicia's favor.
Though dancing in a ballet to be choreographed by the
great Fokine was no small matter, it meant, as Diaghileff
knew, eight, perhaps twelve, performances a week. For one
so frail he could see the strain would be hard to bear and
perhaps even result in temporary, if not permanent, injury
to those soon-to-be-valuable limbs.
He consented to take her, but as there had never been a
child in the ballet before, he insisted upon her being ac-
companied either by her mother or a governess. As his
Coliseum season was drawing to a close, he consented to take
her, providing she joined the company in Monte Carlo about
the middle of January.
Alicia received the momentous news on the first day of
December 1924, her fourteenth birthday.
<*3&><S*>*S*>*S*S!> 1 S?&>**Z&^
To give Alicia some idea of the standard o the great com-
pany she was about to join, Diaghileff invited her to the
Coliseum to see one or two performances. Each time he met
her in the foyer and then sat with her during the ballet, ex-
plaining in a soft whisper the finer points of the dancing, so
that she would derive full benefit from the experience.
The company were amazed to see the great Serge Pavlo-
vich, before whom the greatest ballerinas in the world
bowed their heads in awe and respect, taking so deep a per-
sonal interest in this mite he had discovered at Astafieva's.
Such a thing had never happened before, as he usually had
no time for children and still less for prodigies.
The first time Alicia attended the ballet with Serge Pavlo-
vich whom, much to his delight, she was soon to call Sergy-
pop, she saw Aurora's Wedding, in which, for the first time,
92 ALICIA MARKOVA
I was dancing the Blue Bird pas de deux with Alice Nikitina.
Alicia was entranced with this particular ballet, as it re-
called the finale of those glorious Sleeping Beauty nights at
She was excited to think that she would soon be dancing on
the same stage as these great artistes, in London, and in cities
on the Continent. It was a thrilling thought for a girl of
fourteen who had never been farther away from London
than a south coast resort for her annual holiday.
It was something beyond a thrill for poor Mrs. Marks.
It was a problem which at times seemed to defy a solution.
Nothing more wonderful could have happened than Diaghi-
lefFs invitation to Alicia to join his company, which was
without a rival during the twenty years of its existence and
which has never been matched since. But it was far from
easy for a penniless widow with four daughters to send one
of them off to Monte Carlo with a governess and expect both
to live on Alicia's corps de ballet salary of fifty shillings a
week. Even in the good old days of 1925 it was not possible
for two people to keep body and soul together on so modest
Without a fairy godmother, Mrs. Marks would have had
to decline DiaghilefFs unprecedented offer. Alicia would
have gone to Drury Lane as one of the Christmas fairies in
A Midsummer Night's Dream and the world might have
lost one of the greatest ballerinas of all time.
Mrs. Haskell was the fairy godmother. She had seen Alicia
flower under Astafieva's instruction and had seen the great
Diaghileff melt before her. No one was more thrilled on the
night Diaghileff kissed the child. Mrs. Haskell knew that
Mrs. Marks would find it difficult, if not impossible, to send
Alicia to Monte Carlo, but she was determined that lack of
money should not deprive the world of possibly another great
She had some of her own dresses altered to supplement
the child's modest wardrobe, but the most wonderful gift of
all was a fur coat, one formerly worn by Mrs- Haskell, which
she had had remodeled for Alicia. She knew what a boon it
would be to her, traveling all over the Continent in the
depths of winter, often having to sit up all night in chilly
railway compartments, as the expense of a wagon-lit would
be out of the question. The final going-away present from
the Haskells, mother and son, was a fitted dressing case in
Alicia's favorite shade of mauve.
Incidentally, it was Mrs. Haskell who, four years later,
bought Alicia her first evening dress. Diaghileff had given
the girl permission to attend her first London party officially
as a member of the company.
Alicia was more than happy with the altered garments
which her fairy godmother had given her and with the
modest but more than useful monthly allowance which
Mrs. Haskell sent Guggy, to be used on Alicia's behalf. Mr.
and Mrs. Golodetz rallied to her aid by giving her mother
financial assistance, and saved the situation at a later date
by looking after the younger children during the school holi-
days so that Mrs. Marks could remain abroad with Alicia
after Guggy ceased to be her guardian.
The Christmas holidays of 1924 were busily occupied with
getting things ready for Alicia's departure. One difficulty
after another was overcome, until finally it appeared she had
94 ALICIA MARKOVA
all she needed to make the journey and to live in Monte
Carlo for three or four months. It was more than a triumph
for Mrs. Marks, who seemed to have performed a miracle.
Diaghileff had warned them about a possible difficulty in
getting the child out of the country, as no British artiste
under the age of sixteen was permitted to work abroad. She
might, he said, be stopped by the police at Victoria and sent
back home. That was too terrible an eventuality to con-
template, but they had to be ready for it. Guggy had ex-
pressed her willingness to go abroad with Alicia and act as
a foster mother both in and out of the theater. An old and
trusted servant, who had already been with the family for
ten years, Mrs. Marks had no apprehension about her daugh-
Diaghileff had arranged for Alicia and Guggy to be met
by Ninette de Valois, a young English dancer who had al-
ready been a member of his company for more than a year,
at the barrier of the Continental Departure platform at
Victoria. Ninette, who spoke French fluently, promised to
look after Alicia and her governess, escort them across
France, and make sure they caught the right trains in Calais
and Paris, where they were to break their journey for the
The dawn of the eventful day struggled through one of
those dense fogs which occur in London and nowhere else
in the world. Alicia was all of a twitter for fear they missed
the train, through their taxi being held up, with visibility
reduced to a matter of yards. Mrs. Marks calmed her by say-
ing that as the police were less likely to see her in the fog,
she stood a much better chance of getting away.
Ninette was at the barrier, and as soon as she saw a frail
child with enormous eyes she knew that she had met her
traveling companion. Just in time Alicia was hustled into the
train and within a matter of seconds she disappeared into
the fog on the first stage of her journey toward fame.
In one way Mrs. Marks really lost her daughter that foggy
day. They had always been devoted to each other, but so
completely did Alicia give herself up to her career that
mother and daughter never had the chance to enjoy the same
intimate relationship they had known before the ballet be-
came the dominating consideration of their lives.
Terpsichore is a hard and possessive mistress. From the
moment the boat train steamed out of Victoria Station the
ballet became Alicia's one and only thought. Everything
else, even her family, took second place. For her personal
enjoyment she had only the fraction of her life that remained
after the ballet had taken its toll.
The fog lifted soon after they reached the borders of
Kent, and Alicia began to consider the significance of this
first trip abroad. She began to see her dancing in the right
light. It was a means to an end. It was the thing she did best
in life and was the only means of earning money for the
family. She considered herself very lucky. Whereas most girls
of fourteen were still at school, she was engaged by Serge
Diaghileff, the director of the greatest ballet company in
True her corps de ballet salary was insufficient to cover
her expenses, but she had no intention of staying in the
corps all her life. She would work harder than ever and be-
come such a great dancer that managers would vie with each
96 ALICIA MARKOVA
other to present her. She would be able to keep her mother
and sisters in comfort and show her gratitude and apprecia-
tion for all they had done.
When the travelers reached Paris, Mrs. Golodetz was at the
station and took Alicia and Guggy to a hotel to spend the
night as her guests. During dinner she dispelled any fears
Alicia may have had by extolling the beauties of the Riviera,
the fashionable playground of princes and the most beautiful
women in the world. Next morning they rejoined Ninette
at the station to continue their journey south.
I was with the Diaghileff company when Alicia joined it
in Monte Carlo. She stayed with it until DiaghilefFs death
four and a half years later, but I left after her first six months,
to dance in musical shows in the West End and to partner
Karsavina, Phyllis Bedells, Nemtchinova, and Anna Ludmilla
in various programs at the London Coliseum. I did not re-
join the company until December 1928. Diaghileff was pre-
paring a revival of Giselle. Having been approached by him
to come back to the ballet, the added inducement that I
would dance the coveted role of Albrecht with the great
Olga Spessiva made me reject any other propositions. At
our first meeting in Paris after three years, when discussing
the repertoire, in addition to Giselle j Diaghileff talked to me
about Alicia and of his intention to have her alternate with
Spessiva for the Giselle performances.
Unfortunately, the revival of this great masterpiece never
materialized, as Diaghileff died following the Covent Garden
season, six months later.
During the season of 1929, when I was in Monte Carlo, I
witnessed the sensation already caused by Alicia's joining
Diaghileff's unorthodox step proved so successful that De
Basil followed his example ten years later by engaging
Baronova, Riabouchinska, and Toumanova, when, in their
early teens, they helped to put his newly-formed ballet com-
pany on the map. Alicia's career with Diaghileff paved the
way for their early recognition. She proved that it was pos-
sible for a baby ballerina to arouse genuine enthusiasm in a
discriminating audience, and to hold her own even in a
company headed by Maryinsky ballerinas.
At the age of fourteen Alicia was already a pioneer in the
ballet, a role which, together with me, she has played so
frequently since, in helping to establish British ballet, tour-
ing the English provinces, dancing in vast arenas, and taking
ballet by air to the far corners of the earth.
Though Mrs. Golodetz had said that Monte Carlo was the
playground of princes, Alicia little dreamed that she would
be commanded to appear before royalty after being there
less than a fortnight.
At the end of January the hereditary Princess and Prince
Pierre of Monaco held a reception in their magnificent
palace and asked Diaghileff to arrange an entertainment for
their guests in the grand salon. He chose a program of
divertisement, danced by Vera Nemtchinova, Lubov Tcher-
nicheva, Alice Nikitina, Anton Dolin, and Alicia Markova,
the newest and youngest recruit in the Diaghileff ensemble,
who danced to the music of Rubinstein's Valse Caprice and
Alicia was dazed by the magnificence of the scene. The
98 ALICIA MARKOVA
salon blazed with light from crystal chandeliers, fire flashed
from diamond tiaras on many a fashionable coiffure, and
every corner was adorned with floral decorations of the most
exotic shapes and colors. It was far more wonderful than the
Sultan's Palace in the Kennington pantomime, and the
lights of Monte Carlo more dazzling and brilliant than the
Another excitement lay in wait for the girl. The guest of
honor was His Royal Highness the late Duke of Connaught,
and as both Alicia and I were English, we had the honor of
being presented to him. He seemed a little at a loss for words
as he bent over the doll-like ballerina who curtsied at his
feet. She was so different from the dancers he had previously
received in the royal box at Covent Garden and elsewhere.
Her first role with the company was Red Riding Hood in
Aurora's Wedding, a part in which she looked curiously
whimsical, and which she danced to perfection from a tech-
nical point of view. In my opinion it was unsuited to her
strange and far from glamorous stage presence. It gave no
indication of her phenomenal capabilities, but it was the
first step in DiaghilefFs master plan for grooming Alicia as
a prima ballerina.
Monte Carlo brought very little happiness to Alicia, who
lived night and day under the eagle eye of Guggy. Guggy,
being the perfect governess, behaved more like a prison
wardress than a guardian angel. All day and all night Alicia
was with this woman who, though fanatically devoted to her,
believed that to be kind to a child one had to be cruel. She
had no sense of humor, so that Alicia never laughed, but
lived all day and every day under the heavy consciousness
that she had consecrated her life to the ballet. Any thought
not centered upon her work was regarded as something in
the nature of a sin. Guggy fed her, groomed her, exercised
her, and put her to bed, just as she might have looked after
a performing poodle in a circus. There was no warm human
touch about it. Nothing was ever fun when Guggy had any-
thing to do with it.
She was profoundly serious and never permitted Alicia's
thoughts to wander far from the straight and narrow path of
ballet classes and performances. They had to try to exist on
Alicia's corps de ballet salary. The amount varied according
to the country in which the company happened to be danc-
ing, and was as much as 7 a week in London, which was one
reason why the artistes always enjoyed their London seasons*
Both Alicia and Guggy were only too well aware of the
financial situation of the Marks family so it was useless to
expect aid from that quarter.
They took a small room at the top of a private hotel in
Monte Carlo, not much bigger than the box room in a subur-
ban villa. If by any chance Guggy had to go out and leave
Alicia at home, she would lock her in their little room and
take the key with her, fondly imagining that in this manner
no harm could come to the child. It never seemed to occur
to her that she might have lost her life had there been an
outbreak of fire during her absence.
Through Guggy's precautions Alicia missed one of the
few minor pleasures that came her way. Alexandra Danilova,
who had joined the company the same year as Alicia, felt
sorry for this sad-eyed child, shackled to her grim governess,
who might have come out of the pages of a De Maupassant
1OO ALICIA MARKOVA
short story. One afternoon she thought she would call un-
expectedly at their hotel and take Alicia out to tea. She felt
sure Guggy would raise her hands in horror at the mere sug-
gestion, but she was prepared to face the dragon and take
her, too, if absolutely necessary.
When Danilova climbed to the top of the house, she dis-
covered nothing but Alicia's whisper behind the locked
door. Guggy had gone to the post office to send a letter home
and had left the little prisoner behind. Danilova was dis-
appointed. Never had she encountered discipline carried to
such ridiculous lengths. She even complained to Serge
Pavlovich, feeling that his precious ballerina-to-be was suffer-
ing unnecessarily at the hands of her well-meaning tyrant of
On fifty shillings a week it was possible to afford only one
meal a day in a restaurant. Alicia danced at the theater three
nights a week, and then they ate their main meal at noon,
but when she was not dancing at night, they ate their main
meal in the evening. Apart from this, they existed on snacks
and makeshift meals prepared in their little room. They car-
ried with them a hatbox containing a spirit stove, an alumi-
num saucepan, and a teapot. This was facetiously known as
The Kitchen, as it was their only means of boiling water for
tea, heating tins of soup, or cooking eggs. Mostly they lived
on tins of sardines, cold ham, and fruit, which were cheap
and easily obtained in the South of France.
Alicia was always given a nightcap, consisting of a cup
of Ovaltine, which she drank in bed while munching a couple
of oatmeal biscuits. Once these had been consumed, the light
was turned out and she and Guggy retired, ready for an early
start the next day.
Guggy made a duty of everything. Cooking in the hatbox
Kitchen could have been great fun had it been approached in
the right spirit, but with Guggy it was a grim ritual without
a scrap of pleasure. To have smiled when an egg cracked in
the boiling water would have been like laughing in church.
There was always a constant tension in that dreary top room.
If only Alicia had had the luck to share it with Danilova,
who had the gift of transforming such mundane tasks as
washing and ironing into the greatest fun in the world!
"Guggy meant well," reflects Alicia. "She was Irish and
proud of coming from the same country as my mother. It
seemed to bring her even closer into the family circle. Hav-
ing lived with us for ten years, she knew all there was to
know about me and enjoyed having a part in working out my
career. She was determined that I was going to become a great
dancer and thought she could urge me on by nagging from
morn till night. She never showed any signs of affection,
though I knew that if ever the occasion arose, she would
fight for me to the bitter end. I remembered her antagonism
toward Jessie Matthews' sister at Kennington.
"I suppose it was some consolation to know that I had a
champion at my side, but I was never really happy with
Guggy, and never saw another child. Even the other members
of the company who wanted to be kind to me were frozen
off by her, as she guarded me like a forbidding dragon. We
never had any private jokes or exchanged an understanding
smile such as might exist between two people living in such
102 ALICIA MARKOVA
close proximity. Unless the daily task was dreary, she seemed
to feel it had no benefit.
"We got up at seven-thirty. Guggy would boil some water
in our cardboard Kitchen and make some tea. Then she
would wash and dress me and do my hair, as if I were a child
of three. I was never allowed to do anything for myself. She
seemed to think that the only thing I could do was dance, and
dancing was the only thing I was permitted to do unaided in
Guggy's lifetime. She escorted me to my morning lesson with
the company, which lasted from nine o'clock until ten-thirty,
and afterward would sit in the theater throughout rehearsal,
without taking her eyes from me. She even changed my shoes
when I arrived at class and put my street shoes on again
"I can see now that she did all this out of devotion, mis-
placed though it was. I was to concern myself with nothing
but dancing. She felt her mission was to carry out every other
duty necessary to my existence. When I was dancing in the
evening, I was taken back to our room after lunch and put
to bed, with the blinds drawn. In the early evening I would
be roused, taken to the theater, and made up by Guggy in
the dressing room. She would tie my ballet slippers, arrange
my hair, fix the headdress, and then lead me to the stage,
where she would wait in the wings until I had finished my
dance. Then we would go back to the dressing room and go
through the whole process in reverse. I was treated just like
a precious puppet. I was completely helpless, for if I at-
tempted to do anything for myself, I was severely criticized,
told it was all wrong, and ordered to leave it to her. Though
I was only fourteen, I was developing a very definite in-
"My education had to be taken into account, as the Lon-
don County Council insisted that I study for twenty hours
a week. Most of this work was done during those evenings
when opera was being presented and I was not required at
the theater. After our evening meal, Guggy would see to it
that I was in bed by six-thirty, with my French grammar and
my geography and history books. She would either sew or
knit, so that complete silence reigned in the room while I
tried to cram the facts into my head.
"It was no good just pretending to read the books, because
I knew that the following day Guggy would question me
about the chapters she had set for study. I could never get
the better of her not that I ever really tried.
"Her favorite form of punishment was stopping my choco-
late ration. I adored chocolates, so Mother used to send me
a box from home when she could afford it, and members of
the company, who felt sorry for me as I went around with
Guggy, looking the personification of misery, would oc-
casionally ask if they might be permitted to give me some
chocolates. Guggy never refused. She knew my weakness for
sweets, and as long as I had a supply of them, she had the
power of inflicting punishment by stopping the ration, which
consisted of two a day. Incredible as it may seem, Guggy
used to take me once a week to the cinema. I cannot imagine
why I was permitted such frivolity, but it became an insti-
tution in Monte Carlo as well as another means of punish-
"Rather cunningly, Guggy used her chocolate fines as a
104 ALICIA MARKOVA
means o intensifying my concentration on my work. She sat
in class each morning, watching either Legat or Cecchetti
giving the lesson. If they singled me out more than twice for
correction, I lost my chocolates for that day.
"There were times when I envied Monte Carlo children
whom I saw in the street going home to their brothers and
sisters. I suppose I was desperately lonely and yearning for
some token of affection, but I was too sternly guarded for
others to get anywhere near me.
"Guggy eventually imposed her chocolate fines at per-
formances as well as in class, but as performances took place
in public and thus were considered far more important than
a class, the fines were correspondingly heavier. Guggy learned
from an older member of the company that any dancer who
soiled the pink satin of her ballet slippers during a per-
formance ought to be ashamed of herself, as it was a sign of
slovenly work. The satin should be just as spotless when the
dancer returned to her dressing room as when she made her
"Guggy was overjoyed to learn this, and informed me that
I must never be guilty of such an offence if I hoped to become
a great ballerina. After removing my ballet slippers at each
performance, she would take them to the strong electric light
of the make-up mirror. If she found so much as a spot or a
streak on the pink satin, I lost my chocolates, not only for
that day, but for the entire week, and, in addition, our visit
to the cinema was canceled.
"It may have imposed a sense of discipline upon me and
made me work harder, thereby helping me to perfect my
technique, but it took a good deal of pleasure out of danc-
ing. I danced in constant fear lest my only two comforts, the
chocolates and the cinema, should be denied me. Whenever
I had the misfortune to stain my slipper, I despaired of ever
escaping from a life which seemed to consist only of drudgery
"I missed Mother's kindness and the companionship of my
sisters. Sometimes I would notice happenings in the street
or maybe things in a shopwindow on the way to the theater
and would feel an urge to write home about them. I derived
a sense of comfort from sitting down and scribbling to
Mother and the girls. I felt close to them as I wrote about
simple, everyday happenings, such as the spring flowers in
the market or the arrival of some foreign celebrity in
Monaco. My letters had to be censored by Guggy, who felt
that I was wasting my time in writing them. She said she was
quite capable of dropping a line to Mother to tell her that
all was well. I should be occupying my time with matters
more vital to my career. In consequence, she criticized my
correspondence so adversely that I ceased to write. What was
the use of bothering? She killed any pleasure I might have
derived from putting my simple sentiments into words for
Mother and my sisters.
"To this day I am not a good correspondent. I often plan
detailed letters in my head, particularly when traveling long
distances by train or plane. I have every intention of com-
mitting my thoughts to paper, but somehow I rarely do.
My understanding friends forgive me when I send them an
occasional picture post card or a few press clippings to let
them know where I am and what I am doing. But I some-
times wonder if I would write more frequently had I been
1O6 ALICIA MARKOVA
encouraged to send a weekly letter home from Monte Carlo
when foreign parts were such an exciting novelty."
The limited leisure which any other artiste might have
used to write letters, Alicia spent in the darkened theater
watching rehearsals. Guggy seemed to raise no objection
when she expressed a wish to pass away an hour at the theater
during the afternoon. That did not strike her as a waste of
Often, as I dropped in at the theater during the afternoon
to pick up my mail, I would see Alicia sitting spellbound
in a corner of the stalls as she watched Grigorieff, our
r^gisseur, supervising the rehearsal of a ballet in which she
was not dancing. Obviously she was fascinated. Her eyes
never left the stage. Guggy would be sitting in the next seat,
as close as her shadow, usually sewing ribbons on Alicia's
ballet slippers or knitting.
When activity on the stage ceased, Alicia was usually to
be found in her dressing room enjoying the company of
Pierre, her only intimate friend in Monte Carlo. Pierre was
the theater cat. Alicia missed the companionship of her
sisters just as she missed the affection of the family cat. She
suggested to Guggy that they might buy a kitten, but the
idea was soon dismissed. Alicia was soon consoled when she
met Pierre. It was a case of love at first sight. Often she would
find Pierre sitting outside her dressing room awaiting her
arrival. He had a saucer of milk in the corner of the room,
as well as a cozy bed made out of the lid of a hatbox and a
badly worn pair of tights. Usually Alicia would choose fish
for her midday meal, so that she could take a scrap to Pierre,
which he enjoyed on his bed while she was dressing for the
performance. As I passed Alicia's door I would often hear a
lively flow of conversation as she chatted to Pierre.
This friendship with theater cats became a joke. In each
theater Alicia seemed to form an attachment for the cat,
which invariably took up residence in her dressing room dur-
ing our stay.
It was Peter, the stage-door cat at His Majesty's Theatre
in London, who caused an order to be issued concerning the
relationship between members of the Diaghileff Ballet and
pets of the feline world. Like Pierre in Monte Carlo, Peter
fell in love with Alicia, and all went well until a certain per-
formance of Les Sylphides. Alicia was dancing one of the
Miseries, as they are called in the ballet, one of the coryphees
who dance two or three steps more than the corps de ballet
and thus imagine themselves on the way to stardom.
The orchestra was playing the dreamy prelude. Grigorieff
cast a final glance at the dancers grouped on the stage ready
for the rise of the curtain. To his horror, he saw Peter's head
peeping around a piece of scenery in search of Alicia. With
only a split second of time, he dashed across the stage, and
the offending animal was under lock and key before the
static dancers melted into motion. After that incident, mem-
bers of the company were discouraged from making friends
with theater pets lest their appearance on the stage should
wreck an entire ballet. So Alicia had to seek consolation
Diaghileff found the problem of casting Alicia far from
easy. She was too small to join the other girls in the corps de
ballet and, for the same reason, it was impossible to partner
108 ALICIA MARKOVA
her with the leading male dancers of the company, as they
towered above her. As Alicia and I had partnered each other
so frequently at Astafieva's, I wanted to appear with her
during the Monte Carlo season, but there was so much dif-
ference in our height that we would have looked ridiculous.
With masterly cunning, Diaghileff fitted her into that great
company, giving her solo work or parts which only entailed
dancing beside a partner. Thus her miniature stature was not
unduly stressed. Apart from her first role of Red Riding
Hood in Aurora's Wedding, Alicia subsequently appeared as
the naughty American child in La Boutique Fantasque, one
of the warrior maidens in Prince Igor, Papillon in Carnaval,
and, in Petrouchka, as the rich child being driven in a sleigh.
She also appeared in the pas de trois from Aurora's Wedding,
which was sometimes arranged for two men and a girl and
also for two girls and a man. As time progressed, Alicia
danced the lead in Cimarosiana and, becoming a general
understudy, she appeared in all the difficult variations, in-
cluding the Blue Bird pas de deux in Aurora's Wedding,
though she never danced Princess Aurora until 1948, on our
return visit to Covent Garden, after World War II.
Nicolas Efimov claims the distinction of being Alicia's
first partner. Diaghileff decided to put on the one-act ver-
sion of Le Lac des Cygnes and allowed Alicia, wearing an
altered costume belonging to Trefilova, to dance the adagio,
partnered by Efimov, who was the shortest of the male danc-
ers. The same evening I partnered Nemtchinova in the Black
Swan pas de deux. These performances took place during the
opera season on a concert platform at the Salle Ganne, next
DIAGHILEFF 1 09
door in the Opera House, where Alicia also danced Rubin-
stein's False Caprice and the pizzicato from Sylvia.
Her first big chance in her early Monte Carlo days came
when Balanchine mounted Stravinsky's The Nightingale on
her with entirely new choreography. It was a good choice,
as she was small enough to take on the semblance of a bird,
and no partner was needed for her. She had only a pas de
deux with Death, danced in turn by Sokolova and Doubrov-
ska. I can still recall her fluttering hands and a series of beau-
tifully conceived and executed turns on pointes, with the
arms changing at each fourth bar of the music.
Matisse was responsible for the costumes, and fitted out
Alicia in a sort of white pajama suit, possibly to camouflage
her painfully thin legs.
Diaghileff certainly expected much of his little protegee,
for though she was only fourteen when she joined the com-
pany, she was given this highly complicated ballet to study.
No one could be found to tackle the music on a piano at
rehearsal, so a pianola had to be used. This major task in
her early days at Monte Carlo taught Alicia to know ballets
by ear. With such a thorough and almost cruel breaking
in, orchestrations were to have no fears for her at a later
It says a great deal for her courage and power of concen-
tration to realize that she went through this very difficult
period without so much as a suggestion of renouncing the
ballet in favor of taking up the easier and more handsomely
rewarding path of the commercial theater.
No doubt Alicia's early music lessons were of invaluable
11O ALICIA MARKOVA
assistance to her, though she never really cared for the
piano. Once she took up serious dancing lessons at Astafi-
eva's, she argued that as it was impossible to dance and play
the piano at the same time, she thought it would be a good
plan to drop the music lessons and devote the time thus
gained to dancing practice.
When, less than six months after her departure to Monte
Carlo, Alicia appeared in London in The Nightingale, the
Daily Mail rewarded her with a notice that did not mention
her by name, but said, "The Nightingale was a slim little
girl whose angles made one think of a cricket, and her
shadowy quality and beautiful dancing had a touching emo-
tional appeal/' Later critics said that every movement was
a joy to watch and her dancing nothing short of marvelous.
It was said that her dancing in the final scene with Death,
impersonated by a very red and sinister Lydia Sokolova, had
a romantic pathos which touched even the tough-minded
votaries of the Russian Ballet.
Diaghileff must have felt very proud that the novelty of
the company had lived up to his expectations and had come
through her first ordeal with flying colors. Despite a certain
amount of natural professional jealousy, the members of the
company must have been rather pleased to see their baby
earning laurels at so tender an age. Nevertheless they never
gave her a chance to develop into a spoiled brat. They were
very strict, worked her doubly hard, and never gave her
credit to her face. The Little One in her ankle socks was
kept firmly in her place. But Danilova, who was herself a
newcomer to the company that year, would offer encourage-
ment occasionally by popping a sweet into her mouth at re-
hearsal, yet it was all done surreptitiously, so that even Guggy
was unaware of it.
The other big part which Alicia danced with the Diaghi-
leff Ballet was La Chatte, Balanchine's ballet to Sauguet's
music, previously danced by both Spessiva and Nikitina.
When Alicia danced this ballet she had grown enough to be
partnered by Lifar. She preferred La Chatte to the others be-
cause it meant real partnering, not merely dancing side by
side with the premier danseur. At last she was able to bene-
fit from our practicing together in Astafieva's school.
Another part which gave her great pride was the Blue
Bird pas de deux from Aurora's Wedding, which she first
danced with Tcherkas. Curiously enough, this was the pas
de deux which we first danced together in public. It was
at Covent Garden on July 26, 1929, when the last perform-
ance of Aurora's Wedding was given by the Diaghileff Ballet.
Seeing Alicia dancing with the great Diaghileff company
was a source of considerable satisfaction to me, but I am not
going to pretend that her performances approached perfec-
tion, dazzling as they were. Like any other child of fourteen,
she had much to learn. When I saw her in the Swan Lake
adagio with Efimov, I realized that though it was danced
with a precision and a technique that put the rest of the
company to shame, it was dull, just mechanical.
Later, I wondered if La Chatte would awaken something
inside her to make the performance more exciting. The role
was first danced by Spessiva, but I have been told she was not
very good, something I can well believe, since the lovely Olga
was a classic dancer of matchless perfection, and the Balan-
chine tricks of choreography could never have suited her.
112 ALICIA MARKOVA
Alicia followed Nikitina in the part. Again she danced the
difficult solo and adagios without a technical blemish but
quite without emotion. I began to wonder if and when she
would show some sign, however small, of development.
By that time she had been a member of the Diaghileff
Ballet long enough to have close contact with great artistes.
She had heard them talk, had watched them at work, yet she
absorbed nothing. She seemed almost satisfied with herself,
as though she felt she was technically so far ahead of others
so much older than herself that she wondered why she need
bother to improve. Yet this was not really the case, for she
was just as punctilious and tireless in her attention to detail
then as she is today. But it was all so unexciting, and I began
to imagine that to dance with such impeccable precision
must have bored her.
Completely oblivious of any difficulty in the pas de deux
from Cimarosiana, one of the most difficult of Massine's
classical pas de deux, Alicia sailed through with effortless
ease. I have seen many ballerinas who only just made the
difficult unsupported two inside pirouettes, at the beginning,
and I have seen others who failed. Alicia never missed them.
The series of "One turn, two turns*' that ended the solo and
traveled around the stage always "came off." By such fault-
less execution, Alicia made the admittedly dull pas de deux
even duller. It was far more enjoyable when danced with less
exactitude by Vera Savina, and especially by Nikitina.
This criticism may sound harsh, but it goes to emphasize,
by contrast, the supreme artistry and excitement of a Mar-
kova performance today. It emphasizes the transformation
of the timid, dull, almost boring child into the brilliant and
glamorous personality that Markova is now.
After her father's death, Alicia felt rather unprotected
against the dangers of the great outside world. The people
with whom she was in close contact were all women her
mother, her sisters, Guggy, and Astafieva. It was Diaghileff
who answered her prayer by becoming her second father.
Alicia felt affection in his relationship as soon as she came
to know him, and because of that she quite naturally and
simply called him Sergypop, instead of Serge Pavlovich. Her
nickname for him gave them both pleasure. To her, it sug-
gested that he had taken the place of her father, as far as
any other man could do so, and it assured Diaghileff that the
child respected him and that she had warmed toward him
sufficiently to desire his paternal protection.
He alone in the company gave her real encouragement,
and as long as her work won his approval, she cared very
little what the others thought or said. She was aware of her
good fortune. He had put her under the finest teachers in
the world Legat and Cechetti so no outside interference
could prevent her from becoming a great dancer. She had a
salary, meager though it was, and she was a member of the
greatest ballet organization on earth. That was cause for
satisfaction, as far as her career was concerned, though she
would have preferred a gayer home life than Guggy
In some odd way this unsophisticated child of fourteen
and the mighty Diaghileff met on the same ground, spoke
the same language, and treated each other as equals. Alicia,
114 ALICIA MARKOVA
who was rather scared of people and never spoke volubly,
except to cats, chatted quite freely to Diaghileff, without a
trace of fear or restraint. She was never conscious of his
being thirty-eight years her senior. The ballet was the only
thing that mattered in both their lives, and that fact washed
out any difference in age.
An incident in Barcelona, where the Diaghileff Ballet
were giving a season, is sufficient proof that Alicia regarded
the great man as an intimate friend. Diaghileff asked Alicia
to call at his hotel one afternoon at four-thirty, so that he
could take her into the country for tea at an inn where she
could see some authentic Spanish dancing. It was to be a
great treat for Alicia. She arrived at the hotel even ahead of
time, with Guggy at her side. Impatiently she sat in the
lounge, looking at the pictures in the foreign magazines,
periodically going to the door in the hope of seeing Sergypop
arrive. After an hour Guggy, furious, refused to wait a
moment longer, and dragged her reluctant ward back to
their modest dwelling. Diaghileff turned up at the hotel a
full hour after their departure.
When they met at the theater the next day, Diaghileff
asked where she had been and why she had not waited for
him. Without a trace of insolence in her quiet, calm voice,
Alicia said that she had waited an hour before being taken
home, refraining from admitting that she would have waited
well into the evening had she been allowed to do so.
"You broke your appointment, Sergypop," accused Alicia.
"I know that you are a busy man, but that is no excuse for
not turning up when you invite a friend to go out with you."
Diaghileff admitted he was at fault. He apologized and
invited her to come the next day. When she arrived, she
found Diaghileff in the lounge ready and waiting.
Such consideration from one whom Alicia considered the
greatest man on earth gave her faith and encouragement. It
was wonderful to be treated as a real person instead of as a
child, and that he should even bother to take her out to tea
was most gratifying. Alicia was always touched when anyone
paid her any attention or gave any indication that she existed.
Diaghileff would periodically give her money for eau de
cologne, or ballet slippers, when she was doing solo work.
He realized that she could not buy them out of her fifty
shillings a week. Though he did not see a great deal of her
outside the theater, he often thought of her. When she under-
took a new role he knew exactly how much it meant to her.
He felt the excitement as intensely as she did. He knew, for
instance, how thrilled she must have been when, for the first
time in her career, she danced leading parts in two ballets on
the same program La Chatte and The Nightingale. He sent
her flowers, a thing he rarely did, even at the most glittering
It was a great help to know that the man she most wanted
to please was sufficiently understanding to see all her ballet
triumphs and tribulations from her point of view. It was
gratifying to be given the opportunity to become a ballerina.
Diaghileff cleared the path for Alicia and then directed her
Even so, life was not without bitter heartaches and disap-
pointments. Alicia danced so well during the first season and
won such favorable comment from members of the company
and the public that she hoped for some sort of promotion
1 1 6 ALICIA M ARKOVA
when Diaghileffi asked her to sit beside him in the stalls one
morning, to discuss forthcoming ballets. It was a compliment
to Alicia that the great man always spoke to her in English, a
language he detested and avoided using whenever possible.
Secretly, she had been rather pleased with her progress during
that first season, particularly as Papillon in Carnaval, during
which the loveliness of her fluttering hands had earned such
fulsome praise. To her dismay, she heard Diaghileff telling
her that he intended to take from her all her roles except
Red Riding Hood in Aurora's Wedding.
"But, Sergypop," she protested, "the company say I am
dancing well, and there have been nice little pieces about
me in the newspapers! Now you want to put me right at the
back of the corps de ballet. Aren't I good enough?"
"My child/' explained Diaghileff, "you are more than
good enough, and that is why I am putting you in the corps
de ballet. Last year you were a novelty, an infant phenome-
non. You would have attracted attention in any case. Now,
you must work and wait. You are to go right to the back and,
by your own merit, work your way to the front again. Now
you think me very unkind, but in years to come you will
thank me for insisting upon such thorough training. I know
you are capable of coming to the front, and before you are
seen there, you must be an absolute mistress of every step
you are called upon to dance."
Alicia accepted his decision without further protest. He
must be right, of course, but it was a terrible setback after
the glory she had earned during the first year. Having grown
a little taller, she could now take her place in the corps de
ballet without looking incongruous. Apart from her one re-
maining solo, Red Riding Hood, she danced as one of the
warrior maidens in Prince Igor and was given obscure posi-
tions near the back cloth in Les Sylphides and Le Lac des
Cygnes. Only after two years of incessant hard work did she
win back her beloved Papillon in Garnaval.
Later Alicia was to realize that Diaghileff had no cut-
and-dried rules for his dancers. By treating each one differ-
ently and individually, he obtained the best from them. He
would be cruel to a dancer if he thought she would develop
best under such treatment. He would even take away all her
roles except one, if such ruthless methods proved the most
effective manner of making her dance her best "just to
show" the others! He never allowed any dancer to feel in-
dispensable to the company not even Karsavina or Spessiva!
He seemed to get the best out of his artistes by keeping them
keyed up and wondering what his next move would be. With
masterly strategy he played off one ballerina against another,
often withholding the parts they most coveted. No one dared
relax or rest on their laurels, as there were always other
splendid dancers only too anxious and capable of stepping
into the shoes of the slackers and the self-satisfied. The sense
of competition which pervaded the company produced results
which have never been equaled since Diaghileff's death.
Alicia was a problem child in more senses than one. She
was the first member of a ballet company to grow out of her
costumes! Much to the annoyance and resentment of some of
her colleagues, she had her costumes replenished more fre-
quently than any o the other dancers.
This extraordinary child had a passion for black. As a
toddler in Finsbury Park she had a great liking for a little
Il8 ALICIA MARKOVA
black fur coat, and at the time of the Kennington pantomime
her favorite party dress was a black one, with a plain white
collar. It seems she will always have this craving for somber
colors, as today she is invariably dressed in black off stage.
Diaghileff always dressed her in white, and most costume de-
signers since his time have chosen white for her stage dresses,
though she is capable of carrying off to perfection almost any
color from flaming scarlets to pearly grays.
By taking infinite pains over her stage costumes and adapt-
ing existing designs to suit her extreme youth and fragile
appearance, Diaghileff taught Alicia to know her weak points.
Other members of the company said that in her growing
period she was too thin, immature, and unfeminine to dance
the roles which Diaghileff had given her. He recognized the
usual signs of jealousy, but refused to alter the course of his
master plan. He simply transformed her appearance by
Alicia was gratified to discover Sergypop was interested
in her once more, and she gained enormous confidence in her
stage appearance when she saw the results of the touches of
genius he applied to her costumes. When she danced Papillon
in Carnavaly he decided that the usual cotton dress would be
too heavy, so he had a light, diaphanous organdy costume
made for her in Paris, hand-painted, instead of being ap~
pliqu6d, which gave her extraordinary lightness and grace.
She wore transparent Victorian pantalettes to conceal her
legs, which at that time were rather too thin to be considered
beautiful, white kid gloves, and dainty puffed sleeves to
hide her bony arms and give a further touch of delicacy to
the finished picture.
One last master touch was the double row of pearls with
which Diaghileff broke her long neckline. He admitted that
lithographs of Taglioni had given him the idea. The great
eighteenth-century dancer invariably wore a choker necklace.
Her arms were long, too, so she favored pearl bracelets to
minimize the length and never stretched them to their full
length, if we are to believe the contemporary prints.
When Alicia danced The Nightingale in London she was
not allowed to wear the white silk tights prescribed by Ma-
tisse in Monte Carlo. The Lord Chamberlain forbade women
to appear on the stage in over-all white tights, so a close-
fitting pajamalike costume had to be devised. To conceal
the thinness of her arms, Diaghileff had the sleeves becom-
ingly gripped by bracelets of rhinestones.
A storm of protest arose in the company when Alicia was
cast for Nikitina's former part in La Chatte, dancers of more
generous proportions complaining that Alicia had no sex
appeal and looked so unfeminine. Once again Diaghileff re-
stored her confidence by running strips of white fur down
the backs of her arms and gripping them with silver brace-
lets. On her legs he placed mica shields edged with silver, as
a counterpart to those worn by her partner, Lifar. The result
was highly satisfactory.
Throughout her association with the Diaghileff ballet
Sergypop encouraged Alicia to be particular about stage cos-
tumes, and often effected changes in the original designs so
that his baby ballerina would appear to the best advantage.
When she was about to dance the Blue Bird pas de deux
from Aurora's Wedding for the first time, she did not like the
costume previously worn by Vera Savina, as it brought back
I2O ALICIA MARKOVA
rather painful memories of a serious stage accident in Monte
Carlo. She remembered that while Vera had been dancing the
Blue Bird, she had cut her arm rather badly on the jewels
on Massine's costume when he was partnering her. She
managed to finish the pas de deux, but collapsed afterward.
Of course the costume had been cleaned before it was altered
for Alicia, but the sight of the faint stain, which would not
have been visible from the auditorium, so horrified the child
that she could not wear it.
Diaghileff appreciated her feelings, and had the design
copied iri taffeta.
Alicia gave her first performance of the Blue Bird in Man-
chester, when the company was on tour. Diaghileff saw Alicia
wearing the costume at the dress rehearsal. On her head she
wore the ostrich feathers used by Vera Savina.
"That headdress is wrong," he said. "Ostrich feathers look
vulgar on the child. They are not graceful enough. She must
wear a turban with bird-of-paradise plumes. 1 '
Turning to Mrs. Marks, who was dressing Alicia at that
time, he said, "Take this five-pound note and go out and get
some blue bird-of-paradise plumes."
It was not an easy task in Manchester, at such short notice,
but after considerable search, she managed to secure a spray,
which Alicia wore that night and which she still possesses.
She wore it all through the Markova-Dolin season, whenever
she danced the Blue Bird.
When she made her entrance in Manchester, she had a
sense of confidence. Sergypop had again taken an interest in
her, so she knew she looked her very best, and, in conse-
quence, she danced better than she had ever danced before.
Monte Carlo was always home to the nomadic members
of the Diaghileff Ballet. They always spent the first four
months of each year there, preparing ballets for the season.
It was their workshop and their anchorage. They would ar-
rive in January. During February and March they would
give three performances of ballet a week, alternating with the
opera company. April, when they tried out the new ballets
in readiness for their annual tour, was a strenuous month.
After weeks of hard labor in the classroom, they would per-
form the new works in public, before highly critical audi-
ences and specially invited friends of Diaghileff.
The itinerary of the tour would vary slightly from year
to year. In May the company would usually leave for a couple
of weeks in Barcelona, followed by two or three weeks in
Paris and three weeks to a month in London. After the Lon-
don season Diaghileff would invariably go to Venice, while
the company moved on to Ostend or Le Touquet for a short
season before breaking up for their summer holiday. They
would reassemble in Paris in September, in readiness for a
tour of Germany, Italy, Great Britain, or possibly a winter
season in London.
Such was the pattern of the life Alicia led during her four
and a half years with the Diaghileff Ballet. It wasn't easy for
Alicia to become a member of this company, which was pre-
dominantly Russian. As only four of the dancers Vera Sa-
vina, Ninette de Valois, Lydia Sokolova, and myself were
British, very little English was spoken. All the rehearsals were
conducted in Russian, except when Cechetti took them, and
then one needed an additional smattering of Italian to know
what was going on. With her quick brain and retentive mem-
122 ALICIA MARKOVA
ory, Alicia soon understood sufficient Russian and French
to follow the gist of a conversation, but weighed down by
her own inferiority complex, she never had the courage to try
to speak either language. She simply listened and said
nothing, which was a pity, because thus she missed the op-
portunity of getting to know some of the most remarkable
painters, musicians, and dancers who ever worked together,
all inspired by Diaghileff to think in terms of a new medium
The callboard notices were posted in Russian, giving de-
tails of rehearsal, times for the various ballets, and a list of
artistes required for each one. Alicia soon recognized her
own name in Russian script, and knew how the title of each
ballet looked when written in Russian. When a new notice
was put up on the board, she would study it carefully, noting
each time her own name appeared and the title of the ballet
with which it corresponded, and would jot it all down in a
little book, together with the time she was expected to be at
On one occasion she misread the board and failed to turn
up at a rather important orchestral rehearsal of Ode. Gri-
gorieff was ready to fine her the next day for having defaulted,
but when Mrs. Marks assured him that her daughter had
been sleeping all the afternoon, he excused her. Sometimes
dancers would play truant in the afternoons, in order to go
shopping in Nice. Because of this, fines were exacted when
they failed to turn up at rehearsal.
Discipline was enforced on the Diaghileff company. There
were other unwritten laws for those who did not wish to
incur the displeasure of Serge Pavlovich. They knew he was
fastidious and he liked his artistes to be well groomed, both
on and off stage, and to behave with dignity in public,
as became members of the most aristocratic ballet company
in the world. He forbade dancers to take part in winter
sports, lest they sustain some serious injury to their limbs,
and he disliked to see women sun bathing, as he claimed no
ballerina with a tanned skin could take on the ethereal
beauty required for such ballets as Les Sylphides or the
Besides acquiring a new father in the person of Sergypop,
Alicia was soon aware of finding an elder sister and a big
brother in the Diaghileff company. The sister was Alexandra
Danilova, known to her friends as Choura, and the brother
was myself, still known as Pat, despite my Russianized stage
name. At home, Alicia had shouldered the responsibilities
of an elder sister toward Doris, Vivienne, and Bunny, so she
felt rather less lonely when Choura began to take a personal
interest in her as far as Guggy would permit.
They were nearer an age than any other two members of
the company, and, being unofficially exiled from Russia,
Choura knew what it was like to be alone in a strange
country, surrounded by people speaking an unfamiliar lan-
guage, so she often had a kind word for the Little One from
London. Alicia liked Danilova from the beginning because
she made her laugh. Her innate sense of humor, which
found amusement in the most ordinary, everyday occur-
rences, such as the breaking of a plate or the slamming of a
door, reminded Alicia that there could be such a thing as
fun in life, if you were clever enough to look at things in the
right way. She wished that Guggy could see things from
124 ALICIA MARKOVA
Choura's point of view, it would make so much difference to
In class, Choura was the first to praise Alicia when she per-
fected a difficult variation, but, on the other hand, she was
the first to criticize her when she felt that the child could
have done better. This bond exists between these two famous
dancers today. They still pat each other on the back in mo-
ments of triumph and they are still outspoken when they are
not altogether pleased with each other's work.
Nowadays Alicia is at her happiest when a guest at Choura's
New Jersey country house. They forget that they are famous
ballerinas. Together they take a jug and go to a neighboring
farm for milk. Choura does the cooking herself and brings
Alicia's breakfast to bed because she says the Little One
works so hard. They have both shared star roles in the same
company without a trace of jealousy or ill feeling. Their
friendship is surely unique in ballet history. One cannot
imagine Taglioni taking Grisi's breakfast to her in bed.
I often think of those early days in Monte Carlo when
Alicia first joined the company. There was always something
about her that made me feel that she was far from happy.
Since those days I have often heard the full story of Guggy
and the life she led. But I did my best to brighten Alicia's life,
hoping that the fact that I had met her mother many times
when she had brought her to Astafieva's class, and that we
both lived in London, was of some comfort to her, bringing
some kind of link with home.
Then I was exuberant, keyed up to a pitch of excitement
and a youthful wonder at all that was going on around me,
but feeling the humdrum existence that Alicia was leading
with her governess, I tried to take her out of it whenever it
was possible. I felt that she admired me, more, I knew she
was fond of me. I wasn't bad-looking, and I liked being flam-
boyant. Above all, I liked the knowledge that Alicia thought
me goodlooking, and I did everything I could to impress her.
Try as I did, I could not feel or play the part of a big brother.
I knew that taking her to the pictures was a Sunday treat
for all of us Sunday was our only free day in the ballet
because she could stay out late and, for Alicia, it was almost
like playing truant. Though Guggy may not have quite ap-
proved of such goings on, I am sure to Alicia the whole oc-
casion had the taste of delicious stolen fruit. I would not be
refused, and would even brazenly command Guggy to allow
her charge to go out with me. After all, I was the premier
danseur of the Diaghileff Ballet, even if she had known me
as a most insignificant Patrick Kay.
With the arrogance of youth, I was perhaps aping my
elders when I took Alicia and Guggy to tea at the French
patisserie in Monte Carlo. I had watched Diaghileff, Stra-
vinsky, and Benois go to the counter where the most delicious
cakes were appetizingly displayed in their layers and coats
of many colors. I had seen Diaghileff take a delicious pastry
in his hand and put it into the mouth of the lovely Lubov
Tchernicheva with a charm and manner that were most dis-
arming. I had watched dear old Alexander Benois eating, not
one, but several huge chocolate eclairs, full of real delicious
cream, in between sipping his lemon tea. And so, to emulate
them, I would spend this lighthearted half-hour of teatime
126 ALICIA MARKOVA
gaily. I would play the big man and pop soft, creamy choco-
lates into Alicia's mouth. I knew that she loved them and, on
her small salary, could not afford to buy them.
Guggy would look on in utter disgust, not only at my put-
ting chocolates into Alicia's mouth, but at the rate both o
us were eating them.
These little episodes, though outwardly they may often
have appeared so, were not all arrogance and conceit on my
part. I wanted somehow to brighten, or to try to brighten,
Alicia's life. I hoped that she might feel, after the cinema,
or a gay half-hour at the teashop, that going home to the
little room and watching Guggy prepare the supper might not
be quite so dreary.
For me, too, it was fun. Instead of watching others about
me being important, I could feel important myself and per-
haps let Alicia know that life was not made up only of hard
work and no play.
One ballerina Alicia worshiped from afar was Lubov
Tchernicheva, who bore herself with the dignity of a queen,
was the accepted beauty of the company, and just as com-
pelling off stage as when she ruled the boards so imperiously
as Zobeide in Scheherazade. She was all a child would expect
a queen to be. She rarely spoke to anyone, and she seemed
to regard the company with something akin to contempt as
she glanced at them down her long, finely chiseled nose.
Alicia never dared to speak to Tchernicheva unless the
great ballerina first addressed her, and even then she would
be almost too awe-inspired to reply. As she so rarely smiled,
this majestic figure seemed unhappy, and it disturbed Alicia
to think of so great an artiste being so sad at heart. Occasion-
ally, on her way to morning rehearsal, Alicia would ask
Guggy to go to the theater by way of the flower market, so
that she could buy a bunch of those small French carnations
which bloomed so abundantly in the South of France. They
were cheap, looked pretty, and their perfume was intoxicat-
ing. Timidly the child would take them to Tchernicheva
and put them in her hand. A smile would break on that regal
face as the ballerina accepted so touching a tribute from the
youngest member of the company, and Alicia would be happy
for days. She had made Tchernicheva smile, so she was not
beyond hope, and maybe her life was not so tragic as the little
Vera Nemtchinova was prima ballerina of the company
when Alicia joined it, and her miraculous technique, as well
as the sight of those wonderful legs which were insured for
a fortune, dazzled the child. She never tired of watching
Nemtchinova dancing the pas de deux in Aurora's Wedding.
It was technical perfection. Vera was everything Alicia wished
to be. Only later, when she saw the older ballerinas Spessiva,
Karsavina, and Trefilova did she realize that to be a great
dancer one must have something beyond an exacting tech-
niquethere was the even greater question of interpretation
to be considered.
As she learned more about the ballet, she began to appre-
ciate and know that the two greatest interpretations she had
ever seen were those of Spessiva and Trefilova as Princess
Aurora in those Sleeping Beauty performances at the Alham-
bra. They were something far more than mere dancing.
The ballet she most enjoyed watching during her Diaghi-
leff days was Firebird, and she still cherishes wonderful mem-
1*8 ALICIA MARKOVA
ories of Lopokova, Boubrovaka, and Danilova In the title
role. Petrouchka never failed to attract her, particularly when
Karsavina was appearing as the Dancer; she also tried never
to miss a performance of Le Tricorne, when Karsavina
danced the role of the Miller's Wife in Picasso's enchanting
Alicia may have missed a good deal of her childhood
through being a wonder child, but she gained something by
always being with older people, and she probably would not
have been the great artiste she is today had she not sacrificed
the conventional childish pastimes. Through consorting
with growups, and being a quiet child by nature, she soon
became an excellent listener, and thus acquired knowledge
under the most pleasant conditions.
She loved to curl up in a comer and listen to dancers gos-
siping during those long waits they had in the spring at
Monte Carlo, when Diaghileff was staging the new ballets
for the coming season. Dancers, of course, rarely talk about
anything else apart from dancing and dancers.
Alicia always tingled with excitement when the older mem-
bers of the company talked about that great ballerina, Ma-
thilde Kchessinska, who had become a fascinating legend
in her own lifetime. She was the most fabulous figure in
Imperial St. Petersburg, and Alicia could never hear enough
about her. She seemed far more wonderful than any of the
queens in her history books.
By piecing the various bits of gossip together, Alicia
learned that the great Kchessinska had been a close friend
of Tsar Nicholas II while he was still Heir Apparent, and was
a great power in St. Petersburg, with a magnificent palace
of her own, where she held court like an empress, wearing
jewels which had to be seen to be believed. Her diamond
dog collar and the ropes of diamonds and pearls which hung
in cascades far below her knees were the talk of society in
the Tsarist capital. Though she was such a power at court,
she still continued to hold her position as prima ballerina at
the Maryinsky Theatre.
Karsavina would tell how, for a month before every appear-
ance, Kchessinska would abandon her dazzling social life and
live on a frugal diet, staying in bed for twenty-four hours
before the performance, without even a drink of water. Thus
did she manage to reign in two worlds. When the Tsar as-
cended the throne, she married the Grand Duke Andre, but
still continued to exercise considerable influence in Imperial
Kchessinska was a very fine artiste, in spite of her exalted
social position. Many had seen her as Esmeralda, her greatest
role, in which she appeared on the Imperial stage with a pet
When Isadora Duncan saw her, during a visit to Russia
in 1905, she said, "I could not help applauding this fairylike
apparition, more like a bird or some charming butterfly
than a human."
She was largely instrumental in discovering Nijinsky, Dur-
ing his first vacation at the Imperial School, she chose him
as her partner for a series of special performances at Krasnoe
Selo, while the Imperial theaters were closed during the sum-
mer. Though he was little more than a student, Kchessinska
perceived his great potentialities.
When the great ballerina danced with the Diaghileff Ballet
for the first time in 191 1> she indulged in a caprice at Covent
Garden which must have cost a fortune. She appeared in Le
Lac des Cygnes, and insisted that Mischa Elman, then the
most idolized violinist in the world, play the adagio for her.
As he was giving a concert at the Albert Hall that same night,
Kchessinska's performance at Covent Garden had to be timed
to give him a chance to race across London in a car.
Pavlova, Egorova, Trefilova, and Preobrajenska were all
appearing with the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg at the
same time as Kchessinska, but she has a special place in ballet
history because she was the first Russian ballerina to gain
supremacy over the Italian stars by performing the thirty-two
fouetts made so popular by Legnani. She proved thereby
that Russian dancers were every bit as good as imported for-
eign artistes, and thus helped to lay the foundation stone of
Russian Ballet as we know it today.
Little wonder that Alicia listened spellbound when her
colleagues discussed this flamboyant queen of the ballet. It
never occurred to her, though, that she might one day see this
romantic figure a grand duchess even in her exile and
When Diaghileff decided that Alicia should dance the
adagio from Le Lac des Cygnes, with Efimov as her partner,
he left her in charge of Grigorieff and Balanchine, who were
to teach her. The two authorities could not agree upon the
accent to be placed upon certain movements, and Alicia could
not help them, since she had neither seen nor danced the
ballet. They had a dispute about the lifts. Grigorieff would
do them one way; Balanchine would disagree and, picking
up the child, would execute them in a different way. Both
maintained they were right, and in the end Alicia was so ex-
hausted that she begged them to demonstrate with a chair
while she sat on a costume hamper to regain her breath.
At this point Diaghileff appeared on the scene and decided
that there was only one solution to invite Kchessinska, who
happened to be in Monte Carlo, to impart to the Little One
her knowledge of the role. 1 Thus Alicia came face to face with
the legendary queen of the Maryinsky. She was sweet and
charming and had such a tremendous admiration for Alicia's
talent when she saw her dance that she spared no pains in
passing on to the younger artiste her interpretation of the
The dancer's youthful appearance was amazing. She looked
like a woman of thirty, but Alicia knew that she must be
nearer sixty. It was whispered that massage was the secret.
Kchessinska was one of the first dancers to employ a masseur.
Massage for the muscles was a new idea in her day and there-
fore regarded as an eccentricity, or possibly a publicity stunt.
Alicia decided that as soon as she had enough money, she
would engage a masseur. She kept faith with herself when
she could eventually afford it, but was laughed at for years
by other dancers, who had no time for such fads.
Alicia was to have yet another glimpse of Kchessinska. The
night Diaghileff sent her flowers to mark the first occasion
upon which she danced the leading parts in two ballets on
the same evening, Alicia caught a chill. The excitement had
been too much for her, and she developed double pneumonia,
with congestion of the lungs and pleurisy. She was confined
to bed for a month, but fortunately at that time her mother
1^2 ALICIA MARKOVA
was looking after her in a furnished room in Beau Soleil.
Soon after this misfortune the ballet season came to an
end in Monte Carlo, and Diaghileff and his company moved
on to Paris, leaving Alicia to follow as soon as she recovered.
She felt very miserable and rather sorry for herself as neither
she nor her mother knew anyone in Monte Carlo now that
everybody had left.
One afternoon someone knocked at the door. Mother and
daughter exchanged glances. Who could it be? No one was
expected. Mrs. Marks opened the door rather nervously.
There on the little landing, having climbed five flights of
steep stairs, stood Kchessinska with her arms full of lilies, and
behind her was the Grand Duke Andre with a huge basket
of fresh fruit. Kchessinska had seen Diaghileff on the day
of his departure for Paris and upon Inquiring about the
"Little One/' had been told that she had been left behind,
sick with pneumonia. So the great dancer took the trouble
to make a personal call.
Alicia was moved beyond words by such kindness from so
great a celebrity, and after Mrs. Marks had bowed their
distinguished visitors out, she wept quietly. The visit had a
tonic effect on her, and she convalesced in record time, and
was soon able to rejoin the company. She was even ready to
dance two ballets a night if Sergypop would take the risk.
Guggy began to complain about not feeling well. She felt
dizzy frequently, and heights had a particularly distressing
effect on her. She couldn't sit in the gallery of a theater or
look at the sea from the edge of a cliff. But she never wavered
in her duty, and still insisted that Alicia do nothing in life
Alicia was now quite a widely traveled young girl of fif-
teen, but as helpless as an infant, being compelled to rely
upon Guggy for everything and incurring the severest dis-
pleasure if she attempted to stand on her own feet.
One day Guggy felt so ill that she was forced to send for
the doctor, who gave her strict orders to remain in bed, as
her condition was far worse than she suspected.
That night Alicia was dancing Papillon in Gamaval, and
as soon as she realized that Guggy would be unable to ac-
company her to the theater, she felt sick with panic. She
could not go on; she could not dress herself at the theater or
make up her face, so she would have to explain to Grigorieff,
the regisseur, that she could not dance again until Guggy was
better. Guggy knew only too well what was happening in
the child's mind, so she took the matter in hand to the best
of her ability.
Under her directions Alicia packed a suitcase with the
make-up and the other paraphernalia required at the theater.
Then she set out, with instructions to go straight to Lydia
Sokolova's dressing room and seek her help. Sokolova had
been with the Diaghileff company for fourteen years. As
she was British, and a senior member of the company, Guggy
knew that she would look after the child and see that she was
properly dressed for the stage.
Alicia was desperately unhappy as she made her way to
the theater. She hated leaving poor Guggy all alone, and
wished she could stay with her. She dreaded the prospect of
1J4 ALICIA MARKOVA
getting ready for the performance. She would never be able
to apply the grease paint or arrange the bunch o Victorian
curls which had to be pinned In to match her own hair.
As soon as she arrived at the theater, she reported to Soko-
lova, who expressed her sorrow about Guggy and willingly
consented to supervise Alicia's make-up, sending her back to
her own room to fetch her grease paint. When she came back
to Sokolova's dressing room, she placed her make-up box on
the table and sat down with an upturned face, ready to be
made up by the great dancer. Sokolova could hardly believe
her own eyes. She asked her to pick out the fleshing, but
Alicia did not know what she was talking about. Later the
elder woman was to learn that this would-be ballerina was
quite Incapable of applying a stage make-up, arranging her
hair, or even tying her ballet slippers.
It was too much for Sokolova.
"Do you realize, my girl/' she reproached her, "that you
are a member of the greatest ballet company in the world,
with whom you have been dancing for more than a year, and
yet you are quite incapable of getting yourself ready for the
stage? You should be ashamed of yourself. I hate to have to
admit that you come from my country. It Is almost worse
than not being able to read or write. How can you claim to
be a dancer when you cannot even dress yourself in a dancer's
By this time Alicia was In tears, and the make-up which she
had applied under Sokolova's direction was ruined. They had
to start all over again. Sokolova adjusted the false curls, and
then knelt down to tie the pink satin ribbons of her ballet
slippers. Anxious to get ahead with her own preparation for
the stage, she dismissed Alicia with a curt wave of the hand,
saying, "Now go and danceif you can manage to do that
without any help!"
It was a stinging remark, but Alicia knew that she had
deserved it. It was a disgrace to be a solo dancer and yet be so
ignorant of every aspect of her art beyond a mastery of the
After the performance that night Alicia went back to her
own dressing room and managed to struggle into her street
clothes without assistance. She felt more than grateful to
Sokolova for having made her performance possible. She
knew she could not have appeared at all without her help, so
she knocked on the great dancer's dressing-room door to
thank her for all she had done.
Sokolova was no longer angry.
"Don't thank me/* she smiled at the embarrassed little
figure in the doorway, "but promise me that as long as you
live you will never allow anyone to make up your face or put
on your ballet slippers."
Her large eyes full of gratitude, Alicia promised. On her
way home she realized that she must follow Sokolova's ad-
vice if she hoped to make any headway in her profession.
She must be independent. She might not be able to clean a
house or cook a meal other people could do those things for
her, if she could earn the money to pay them but she must
become self-sufficient. From the time she entered the stage
door until the time she left the theater after the performance
she must be her own mistress, able to cope with all the de-
mands of a role. She would apply her own make-up and tie
her own slippers, even when Guggy came back.
136 ALICIA MARKOVA
Poor Guggy never came back. She never went to the theater
with Alicia again. Soon after that historic performance of
Carnaval the Monte Carlo season came to an end, and the
company moved on to Paris. By that time Guggy was worse,
and there seemed little chance of recovery* Alicia stayed be-
hind with her, promising Sergypop to follow as soon as Guggy
was well enough to travel, little knowing that their days to-
gether were numbered.
Diaghileff realized what was happening and could see
something had to be done to rescue the child, so he sent her
a telegram from Paris: "Unless you rejoin the company
within two days, consider yourself dismissed."
Immediate action was essential, or Alicia's entire career
stood in jeopardy. Her mother made arrangements to have
Guggy transferred to a public institution, where, later, having
lost her reason, she died.
Alicia, having satisfied herself that her old governess was
being properly cared for, sorrowfully packed her small be-
longings, including the hatbox Kitchen, and boarded the
train for Paris. She was breathing with a freedom she had
She liked the taste of it; it gave her a courage as strange
as it was exhilarating. She realized that she had a mind and a
will of her own, and she felt that within limits she was quite
capable of looking after herself, both in and out of the
The buzz of life at the Gare du Lyon held no fears for
Alicia. With the aid of a friendly taxi driver, she found her
way to the rehearsal room, where she imagined the company
would be rehearsing. Grigorieff was speechless with surprise
when he saw the little English girl walking in with a suitcase
in one hand and her Kitchen in the other. When Mrs. Marks
arrived in Paris a day or two later she found a much-changed
daughter, capable of fending for herself and quite enjoying
the struggle of making her way to the top. The child was
happier than she had ever seen her.
From that time onward, Mrs. Marks took Guggy's place,
becoming Alicia's constant companion, but never a tyrant
as the well-meaning Guggy had been.
They never went back to the old room in Monte Carlo
when the company were in residence in the South. They
moved into furnished rooms in Beau Soleil, which meant that
Mrs. Marks could cook at home and save a considerable
amount on restaurant meals. On tour they stayed in modest
hotels and pensions, traveling second-class on the train, and
sitting up all night on the long journeys, as the company,
except for a few privileged artistes, were not provided with
Alicia was very much happier, and Mrs. Marks was less
agitated about things at home, since through the kindness
of her friends the other girls could be sent to school.
Alicia traveled through most of western Europe with the
Diaghileff Ballet, which gave six London seasons while she
was with them two at the Coliseum, and the others at the
Lyceum, Prince's, His Majesty's, and Covent Garden.
In the summer of 1929 this unique company of dancers
sang what proved to be their swan song.
I had rejoined the company for that last season, when the
leading dancers were Karsavina, as a guest artiste in Pe-
trouchka, Olga Spessiva, Alexandra Danilova, Lydia Soko-
IgS ALICIA MARKOVA
lova, Selia Doubrovska, Serge Lifar, and Leon Wolzikowsky.
It marked the first occasion upon which Alicia danced on the
boards of London's celebrated Opera House, where the
Diaghileff company had made their debut at Edward VII's
Coronation Gala in 191 1.
It also marked the first occasion upon which Alicia and I
danced as partners In public. In the Blue Bird pas de deux in
Aurora's Wedding. Furthermore, It marked the first occasion
upon which Diaghileff admitted to Alicia that she might
emerge as a ballerina of his distinguished company. She was
eighteen, and he was satisfied that the four and a half years'
training she had received under his guidance and the rigid
discipline of Legat, Cecchetti, Balanchine, and Egorova had
equipped her to interpret leading roles. She was now in a po-
sition to hold her own with the other ballerinas in the com-
pany. The great man considered that the little English girl
had won her laurels. He had not been mistaken when he
spotted her at Astafieva's.
Diaghileff broke this wonderful news to Alicia to the bar-
baric strains of the Polovtslan Dances from Borodin's Prince
Igor. It was the last matinee performance of the season at
Covent Garden. Alicia danced In the second ballet of the
afternoon, and Diaghileff signified that he would like to talk
to her during the performance of Prince Igor, which rounded
off the afternoon and in which she was not appearing.
"Go and change your costume and then come back to me
on the stage/' he said.
She hurried off obediently. Diaghileff wished to speak to
her. What had she done? Her heart was still pounding from
her performance, but she hurried up the stairs and tore off
The music of Prince Igor thundered in her ears as she ran
downstairs again and made her way apprehensively to the
great man standing in the wings. He looked troubled and
tired; the huge shoulders drooped unfamiliarly. In the green
light of the reflectors his paleness seemed deathlike and his
eyes gazed wanderingly above and beyond the twirling
dancers. A dryness came into Alicia's throat at the sight of
him. If only he would rest, obey the doctors, follow his
diet . . .
He turned and looked down at her. She was so tiny, so
frail beside him, that he took her hand in his with infinite
care and tenderness.
"Alicia, my dear" his voice came as if from a distance
through the roar of the orchestra" until now you have
worked for me. Next season you will work for yourself."
A foreboding chill shot through her, and she could feel
the beads of perspiration turn to ice on her burning forehead.
"Work for myself?" she stammered. "You mean . . ."
"I mean that while you were learning your job, you were
earning a corps de ballet salary. Next season you will be a
ballerina and will command a ballerina's salary."
He held her hand as they walked back and forth in the
darkened passage between the wall and backdrop, the music
rising to a crescendo.
"I have great plans for you, Alicia. In a few days I go to
Germany, to see Hindemith about the score of a new ballet
Lifar is to create for you."
140 ALICIA MARKOVA
A sigh escaped the slender figure walking by his side, and
the tears that had welled in her eyes sparkled with wonder
as he went on:
"Yon shall also dance in Lac des Cygnes, in Les Biches, in
Romeo and Juliet, in The Firebird but best of all" he
paused, as though to prepare her for a momentous announce-
ment. Her hand was trembling so that he put his arm around
her shoulders and pressed them encouragingly "best of all,
you will dance Giselle."
"Giselle?" Had she heard correctly? "Giselle? I?"
"Yes, you. You will alternate with Spessiva. Pat will be
your Albrecht. You have borne your long period of training
with patience and diligence. Now you shall reap your re-
ward. And have no fear. You are worthy of any role I choose
to give you even Giselle!"
The orchestra ended on an ear-splitting clash of cymbals.
"Even Giselle!" Alicia murmured in the sudden silence.
All the frugal years of hard work and privation were behind
Diaghileff removed his arm from her shoulders. Her knees
were weak from emotion. She was to dance Giselle! Alternate
with the great Spessiva!
It had been a grim four and a half years, but DiaghilefFs
news made every moment of them seem worth while. Apart
from the financial aspect, it was wonderful to be accepted by
a Russian company as "one of them." Nijinska had once
said to her, "You have a Russian soul!" Diaghileff seemed to
agree, and she was more than proud to consider herself a
ballerina in a company which included the divine Olga
Spessiva every young dancer's dream of a classical ballerina.
As soon as the Covent Garden season was over, Alicia felt
she had earned a holiday. She was anxious to celebrate her
good fortune, and felt the necessity of a real rest before start-
ing the arduous work of the winter season, when it was essen-
tial that she carry off her laboriously won roles to the best
possible advantage. She went down to the South coast to stay
with some friends who had a house just outside Worthing,
wandered about the garden, and went for walks on the
Downs. It was a glorious spell of carefree relaxation, without
any prearranged plan, and she enjoyed the luxury of surren-
dering herself to her own moods and doing only what took
A newsboy used to deliver the evening paper just before
dinner. He was in the habit of leaving it under a laurel bush
at the garden gate, and Alicia enjoyed going to collect it, to
see what was happening in the outside world. As she shook
the paper open that evening of August nineteenth she was
horrified to read SERGE DIAGHILEFF DEAD. She felt as if she
had suddenly been plunged into a ghastly nightmare. It was
something she had experienced only once before when they
had told her of her own father dying just as unexpectedly.
All the company knew that Diaghileff had been far from
well, but none suspected the end was so near. Alicia crawled
to a garden chair and fell into it, trying to summon up suf-
ficient courage to read on. After the London season, Diaghi-
leff had gone to his favorite Venice, where he was joined by
Lifar and Boris Kochno. He was in excellent health for a day
or two, but suddenly ran a very high temperature and finally
sank into a coma and died. He was only fifty-seven. His great
142 ALICIA MARKOVA
friend, Madame Sert, joined Lifar and Kochno in their watch
throughout the last night and together they saw his breathing
cease about the time dawn broke. As a fortuneteller had once
prophesied, he met his death by the sea. He was eventually
taken by gondola to his final resting place under the cypress
trees on the Island of San MIchele.
There was no sleep for Alicia that night. She had lost the
greatest friend she had ever known and one who had done
more for her career than anyone else. She did not seem par-
ticularly disappointed about losing the opportunity to dance
Giselle, Odette, and the other great roles he had promised
her. Nothing mattered any more. The company and all it
stood for was perfection. She could never hope to see its like
again, and In the ensuing twenty years she never has!
She thought of his genius for putting the finest talents to-
gether and getting them to flower In unison. He fed his com-
pany from the outside, preferring to take dancers into his
ensemble when they were already fully fledged. He had no
time for companies which recruited only dancers from their
own school and closed the door on outsiders. Alicia remem-
bered how he had taken Danilova, Gevergeva, Balanchine,
and Efimov after they had danced at the Empire Music Hall
in London, and how he had taken her after catching little
more than a glimpse of her at Astafieva's.
The future did not bear thinking about. She no longer
wished to dance without his inspiration and outside the Ideal
setting he created for his artistes.
Alicia's first Instinct was to go home to her mother. Mrs.
Marks could do little or nothing to dispel the effects of the
shock, but It was a comfort to be near her who had been so
close to the Diaghileff company for so long and knew the real
That the Diaghileff Ballet was a thing of the past was a
thought too terrible for contemplation. The grim truth was
all too obvious from a simple letter which Alicia received
from Grigorieff about a month later:
>es 16 Bd. d'ltaiie,
BALLETS RUSSES Monte Carlo.
de Sept. i4th, 1929.
SERGE de DIAGHILEFF.
I must inform you that I have received a letter from the judicial
administrator of Serge de DiagfailefFs successors, in which he de-
clares that Serge de DiaghilefFs enterprise has come to an end
and begs me to inform all the "artistes" of the company about it.
This decision is taken by him with the consent of the successors
of Serge de Diaghileff.
That was the last word. There was nothing more to be said.
FOR some months after DIaghllefFs death Alicia had not the
heart nor indeed the opportunity to dance again. The West
End musical successes of the early 19305 The Cat and the
Fiddle, The Dubarry, Frederika, The Land of Smiles, White
Horse Inn., Wonder Bar, and Viktoria and Her Hussar did
not stage the lavish dance sequences as did Oklahoma, Briga-
doon, or Kiss Me Kate later. Ballet dancers were not in such
universal demand as they are today. Nor were there any major
ballet companies in existence, once the Diaghileff troupe had
ceased to exist. Apart from the Pavlova Company, there was
practically nothing, and Pavlova could not hope to offer ar-
tistes the same scope as Diaghileff, even though she invited
certain members of his company to join her.
A bleak outlook faced Alicia when her career was abruptly
halted by Serge Pavlovich's tragic death. A great gap was left
146 ALICIA MAKKOVA
In the artistic life of many dancers, but for Alicia it was even
more desperate. She had not really been established as a bal-
lerina, and her qualities as a dancer were, because of their
rareness, more likely to prove a hindrance than a blessing.
Here was a potential prima ballerina, the first that England
had given to the world, matured and educated by Diaghileff,
and also a classic dancer of such delicacy that any false move-
ment might ruin her forever. At that time her beauty had not
bloomed to its present fullness, but this may have been a
blessing in disguise because she was not called upon to re-
sist the temptation of being lured by commercial manage-
ments into revues or musical comedies.
On several occasions I wanted to have Alicia as my partner
when I was engaged by Sir Oswald Stoll at the London
Coliseum or in the revues in which I appeared for Andre
Chariot and Jack Buchanan. I was always given the same an-
swer, "She is not pretty enough." Today they would think
Alicia had some bitter and discouraging years before she
saw her name in top-line lights outside a theater presenting
a popular commercial success.
Her homecoming after DiaghilefFs death must have been
somewhat humiliating. After dancing solo parts with the
foremost ballet company on earth, in half the capitals of
Europe, she found herself back in London in the bosom of
her family and, as far as the impresarios were concerned, prac-
tically unknown, unsung, and unwanted. Her activities were
frustrated and all but paralyzed through lack of money. The
financial position at home had hardly improved, making her
situation far from enviable. Her mother behaved magni-
BRITISH BALLET 147
ficently and steered Alicia through the shallows for the best
part of four years, always managing to keep her clear of
Her daughter's return must have been a bitter disappoint-
ment to her, though she never gave any clue as to her real
feelings. Alicia could not help returning home. She came
back through no fault of her own, and it was obviously the
one-and-only course to take. All the same, Mrs. Marks must
have been worried to see Alicia, now a young woman of nine-
teen, wandering about the house with no prospect of an en-
gagement in view. She, upon whom all the hard-gained
money had been spent, and who had hoped to keep the fam-
ily, now seemed in a worse plight than ever. To be on the
brink of being launched as a ballerina was useless in a world
where ballet was practically in a state of total eclipse. Yet it
would have been sacrilege to turn her hand to anything else.
Alicia's mother was a wonderful woman. Believing we live
in the best of all possible worlds, she was willing to wait and
see what turned up for her daughter. Heaven alone knew
how they would manage to live, but they would face the
emergencies as they arose day by day. She was just the right
companion for Alicia at this point in her career. She met
every situation with a quiet, gentle smile and assured the
girl that the course of events was always for the best. What
appeared to be a catastrophe today often turned out to be a
blessing in disguise tomorrow. She had tremendous faith in
the fact that something good would soon happen, and she
never had any regrets for the decisions they had made in the
When I saw Mady Christians in the play I Remember
I|8 ALICIA MARXOVA
Mama, I thought of Eileen Marks, who never let her daugh-
ters know just how poor they were. By some minor miracle
she would always manage to muster up enough money for a
taxi if one of them happened to be going out to a function
held too late to return home by bus or subway.
When her father died, Alicia realized for the first time
in her life that money did not grow on trees. Life was even
more difficult now as, having been a soloist with the Diaghi-
leff Ballet, she had a certain position to maintain. She felt
she could not make the round of theatrical agents, looking
for work. She had to behave like a dignified ballerina, sitting
at home until people approached her. The telephone never
rang, the postman never called with a letter containing an
offer of an engagement. She was in the curious position of be-
ing a foreigner in her own country.
In the Diaghileff Ballet she had taken a Russian name to
fulfil the plan the greast impresario had in mind. He wanted
her to become an international artiste, rather than one as-
sociated with any particular country, and so, on her return
to London, she appeared to belong to no country at alL The
Russian Ballet no longer existed to claim her, and the dancers
in her own country showed little desire to recognize her.
It is significant that when the Camargo Society was formed
in October 1930 to try to keep ballet alive by a series of Sun-
day performances, Alicia was the .only British dancer of any
standing not asked to take part at the opening performance.
It hurt her at a time when she felt that she might, with her
international experience, be of some service to British ballet.
She was, however, invited to create a leading role, a month
or two later, when they presented Ninette de Valois' ballet
BRITISH BALLET 149
Cephalus and Procris, to music by Grty, with decor by Wil-
liam Chappell. It was an impressive occasion, two days after
the death of Pavlova. The audience stood in silent homage
while the orchestra played The Dying Swan. The stage was
empty, save for a pool of light. Later Alicia was to create the
Polka in Frederick Ashton's Fagade for the Camargo Society,
as well as the Creole Girl in his Rio Grande and the heroine
of his Lord of Rurleigh, but she had difficulties still to
When it is beneath an artiste's professional dignity to
solicit theatrical agents for work, she ought to be able to
bring herself to their notice in some other way. She ought
to be able to lunch or dine at fashionable restaurants patron-
ized by the stars and the powers-that-be in the theatrical
firmament. Alicia's finances did not permit even an annual
visit to these expensive establishments. Teashops were nearer
her mark, and those had to be avoided if it was possible to get
home for a meal and thereby save a shilling.
There were a good many shows running in London that
attracted her. She was quite content to sit in the gallery, or
to buy a seat in the pit, but her friends advised her against
it. They pointed out that familiarity bred contempt and it
was not proper for a galleryite to find herself sitting next to
the dancer he or she had applauded in The Nightingale or
Carnaval only a few months ago. She must never lose her es-
sential mystery. So Alicia could go to the theater only when
she was taken.
Mrs. Haskell understood how the girl felt about such mat-
ters and used to take her to shows worth seeing. Ninette de
Valois often met Alicia, when they would talk at length
150 ALICIA MARKOVA
about the time they had spent together in the Dlaghileff Bal-
let and the occasion when Ninette guided her across France
on that historic trip to Monte Carlo. Ninette always called her
Alice and still does!
Ninette asked Alicia on one occasion if she would care to
have dinner with her and then go on to a film which she had
expressed a desire to see. The idea attracted her, but realizing
that she would never be able to reciprocate, she refused, say-
ing that she had to go home to carry out some essential domes-
tic duties. Ninette repeated her invitation a few days later,
and received the same reply; after asking Alicia on six dif-
ferent occasions, she realized that another line of action
would have to be taken.
"Do you realize, Alice," she asked, "that I am inviting you
as my guest? I want you to spend the evening with me, and
I want you to know that you are under no obligation to en-
tertain me at a later date. Surely we can go out and enjoy
ourselves just for old times' sake without worrying about
social conventions as far as expenses are concerned."
Alicia admitted that she had refused because the cost of
dinner in Soho and seeing a film in the West End was beyond
her purse. When an understanding was reached, Alicia was
Ninette's guest once a week. It was good to be with someone
who understood, someone who did not despise her lack of
funds, and someone who had known the excitement of work-
ing in the Diaghileff Ballet.
These happy meetings helped to keep despair at bay during
the long period of waiting, just as did the crazes which took
place under the Marks roof.
Realizing it was bad for a girl to moon about the house
BRITISH BALLET 151
doing nothing, Mrs. Marks encouraged Alicia to take an
interest in some sort of a pastime. Alicia took up each sug-
gestion with such zest that it became known in the family as
Each craze had something of a practical nature. The first
was dressmaking. Alicia's mother pointed out that she should
always be smartly and simply turned out, and as there was no
money to commission models from a fashion house, she
thought it would be a good idea if Alicia made her own
clothes. There was a sewing machine at home, and Alicia's
imagination was stirred by her mother supplying her with a
Vogue pattern book. After making a few rough sketches on
paper, Alicia was able to translate her ideas into terms of
material, and soon ran up a much-admired summer frock, as
well as a couple of black dresses for more formal occasions.
At the same time she learned how to make stage costumes,
and, given the requisite number of yards of tarlatan, she
could produce a Sylphide dress which looked a mass of foam-
ing loveliness on the stage. She even tried her hand at making
a tutu, the short ballet dress, which is far more difficult to
execute, as the balance has to be perfect or the entire costume
Cooking was the second craze during what can be called
the doldrums of Alicia's career. Eating in restaurants was out
of the question, so her mother tried to interest Alicia in the
Cake-making appealed to Alicia more than the roasts and
stews. As her mother's birthday was on September 14, Alicia
thought she would like to try her hand at a birthday cake
to honor the occasion. The main difficulty lay, not in making
152 AUCIA MARKOVA
the cake, but In preparing it In secret, as half the fun was to
surprise her mother. As the cake had to be made in three
distinct stages, the girls were ordered to get their mother
out of the house on three different days of the same week.
On the first day Alicia did the baking while her sisters took
their mother to see the autumn glory of Hyde Park. She must
have been puzzled by their sudden interest in nature, but
she enjoyed the walk and made no comment. Meantime,
Alicia stored the cake in the bottom of her wardrobe, where
there was no occasion for her mother to go. There was a smell
of baking about the place when the nature lovers returned
from their walk, but Alicia accounted for that by producing
some hot rock cakes for tea.
Two days later Doris anounced that she had seen some
cheap shoes in a store which was the better part of an hour
away by bus. This gave Alicia a chance to make the almond
paste and to spread it neatly over the cake. The following day
Alicia asked a relative to invite her mother to tea and in her
absence she coated the cake with sugar icing and decorated it
with a colored inscription, all in her favorite shade of mauve.
The masterpiece came as a complete surprise to her mother.
Knitting was the final craze to obsess Alicia. That led to an
inspiration which had an effect upon the entire ballet world.
One day she was knitting a bed jacket, which was to be a
Christmas present for an old friend of the family, and so that
the finished garment would be warm, and at the same time
as light as a feather, she did a lacelike stitch on thick wooden
needles. Suddenly the idea occurred to her that practice tights
would be ideal if knitted in the same manner. She wanted
a pair herself but could not afford to buy them, and anyway,
BRITISH BALLET 153
the ready-made ones were always too thick for her liking:
they caused her to perspire and lose weight. So she knitted
herself a pair of mauve practice tights. They gave her legs
freedom, and as the openwork pattern permitted the body to
breathe, there was no question of losing weight.
Immediately other dancers copied her idea, and now net-
work practice tights are quite a common sight at rehearsal
and in class. They are something that Markova gave to the
ballet, just as Camargo introduced the shorter ballet skirt.
With these crazes and her mother's optimism life was not
entirely unbearable for Alicia. She had very little time for
brooding, even though she had no work. She had to keep in
trim, of course, to be ready for any work that might show it-
self. There was not enough money to attend a regular class,
so Alicia used to work alone at home, using the towel rail
in the bathroom for her barre exercises. When funds permit-
ted, she would have an occasional private lesson with Astafi-
eva, feeling that she would derive far more benefit from oc-
casional individual instruction than regular tuition in a class
of twenty or thirty other pupils.
As Alicia was so rarely seen in class, a legend grew up
which persists even to this day that she never works. Some
people think that she is lazy and refuses to work, while others
imagine her to be one of those lucky people who can perform
miracles on the ballet stage without effort. Both theories are
equally ridiculous. Alicia has devoted her entire life to her
art, and the fact that she chooses to practice alone rather than
in the company of others does not mean that she is either lazy
or a dancer who need not exercise.
In the spring following Diaghileff's death, a glimmer of
154 ALICIA MARKOVA
hope came from Monte Carlo. The Syndicate des Bains de
Her of Monte Carlo offered Grigorieff a contract to arrange
the opera ballets for them. As he was to engage the dancers
himself, he wrote to a number of former Diaghileff artistes
who were idling away their time in various parts of Europe.
Some responded to his suggestion and made their way back
to the old headquarters.
Alicia also received an invitation from Grigorieff, and her
mother lost no time in making arrangements for her to ac-
cept it. Together they left for the South of France, full of high
hopes. When they arrived, they met some old friends Dani-
lova, who was more mischievous than ever, Lubov Tcher-
nicheva, more imperious than ever, Ludmilla Schollar, and
They did their best, but the old magic was no longer in the
air, and the place, despite its beauty, was charged with too
many sad memories for all of them. After two months the
group broke up, and the artistes sorrowfully returned to their
individual wanderings. If the ballet was to be born again,
obviously it was not to be at Monte Carlo.
Mrs. Marks and her daughter returned to London. Alicia
was far from well. Apart from the disappointment, the emo-
tional contact with Monte Carlo had been rather too much
for her, reminding her of days when it seemed just a ques-
tion of time before she reigned as a Diaghileff ballerina. Now
all was bleak and hopeless again. Mrs. Marks scraped a few
pounds together in her miraculous fashion and sent Alicia
away for a quiet holiday, to some friends on the South coast.
The air did her good. She looked better when she returned
but she was in a sad way mentally.
BRITISH BALLET 155
Alicia received a letter one morning that gave her cause to
forget her own sad feelings and rejoice. It was from a young
man named Frederick Ashton, of whom she had heard but
never met. Educated in Peru, he had studied ballet under
Massine, Marie Rambert, and Nijinska. Now, after touring
Europe with Ida Rubenstein, and dancing in London with
Karsavina, he found himself at the Lyric Theatre, Hammer-
smith, arragning a ballet for a revival of Dryden's Marriage a
la Mode, which was being produced by Sir Nigel Playfair,
with Angela Baddeley, Athene Seyler, Adele Dixon, Glen
Byam Shaw, Anthony Ireland, and George Hayes in the cast,
and he wondered if Alicia would be interested in the sugges-
tion that they should dance together in his little ballet.
Not only was she interested, but the fact that he had re-
membered her made her smile with happiness and enthusi-
asm as she promptly made her way to Hammersmith and ac-
cepted the engagement.
Once the ink was dry on the contract, and Alicia felt more
certain of her ground, she turned to Ashton and asked, "Why
did you think of me for this ballet?' *
He was quite honest in his reply.
"Because I saw you dance on many occasions during the
Diaghileff season at the Prince's Theatre," he said. "Night
after night I sat up in the gallery marveling at the grace and
precision of your work. I knew that you would sooner or
later make your name. I was attracted by something else
as well your amazing likeness to Pavlova. I have always
worshiped her, and there were moments when you looked so
like her on the stage that I used to gaze at you open-mouthed.
When Sir Nigel gave me leave to choose my own dancers, I
156 ALICIA MARKOVA
immediately thought of you, hardly daring to hope that you
would accept so humble an engagement after the Diaghileff
Ballet. But here you are, and I hope we are going to enjoy a
long and happy association/'
Alicia's morale had not received such a bolstering for
twelve weary months, and she threw herself into the part with
Only a small area of the stage was used by the dancers,
which meant that they had very little scope in the production.
They were not much more than a touch of local color, and
could hardly hope for much attention from critics or play-
goers. Alicia was given a hideous Nell Gwynne wig which
almost buried her face. After the first night she discarded it
in favor of a bunch of becoming black curls, and then she
asked Ashton if she might do something about her dress. It
was probably historically correct, but it was far too long to
make an effective costume for his dances. He agreed that it
might be shortened as long as nothing was said to the manage-
Alicia, thanks to the sewing craze, was now an expert nee-
dlewoman, and lost no time in turning up the dress a good
eight inches so that the audience could see something of her
legs. Freddie laughed at her, and said she was only doing the
same thing that Camargo had done two hundred years before
her. He understood her feelings as a dancer, but begged her to
endure the discomforts and limitations of the situation, as
he felt sure that it would lead to far better engagements in
the future. To Alicia it was like starting all over again, but
she liked and had faith in this young man who so obviously
had faith in her.
BRITISH BALLET 157
She was soon to discover that the day she met Freddie
Ashton was one of the luckiest of her career.
Frederick Ashton was present at the very birth of British
Ballet. When the Marie Rambert Dancers gave their first
season at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, about eight
months before the production of Mafriage a la Mode, his
Capriol Suite was one of the most enchanting works they
performed. So it was only to be expected that when the Bal-
let Club came into being through the instigation of Marie
Rambert in 1931, young Ashton became one of the pillars of
The Ballet Club made their headquarters in a church hall,
which has since become the miniature Mercury Theatre, and
was directed by Ashley Dukes, husband of Marie Rambert.
The Ballet Club set out to give Sunday-night performances,
being the first organization to enter the field of British Bal-
let as such, and to try to gather together such fragments of
Diaghileff s tradition as could be welded together by British
dancers to form the basis of a British tradition. Mme. Ram-
bert's school was used as a recruiting ground for new young
dancers who were brave enough to retain their English names,
and new choreographersFrederick Ashton, Susan Salaman,
Andree Howard, Antony Tudor were encouraged to enlaige
Alicia was invited by Ashton to be a guest artiste at the
opening night of the Ballet Club on February 16, 1931, when
he created a new ballet, La Peri, especially for the occasion.
To music by Dukas she danced the title role, while Ashton
danced the hero, Iskender.
Alicia was naturally flattered by the compliment of having
158 ALICIA MARKOVA
a ballet especially created for her, the first In England, and
when she began to work with this young choreographer she
realized that he had made a profound study of her work, so
that he knew both her qualities and her limitations. In La
Peri the drama was interpreted by the light movement of the
female figure in strong contrast to the heavily mimed role
of the male.
At that time London was under the spell of the Persian
Exhibition at Burlington House, and, struck by the oriental
contour of Alicia's features, Ashton was anxious to create a
ballet with an Eastern flavor. Having chosen the music by
Dukas music which had previously inspired Pavlova to im-
personate the girl who holds the flower of immortality both
Alicia and Freddie listened to the score being played over and
over again. As soon as their minds were imbued with the
music, they worked on the stage together, and slowly the
ballet took shape, with six attendant girls, including Pearl
Argyle, Maude Lloyd, and Andree Howard.
The premiere was a decided success in its small way, and
from then on the Ballet Club became a popular rendezvous
on Sunday nights. Lady Oxford (Margot Asquith) and her
son, Anthony, were invariably to be seen there, as well as a
number of famous stage personalities who enjoyed the ballet,
among them Sir Charles Cochran, Harriet Hoctor, Madge
Elliott, and Cyril Ritchard. Often they would stay after the
performance to join the artistes for coffee and sandwiches in
the adjoining studio where the classes and rehearsals were
held, and there was a sense of excitement in the air during
the discussions between experienced ballet goers and this
BRITISH BALLET 159
group of talented artistes, many on the brink of what have
since proved brilliant careers.
Alicia continued to appear on Sunday nights at the Ballet
Club for four years, dancing there for the first time the lead-
ing roles in Aurora's Wedding and Les Sylphides, and creat-
ing a whole series of new ballets by Ashton, Antony Tudor,
and Ninette de Valois. Later guest artistes at the Ballet Club
included Kyra Nijinska, daughter of the famous dancer,
Margot Fonteyn, June Brae, Robert Helpmann, and Agnes de
There was no financial reward for dancing at the Ballet
Club. Alicia received half a guinea for each performance,
which meant that not a penny went into her purse. She had
to buy a pair of ballet slippers for each occasion, at a cost of
six shillings, and as she left so late, she had to take a taxi
home. With a tip, the fare amounted to four shillings six-
pence, which meant that there was nothing left of the half
guinea. But it was worth it, to be happily at work again.
"Dancing on that postage-stamp stage at the Ballet Club
was a strange experience," Alicia recalls, "after the vast stages
of La Scala, Milan, and the London Coliseum, where I had
danced with the Diaghileff Ballet. We had been trained to
appear on large stages, so my engagements at the Ballet Club
gave me the excellent opportunity of reducing my work to a
much smaller canvas, for it was more like appearing in a
cabaret than in a theater.
"Dancing under such intimate conditions, where one could
shake hands with friends in the front row, taught me one vita!
lesson: all the strain and effort of dancing had to be con-
i6o ALICIA MARKOVA
cealed, or the Illusion would be ruined. Panting and perspira-
tion were out of the question, so I had to learn to give an im-
pression of effortless ease and never allow my breathing to be
visible from the front.
"My experience stood me in very good stead a year or two
later when I danced Giselle for the first time. No such human
function as breathing must be evident in the second act,
when Giselle is a disembodied spirit, no longer subject to the
laws of the flesh.
"I was glad that Mother had encouraged my dressmaking
phase because we were expected to make our own costumes
at the Ballet Club. William Chappell produced the designs
for most ballets, and we made them up from whatever ma-
terials we were lucky enough to find. Marie Rambert would
often give us her castoff evening dresses to convert into bal-
let costumes, a black velvet model being cut up to make a
tunic for Freddie Ashton when he appeared in Lac des
Cygnes. Pearl Argyle was the expert dressmaker of the com-
pany, often spending an entire day in the sewing room, finally
emerging with the most glittering costume for Princess Au-
rora. I spent many hours snipping and gathering yard after
yard of tarlatan to make myself a tutu, a wearisome occupa-
tion. Often Freddie Ashton would keep me company, discuss-
ing details of the next production.
"To have come into contact with Freddie was a stroke of
good fortune for me. Like Massine at a later date, he gave me
a wide variety of roles which other choreographers would
never have thought of offering me. He refused to cast me to
type, and in those ballets which he devised for me at the Bal-
let Club, and for Sunday-night performances of the Camargo
BRITISH BALLET l6l
Society, he gave me a chance of proving that I had a sense of
"No one else would have dared to give me the Polka in
Fagade, or permitted me to take over the Tango and the Tar-
antella from Lopokova in the same ballet when the Camargo
Society gave their season at the Savoy Theatre in 1932. He
also cast me for the sultry Creole girl in Rio Grande, the
Tennysonian heroine of The Lord of Burleigh, and the Degas
ballerina in Foyer de Danse. Then by way of complete con-
trast he gave me the role of Marguerite in Mephisto Valse,
the Faust ballet he mounted on Liszt music with Sophie
Fedorovich's gray and scarlet setting.
"Freddie had confidence in me as a dancer, and I realized
that he gave me the fullest possible opportunity to express
myself. Never had I experienced such a glorious feeling of
artistic satisfaction. Every ballet he conceived gave me a
chance of attempting to conquer a new world. For some time
we worked hand in glove. Whenever he was asked to provide
a new ballet, he suggested that it should be mounted on me,
and on occasions when I was invited to dance, I suggested
that he should arrange the ballet for me. Through him I was
later able to supplement the family income by accepting en-
gagements in cine-variety and in musical comedy."
During Alicia's appearance at the Ballet Club, I remem-
ber receiving a most enthusiastic letter from my mother, who
had been to see her as La Goulue, the cancan star of Bar Aux
Folies Bergere, the ballet inspired by Manet's famous picture,
and mounted by Ninette de Valois on Chabiier's music.
Mother wrote: "You just won't know Alicia when you see
her. She has developed an extraordinary sense of humor, like
l62 ALICIA MARKOVA
a singer who has suddenly given evidence of feeling in her
voice. Her roguish Impertinence as the coquettish star of the
cancan girls is a superb piece of effrontery, which makes the
audience rock with laughter. Our little Alicia is finding her-
self at last."
Her friend and critic, Arnold Haskell, paid tribute to her
in a 1931 copy of Dancing Times, saying, "Not yet twenty-
one years of age, she is in the happy position of having both
experience and youth at an age when many are only com-
mencing their careers. . . . After Diaghileff she was termed
colorless and lacking in personality by some, but she found
herself in Camargo Society and Ballet Club productions. She
proved that she is capable of extremely subtle shades of com-
edy and burlesque in the movements of her body."
Nor was Alicia neglecting her devotion to the classics, for
on the opening night of her third season at the Ballet Club,
when she danced in Lac des Gygnes, the Dancing Times'
critic wrote: "Alicia Markova on this occasion surpassed
everything she has ever done before. The poise of her body,
the beautiful lines of her arabesque, and the clean footwork
all combined to produce an effect which those who saw her
will not forget for a long time."
Nor did I forget for a long time the shock I received when
I saw Alicia in Rio Grande. As a ballet, I hated it, but when
I look back and realize what she did, it was a revelation.
The ballet was crude in its subject matter sailors and their
clandestine relations with the girls, of whom Alicia was the
youngest and the one with the eye for the best-looking sailor.
This was no Alicia of the classic tutu, but an olive-skinned
BRITISH BALLET 1 63
wench. Here, at last, were the signs of development for which
I had been waiting so long. Until then I had regarded her as
a phenomenal classical ballerina cold and unexciting. In
Rio Grande she was no classical ballerina, for the choreog-
raphy was not on toe and did not call for ballet dancing.
Katherine Dunham in her most provocative mood could
never have given it more glamour and sex appeal than
Alicia, or even technically approached it as she did. Alicia
as a professional charmer certainly made me sit up and think.
For the first time I had seen her assume a character of im-
portance outside that of a dancer.
After presenting a series of Sunday-night performances the
Camargo Society wound up their short span of life in a blaze
of glory, giving a season of ballet at the Savoy Theatre in
1932, with Olga Spessiva and Lydia Lopokova as guest stars,
eclipsing this achievement the following June with two gala
performances at Covent Garden.
Attended by Queen Mary and the Duke and Duchess of
York (George VI and Queen Elizabeth), the program con-
sisted of a performance of Coppelia with Lopokova and the
second act of Lac des Cygnes with Alicia as Odette, Stanley
Judson as Benno, and myself as Siegfried. The entire evening
was devised as entertainment for the delegates of the Eco-
nomic Conference which was being held in London at that
Alicia was naturally delighted on hearing that Queen Mary
was to be present, but on that account felt something should
be done about her tutu, A gala occasion in the presence of
Her Majesty called for a new costume, but the Camargo funds
164 ALICIA MARKOVA
would not permit such expenditure. Once again Mrs. Marks
came to the rescue, and she handed Alicia sufficient money to
buy the necessary roll of tarlatan.
"Go and get it," she said, "and we'll make it between us."
It was a race against time. Doris and Vivienne were given
yards to snip and gather, while her mother made herself re-
sponsible for "finishing," and Alicia looked after the tricky
business of assembling and balancing the intricate frills. Mrs.
Marks* bedroom was transformed into a workroom, and they
worked right through the night prior to the performance to
get the dress ready in time. At 4:30 A.M., Alicia drank her
last cup of black tea, after her final fitting had met with unani-
She arrived at Covent Garden that evening in a state of
high excitement, for this was the first time she had danced
before the Queen of England, and was told by the manage-
ment that she would be received by Her Majesty in the royal
box after Lac des Cygnes. That piece of news added to the ex-
citement of the evening, as did the general buzz of prepara-
Alicia, always at the theater in good time, was particularly
early, as she wanted to look her very best on that auspicious
occasion. In order to give the impression of being moulded
into her tutu, she arranged to have the bodice stitched on her,
so that there would be no unsightly fastenings to mar the
beauty of her swanlike torso. The dresser was in the middle
of sewing her in when a flunky burst into the dressing room
and said, "Miss Markova, come at once. Her Majesty is wait-
ing to receive you in the royal box. There has been a change
BRITISH BALLET 165
in the order of presentation, and Her Majesty will see you
before you dance instead of afterward."
There was no question of argument or protest. Her Majesty
could not be kept waiting. Alicia had to go. The dresser stuck
the needle into the half-stitched costume, and Alicia hurried
to the royal box. Her Majesty Queen Mary greeted the Swan
Queen with a smile. Always intensely curious about dress
materials, the Queen examined the tarlatan, and then stood
back to survey the general design of the costume.
"What a beautiful dress!" she exclaimed. "Turn round and
let me see the back."
A queen has to be obeyed, so Alicia had to revolve before
Her Majesty, thus bring the needle and cotton into view. Not
expecting to turn her back on the Queen, she didn't think the
royal eye would notice her half-sewn condition. Her Majesty
may have seen the needle, but she made no comment: she
merely inquired who had made so exquisite a costume. Alicia
replied that her mother had made it.
"Will she be here tonight?" the Queen inquired.
On hearing that the dancer's mother was ill, she sent her
greetings and told Alicia to express her sorrow.
"It is a pity that the creator of the costume cannot be
present to see it worn to such perfection."
A few minutes later Alicia withdrew from the royal box,
more excited than ever because of the personal message Her
Majesty the Queen had given her for her mother.
Then the orchestra struck the familiar chords, and Alicia
made her entrance as the ethereal Swan Queen looking more
appealing in her fragility than I had ever seen her.
l66 ALICIA MARKOVA
It was a wonderful royal evening, both In the vast audience
and on the stage, and a milestone in British Ballet.
It was all very well to dance at Covent Garden on gala
nights, but there was no remuneration apart from the honor
and glory. After Alicia's mother had bought the tarlatan for
a new costume and paid the girl's taxi fare to and from Cov-
ent Garden she was out of pocket. Several shillings she could
ill afford had been spent on providing entertainment for the
Economic Conference delegates. Some sort of engagement
that would bring in money must be found.
Once again Freddie Ashton came to the rescue by suggest-
ing that Alicia should appear at the Regal Cinema at Marble
Arch where decorative stage shows were featured between
the films. Realizing that she was having a difficult time finan-
cially, Freddie arranged for her to appear in a hunting scene
which was presented four times daily and in which, sur-
rounded on the stage by a pack of real hounds, Dale Smith
sang. Alicia danced for the princely sum of 20 a week, which
was something of a contrast to the ten shillings sixpence she
had earned at the Ballet Club.
The scene was so realistic, and Alicia's fox dance was so
strenuous, that by the end of the first day she was covered
with bruises, bumps, and scratches. Doris, who attended her
in the dressing room, was continually running out to a nearby
drugstore to get lint and plasters for Alicia's battered knees
and elbows. There was little or no artistic satisfaction in the
engagement, but it helped the family to pay the rent, and it
pleased Alicia to win genuinely warm applause from people
who had come primarily to see the films but obviously en-
joyed this popular manifestation of ballet.
BRITISH BALLET 167
Funds were still at a low ebb in the Marks establishment,
and Alicia did her share o the housework. She disliked iron-
ing, as it made such heavy demands upon her patience, so
she usually bargained with Doris or Vivienne, offering to
undertake their washing if they would do her ironing.
Mrs. Marks was fond of flowers, but there was little op-
portunity of enjoying any in those days, except through the
florist's window. To save a penny a day Alicia would often
walk to the best fare stage nearer home before she boarded
the bus in order to save enough money to buy a bunch of
violets or anemones from the old lady who sold them outside
the subway station.
At this time I helped Alicia by arranging a concert tour
with her in the summer and a series of appearances at Stoll
Another touching act of kindness came from Cyril Beau-
mont, England's greatest living authority on the ballet. His
bookshop in Charing Cross Road is devoted almost entirely
to works on the dance, and is an Aladdin's Cave to all who
love dancing, with wonderful pictures of every dancer whose
name has proved sufficiently famous to come down the years.
It is a miniature museum and a Mecca for all who want to
revive their memories of nights at the ballet by discovering
references in print.
Cyril Beaumont immensely admired Alicia's work when
he saw her dancing on Sunday nights at the Ballet Club, and
he invited her to call at his shop and browse over the ballet
books whenever she happened to be passing. He made it quite
clear that she could stay as long as she pleased and need feel
under no obligation to purchase anything. In this way he
l68 ALICIA MARKOVA
gave her a chance to learn something of the history of the
great dancers who had gone before her, the Immortals whose
steps she was now following.
A few days after he issued the invitation, Alicia decided
to drop into his shop on her way home to lunch. She was so
enthralled that it was eight o'clock in the evening before she
"Wherever have you been?" cried her distressed mother.
"In Mr. Beaumont's back room!" answered Alicia simply.
Afterward, whenever Alicia was missing, it became a family
joke to suppose that she was in Mr. Beaumont's back room!
That back room was a rather wonderful place. It had a
chair tucked away in a cozy comer, near the stove. When
Alicia called, her host would select a few books from the
shelves and send her off to the corner chair to read them.
More than anything, she liked to read about Taglioni, in-
trigued by the ethereal quality of the great dancer who
brought romanticism to the ballet, with her unearthly danc-
ing in La Sylphide. Reading about the birth of the ballet
blanc had a great fascination for Alicia, making the ballets
of today all the more Interesting, since she was able to trace
Because of Cyril Beaumont's introduction, Alicia now
feels that she knows Taglioni, and has formed so vivid an
impression of her that she might easily be a personality in
her own life. She talks to her friends about Taglioni so con-
vincingly that anyone not aware that the great ballerina died
at Marseilles in 1884, eighty years of age, might easily imagine
that Alicia had known her well.
Remembering her love for this Queen of the Romantic
BRITISH BALLET 169
Ballet, Cyril Beaumont gave one of Taglioni's letters to
Alicia on the night she danced Lac des Cygnes In full for the
first time at Sadler's Wells Theatre. It is a model of polite-
ness, asking a theater manager for a couple of complimentary
tickets, and inquiring most courteously about his wife's
health, hoping that she had recovered from a recent malady.
Alicia's long absence from England during World War II
did not cause Cyril Beaumont to forget that she worshiped
Taglioni more devotedly than any other ballerina, and when
Alicia was dressing at Covent Garden in the summer of 1 948
to make her first appearance in Giselle, she received a little
package which had been handed in at the stage door. It was
marked: Urgent. To Be Opened on Receipt. Putting down
her make-up mirror, she opened the little box. It contained
a reel of mending silk. It was accompanied by a note of good
wishes from Mr. Beaumont, who wrote: "This reel is from
Tagiioni's workbox. Break off a piece and wear it in your
shoe for luck tonight." She obeyed the suggestion, and
though she is far from superstitious, she feels that she has
never received a more inspiring token of appreciation.
In New York, some years earlier, Carl Van Vechten had
given Alicia a glazed coral choker which once belonged to
Taglioni. He brought it around to her dressing room after
she had impersonated Taglioni in my ballet, Pas de Quatre.
Imagine her joy when the necklace fitted her so perfectly that
it might easily have been made for her. She treasures it in
the tortoise-shell box in which Taglioni used to keep it.
When Alicia first visited Mr. Beaumont's back room, she
was hungry for knowledge, and he enjoyed telling her all
about those first Diaghileff performances in London when
170 ALICIA MARKOVA
Nijlnsky and Karsavlna were at the height of their fame. She
was particularly fond of a picture of Karsavina In The Good-
Humoured Ladies, as it brought back a memory of being
taken by her mother to see this great artiste for the first time
in that ballet, and she has never forgotten the sight of the bal-
lerina's emerald-green ballet slippers. Previously, Alicia had
seen only pink slippers, and she was fascinated by this innova-
tion. She was also lost in admiration for the remarkable man-
ner in which Karsavina pointed her feet and the incredible
speed of her steps, which was really something at which to
marvel. Proudly she told Mr. Beaumont that she possessed
a Karsavina souvenir, that, for her birthday, Marie Rambert
had given her the bodice which Karsavina had worn in the
last act of Giselle. Later, she was to acquire Olga Spessiva's
Theophile Gautier was a writer Alicia enjoyed. It thrilled
her to read his colorful accounts of Carlotta Grisi in Giselle.
It was wonderful to be able to study a graphic account of a
man who had actually seen her dance, and a man who was
able to express himself so masterfully. By reading the work of
the older critics, Alicia began to see the classical ballets in
the right light. She looked upon them as antiques and not as
old-fashioned relics to be laughted at. As she once said, "We
do not laugh at a Louis Quinze chair, even if we do not hap-
pen to care for the period." She took pleasure in looking at
the lithographs of the early nineteenth-century ballerinas, as
they seemed to convey all the excitement of the theater of
their period. One could sense the very atmosphere of the
ballets in which they danced, with their misty forests and
enchanted lakes, which stirred the imagination so vividly.
BRITISH BALLET 17 1
She had a special affection for prints of the temperamental
Fanny Elssler, feeling that she must have had a good deal In
common with Danllova. In such spirited dances as the Fan-
dango and the Cachucha, she must have been something like
Danilova in the Cancan from La Boutique Fantasque.
CHAPTER S IX
WHILE Marie Rambert was catering to an audience of con-
noisseurs at the Ballet Club on Sunday evenings, Ninette de
Valois began to think about establishing a troupe that would
have a wider and more popular appeal. London had seen no
ballet since the death of Diaghileff two years previously,
apart from that at Marie Rambert's bandbox theater. De
Valois felt that the time might be ripe to prove whether bal-
let appealed to the masses or whether it was only highbrow
entertainment for the cultured few.
To put her plan into effect, she engaged the attention of
that eccentric genius, Lilian Baylis, who was running the twin
theaters of the Old Vic on the south bank of the Thames in
Waterloo Road and Sadler's Wells on the north bank in Is-
lington. They were known as the homes of Shakespeare and
opera in English where, for sixpence, one could go up in the
174 ALICIA MAKKOVA
gallery and hear popular operatic classics well sung or see
the great John Gielgud in Hamlet.
Both houses were flourishing, and Miss de Valois was anx-
ious to try ballet on this democratic public who knew their
Shakespeare well enough to prompt the actors and who knew
their Verdi well enough to be aware of Violeta avoiding a
top note in her opening coloratura aria.
On May 5, 1931, Ninette de Valois gathered together a
handful of dancers, known as the Vic-Wells Ballet, to give
their first performance at the Old Vic. I gladly accepted her
invitation to appear as the first guest artiste. It was only a pro-
gram of odds and ends, but it met with definite approval, and
encouraged further spasmodic performances throughout the
summer. These were so successful that when the Old Vic
and Sadler's Wells opened for the autumn season, a fort-
nightly ballet night became a regular feature at each theater.
Later, as ballet took a firmer grip on the public, it was
given only at Sadler's Wells Theatre, and thus the Sadler's
Wells Ballet Company was bom. In the short space of fifteen
years it grew into the most important ballet company in
western Europe, and later moved into Covent Garden Opera
House, now its permanent home.
No one can ever estimate how much the company owes to
Markova. Had it not been for her, I doubt whether the Sad-
ler's Wells Ballet would exist today. She, and she alone, put
that company firmly on its feet. Others helped most gener-
ously Lydia Lopokova, Phyllis Bedells, Stanislas Idzikow-
sky, and I were frequent guests but it was Markova, with her
loyalty and hard work, to say nothing of her amazing grasp
of an enormous repertoire, that made the company, plus
SADLER'S WELLS 175
the genius and masterly direction of Ninette de Valois.
It was on Saturday, January 30, 1932, that Alicia accepted
Ninette's invitation and danced with the Vic-Wells Company
for the first time, at the Sadler's Wells for a matinee and at
the Old Vic in the evening. She danced in Cephalus and Pro-
cris, set to Gretry's delicate music, and, with Stanley Judson,
she appeared in a ballet by Ninette de Valois entitled Nar-
cissus and Echo, dancing barefoot on different levels, while
four figures dressed in black and white were posed decora-
tively on a flight of steps.
Ballets did not mean much to the people who attended
these performances, but they were enchanted by the guest
ballerina of the occasion. She was so frail, so different, and
danced so delightfully that they looked forward to seeing her
again, no matter in what role she happened to be dancing.
That is the secret of the early success of the Vic-Wells Ballet.
First and foremost they came to see Alicia Markova, and
in coming to see her over and over again, they acquired a lik-
ing for ballet itself and began to develop a sense of values.
By the time De Basil brought his company to London for its
first appearance there, in 1933, Markova had popularized
ballet to such an extent that the public flocked to the West
End to see the new baby ballerinas, Baronova, Toumanova,
So Instantaneous was Alicia's success at the Wells, that the
management invited us both to dance in a special season there
in March at a fee of five guineas each. In that same summer
of 1932 we were both dancing at the Savoy Theatre during
the Camargo season with such glittering guest stars as Olga
Spessiva, Lydia Lopokova, Ruth French, and Phyllis Bedells.
176 ALICIA MARKOVA
Spessiva's Giselle was the talk of London, and I was proud
to have been chosen as her Albrecht, a role which, with in-
finite care and devotion, she taught me herself.
Lilian Baylis sensed that ballet was going to get a grip
on the public and was anxious not to miss the opportunity of
securing Alicia's services. She recognized artistic magnetism
when she saw it, so she wrote to Alicia in good time, knowing
that the inclusion of her name on the advance billing would
fill her theaters during the autumn, though she refused to
offer more than five guineas a performance however much
other managements were willing to pay.
The letter she wrote to Alicia is a key to the policy which
put those two theaters on such a firm and flourishing basis.
THE OLD VIC,
i. 6. 32.
Dear Alicia Markova,
All we yet know definitely about next season is that we propose
to devote one evening a week to Ballet, and that we hope that
you, and others, who helped us in the past, will be associated
with us again.
As it is quite possible that we shall issue some general advance
bills before details are settled, will you let us have a line to say
that we may put your name among those of the guest artistes?
We would offer you five guineas a performance, as before. I
want you to do lots of well-paid work, but hope you'll manage
to come to us in between the good engagements.
Yours very sincerely,
Alicia accepted the offer, and the following October we
SADLER'S WELLS 177
danced together in Act II of Lac des Cygnes, with Stanley
Judson as Benno. Ballet was beginning to boom, as was ap-
parent from the two thousand people who turned up at Sad-
ler's Wells on the opening night. The repertoire was gradu-
ally but slowly being enlarged. With Job, Spectre de la Rose,
and Les Sylphides among the longer ballets, it could hardly
be regarded now as a succession of scrappy bits and pieces.
Early in 1933 Lopokova danced Swanhilda in Coppelia
when the company appeared in the two command perform-
ances at Covent Garden at which Queen Mary admired
Alicia's homemade costume. After that season I ceased to be
a guest artiste of the company, but Alicia stayed on for a
Not many weeks after we had danced Lac des Cygnes at
Sadler's Wells, Alicia left the Vic-Wells Company for a short
time, in order to accept some of the * 'well-paid work" of
which Miss Baylis hoped she would do "lots/*
In November 1932 Markova and Harold Turner appeared
together in a ballet devised by Frederick Ashton in a lavish
musical show at the Alhambra, entitled A Kiss in Spring.
Despite music by Kalman and Herbert Griffiths and a cast
which included Marie Lohr, Billy Milton, Eric Bertner, Ken-
neth Kove, Eileen Moody, and Sylvia Welling, the show was
dull, never coming to life until the final scene, when Ash-
ton's lovely little ballet took the stage.
Two leading London papers hailed it in their headlines.
One said: A Ballet That Steals the Show, and the other, Bal-
let Saves a Play. Alicia read in print that she need not feel
shy of the ghosts of famous dancers who watched her from
the wings of that historic stage.
178 ALICIA MARKOVA
It was a triumph for British Ballet in a popular show and
brought Alicia to the notice of the vast theater-going public
for the first time in her career. I was glad to see her on that
huge stage in a large theater. Hassard Short, a genius of the
theater, had lighted the show as well as produced it, and
Alicia had for the first time, in my opinion, taken on an aura
of real glamour, I was enthusiastic about her beauty. It was
good to think that she had escaped from the postage-stamp
stage of the Ballet Club. I know she did important work
there, but, I never really liked her at the Ballet Club. Though
her dancing was superb, and she was dressed with impeccably
good taste, I did not consider she looked her best when seen
at such close quarters. She had not the glamour which she
As Ninette de Valois once remarked to me, "Alicia has
none of the natural attributes of a great ballerina, yet she has
gained the pinnacle and remained there."
Her legs are not quite straight, her nose is a little large
for her face, and her arabesque Is not particularly high, yet
she has overcome all these handicaps and perfected her art
with a beauty that haunts all who have seen her dance. I am
convinced that her dancing arms and hands are the most
beautiful of all time. Only Spessiva, of all the great dancers
I have seen, had feet comparable to Markova's. She has a
beautiful natural pointe, and even now her feet are those of
a young girl. No one would imagine that she had been danc-
ing almost ceaselessly for more than a quarter of a century.
A Kiss in Spring gave the first hint of the beauty that was
to emerge from the chrysalis. Punch was so captivated by the
success of the ballet that the critic suggested that the dullest
SADLER'S WELLS 179
passages of the show be cut and the time thus gained handed
over to the dancers!
The run was short, and Alicia was soon back at the Wells,
but with an enhanced prestige.
Now Lilian Baylis realized that she would have to make
Alicia's agreements with her theaters more attractive if she
wished to keep her. Alicia had made her first success in the
so-called commercial theater. In the summer of 1933 we find
an increase in salary suggested:
THE OLD VIC,
14. 6. 33.
Dear Alicia Markova,
I have spoken to Ninette, and we agree to making the offer for
next season ten pounds a week, this to cover your appearances in
the ballet performances and your help as choreographer when
We will certainly wait a week for a final answer from you, and
we do very much hope that it will be possible for you to throw
your fortunes in with ours.
Yours very sincerely,
Alicia agreed to accept the offer, so once again Lilian Baylis
replied with the same suggestion that Alicia should take all
the better-paid work that came her way, but in every in-
stance she was to be certain that the Vic-Wells Ballet Com-
pany had some sort of recognition in the printed material
concerning these other engagements.
Lilian Baylis never lost an opportunity to get publicity for
l8o ALICIA MARKOVA
her theaters, even giving a dozen handbills to everyone who
called at her office, with instructions to distribute them
among their friends, and thus another dozen people would
know what was happening at her homes of Shakespeare and
of opera in English to say nothing of British Ballet! She
expressed her delight at Alicia's acceptance in a letter which
THE OLD VIC,
28. 6. 33.
Dear Alicia Markova,
I am so glad that you will be with us next season. Your de-
cision does, indeed, make us happy.
Of course you can take other engagements which do not inter-
fere with our work, but we would like you to let us know when
these occur, and to make an acknowledgment to this manage-
ment on their printing.
I hope you enjoyed dancing last night. You were in perfect
form, and I loved every minute of you.
Alicia's decision to stay with the Vic-Wells Ballet was mo-
mentous. She reigned as prima ballerina at Sadler's Wells
from the autumn of 1933 until May 1935 and carried the
repertoire almost alone. There was little or no financial re-
ward for this engagement, but Alicia felt it was a great con-
solation and her first stroke of good fortune since the death
of Diaghileff. Ninette de Valois agreed that one of the classics
should be revived for Alicia each season, so that she would
SADLER'S WELLS 181
at last have the chance of dancing the great roles which would
have been hers by right had Diaghileff lived long enough to
carry out his plans. The ballets Giselle, Gasse Noisette, and
Lac des Cygnes in their entirety were revived for her, and she
would have danced Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty had she
stayed on after the spring of 1935. In addition, she appeared
in about three new modern works each season.
Ninette de Valois knew what she was doing when she urged
Lilian Baylis to engage Alicia as prima ballerina. She knew
the precarious financial status of the Marks family and the
detrimental effect it might have on Alicia's work. She knew
the peace of mind that a contract which meant a regular
income for eight months of the year would bring to Alicia.
As soon as it was signed, she was able to budget for the
future. Together with the family, she left St. Quintan's
Avenue in North Kensington and took a flat at Marble Arch,
overlooking Hyde Park.
It was a brave step to take, as her salary was far from fabu-
lous, but she knew that Doris would be able to help with the
rent, for she had a good job as a leading soubrette at the
Windmill Theatre. Vivienne was already in the Civil Service,
so her income was assured, even though it was modest at the
beginning. Bunny was growing into the beauty of the family,
and Alicia already visualized her in the corps de ballet of the
Vic-Wells Company, thereby bringing in yet a few more
shillings toward the increased cost of a fashionable and more
The public at Sadler's Wells had not been happy about
Alicia's precarious position there any more than she had.
When they heard that she had signed a contract which meant
1 82 ALICIA MARKOVA
she had come to stay, they gave her a rapturous welcome on
the opening night of the autumn season of 1933, when she
danced Spectre de la Rose with Stanislas Idzikowsky, premier
danseur in DiaghilefFs company and one of the greatest danc-
ers of that time. One critic said it was worth traveling across
Europe to see. She also danced the Blue Bird pas de deux
with Idzikowsky. On that occasion the new work was Ninette
de Valois' new ballet, The Wise and Foolish Virgins, with
music by Kurt Atterberg and decor by William Chappell.
Les Rendezvous, Frederick Ashton's first ballet for the
Wells, was the great event. He chose some of Auber's most
vivacious tunes, which inspired William Chappell to design
some most becoming costumes. In addition to Alicia the cast
included Ninette de Valois, Idzikowsky, Stanley Judson, and
Robert Helpmann, emerging from the corps de ballet for the
Miss P. W. Manchester, in her book, Vic-Wells, A Ballet
Progress, gives the finest word picture of Alicia:
"The leading role gave Markova her finest creation for the
Wells, and this ballet has never been the same without her. She
was entrancing in her grey dress with the big red flowers on either
side of her smooth head. No one who saw her will ever forget
her exit at the end of her brilliant solo, head jauntily tilted,
shoulders and arms delicately lifted, her narrow feet exquisitely
placed. The whole ballet was designed as a showpiece to display
her particular gifts of speed, precision, and lightness, and it was
an uproarious success."
Alicia had become the darling of the Wells. She was
cheered to the echo at every performance. Older balletomanes
SADLER'S WELLS 183
saw her growing resemblance to Pavlova, and considering the
triumphant manner in which she grasped every chance that
came her way, they must have wondered if she would even-
tually attain as lofty a position in the world of the dance as
the great ballerina whose death they had all mourned.
The crucial test was to come with Giselle, which was sched-
uled at the Old Vic for New Year's Day, 1934. Would Alicia
be able to hold her own with such distinguished predecessors
as Carlotta Grisi, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, and Olga
Giselle is the dream role of every ballerina, possessing the
sort of magnetism that Hamlet has for the actor. The
premiere took place at the Paris Opera in 1841, and the
ballet has been continuously performed ever since, both in
Europe and America, so we still feel a contact with the origi-
nal production which created a sensation in Paris with Gar-
lotta Grisi and Lucien Petipa in the leading roles. It still
remains the most glorious example of the Romantic Age of
Ballet. No other work offers the ballerina such tremendous
In the first act she is the spotless village maiden with an
undying love for the handsome peasant named Loys. The ar-
rival of a hunting party in the district brings to light the
fact that Loys is really Count Albrecht in disguise, a wealthy
landowner betrothed to the Duke of Courland's daughter.
It is too much for the trusting Giselle. Her brain snaps. Mad-
ness and death take possession of her.
The second act, the complete antithesis of the first, reveals
Giselle rising from her tomb in the forest to dance with the
Wilis, the spirits of girls who loved dancing too much on
184 ALICIA MARKOVA
earth. She Is no longer a human being but an ethereal vision
as elusive as moonlight. Few dancers are equally impressive
in both acts, but Alicia is certainly one of them. Her Giselle
has become the criterion by which all others in this genera-
tion are judged.
Apart from seeing Pavlova dance Giselle in her gravecloth
draperies, Alicia had never seen the ballet until Olga Spes-
siva danced it with me during the Camargo season at the
Savoy in 1932. She understudied Spessiva during that season
and told my mother afterward, a little sadly, that she had not
had a chance to dance the role, as Spessiva never once was
The great Russian ballerina's dancing was a revelation.
Alicia knew that she would never be really happy until she
had danced the part, though she could see no possibility of
realizing her ambition at that time. Spessiva saw in Alicia her
successor and an ideal interpreter of the role, so she insisted
that she should have a chair placed in the wings to enable her
to observe every detail of the performance at close quarters.
Alicia wept at the end of the first act after the deeply moving
mad scene. There was magic in Spessiva's dancing in the
moonlit wood in the second act.
Olga Spessiva's rendering of the role of Giselle was the
ultimate and last word in perfection. Flawless, terrifyingly
and tragically beautiful, it has never been superseded. Only
Alicia, during the last twenty years, has re-created the magic
that was Spessiva's and imbued the role with her own great-
ness. As she watched Spessiva during that Camargo season in
all humility, she never felt she could hope to equal the great
interpretation of Giselle. From Spessiva she received encour-
SADLER'S WELLS 185
agement and listened eagerly to all she had to say about this
complex role which had baffled so many of the great dancers
of the past.
When Giselle was revived for Alicia by the Vic-Wells Bal-
let, Ninette de Valois consulted Sergueff, who had formerly
come from St. Peterbnrg to stage The Sleeping Beauty for
Diaghileff at the Alhambra. This regisseur of the Maryinsky
Theatre guaranteed the authenticity of the first production
of the ballet ever attempted by a British company. His notes
were based on the ballet as it had been performed in St.
Petersburg in the eighties, when Marius Petipa revived the
standardized version which Perrot, Grisi's husband, had pro-
duced in Russia in 1851.
Rehearsals were held at Sadler's Wells for six weeks. For
three hours every morning Alicia worked alone in the board
room with Sergueff, while he explained the significance of
every movement. He was very strict and very stubborn. He
had his own ideas about Giselle, and considered his word law.
He had no time for newfangled notions. To him Giselle was
sacred. Not a step had to be altered.
In any case there was no necessity to alter anything, as
each nuance of the original choreography by Coralli and Per-
rot had its own definite meaning. Alicia was given a picture of
the ballet as it had been performed on the Maryinsky stage,
and it still seemed as vital to her as any contemporary work.
Never for a moment did it seem to be old-fashioned. Sergueff
gave her the right approach and the character of Giselle
emerged, as human as any creation of the great dramatists.
It was not just a vehicle for the prima ballerina to dazzle ad-
mirers with her miraculous technique, but a real character
1 86 ALICIA MARKOVA
waiting to be Interpreted by a dancer with the soul of an
This aspect of the role was clarified in those solitary morn-
ing sessions with SerguefL After a light lunch in the canteen,
they would work with the full company for four hours in
the afternoon, when Alicia would dovetail her work into
the full-scale production. Her conception of the part was not
directly influenced by Spessiva, nor did she attempt to copy
her. Already, under Sergueff's guidance, she was beginning to
formulate her own individual ideas about the tragic maiden
of the vineyards. She knew that a certain section of the public
were inclined to believe that a British dancer would be out
of her depth in so gigantic a role. Alicia Markova was de-
termined to give them cause to revise their ideas.
New Year's Day, 1934, produced one of those characteristic
London fogs which plunge the great city into what seems to
be eternal night. It reminded Alicia of the day she had left
for Monte Carlo, to dance Giselle for the first time in her life,
and to prove that a British dancer could undertake so great
a feat. I was extremely happy to be her Albrecht, after having
partnered the divine Spessiva in the same part two years
There was an excitement backstage that night which I shall
never forget. We knew that if we could get through the eve-
ning with honors we would make ballet history and prove
that British dancers could hold their own with the rest of the
The theater had been sold out for days, though when the
curtain rose there were patches of unoccupied seats belong-
ing to disappointed fogbound enthusiasts.
SADLER'S WELLS 187
Alicia Markova did not touch perfection that night, as she
has done since, in what has become her greatest role. No one
could hope to dance Giselle to perfection the very first time.
It is a role that mellows a little each time it is danced, and
thus requires many performances before it can reach an ideal
But Alicia gave an unforgettable performance, particularly
in the second act. It was truly great dancing. No other artiste
seen in London had approached such spiritual beauty. Alicia
had scored a personal and a national victory; she held the
audience with her tragic mime and then proceeded to dazzle
and dumbfound them with the soaring beauty of her dancing
in the forest scene.
Two great ballerinas of a former epoch Lydia Lopokova
and Lydia Kyasht were the first to enter her dressing room
to congratulate her. They knew the Maryinsky tradition, and
they knew the historical significance of the performance they
had just witnessed.
The critics were lavish in their praise. Nothing is more
wearisome than reading a succession of laudatory press cut-
tings about any artistic triumph, but I beg leave to quote
what Time and Tide said about Alicia Markova's first Giselle,
as it seems to have captured the very essence of the occasion.
"In presenting Alicia Markova ia the title role of Giselle, the
Vic-Wells Ballet has created a precedent. Never before has an
English dancer been entrusted with this role. Technically flawless,
Markova has at last been given the opportunity to show that her
range of mime runs from gaiety to poignancy and includes both.
In a ballet that is little more than a frame for the principal danc-
ers, her village Ophelia was neither overweighted by tradition
l88 ALICIA MARKOVA
nor overstylized by a lack of respect for tradition. She approached
the role with simplicity and sincerity, and never can a great
artist have tempered dancing cadenza less with personal show-
manship. By her exquisite rising to the pointes with a lightness
supremely her own and a mastery of poise in developpe and
arabesque sur les pointes that admits her to the elect of great
ballerinas, she was the perfect instrument through which the
tragic tale was transmitted."
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about
Alicia's Giselle since that foggy New Year's night, but even
the best of them are third-party opinions. No one knows what
Alicia herself thinks about Giselle because she has never
been persuaded to express her opinion.
As I think it ranks with Melba's Mimi and Chaliapin's
Boris Godunov as one of the greatest artistic creations of the
century, I suggested that she should record her own impres-
sions of the part and what It meant to her. She promised she
would do so, but she never seemed to get sufficient leisure
to give the matter any serious consideration. We were always
too occupied with performances or traveling for Alicia to
write her personal impressions.
Then her great chance came at Christmas, 1949. We had
just finished a provincial tour, and Alicia planned to have a
month's holiday in her sister's newly acquired London flat
in Rnightsbridge while I appeared as St. George of England
in Where the Rainbow Ends, a children's play which is re-
vived in London every Christmas.
No sooner had Alicia started to enjoy her holiday, devoted
to catching up on sleep, taking her small niece to feed the
ducks in the park, and browsing round the stores for presents,
SADLER'S WELLS 189
than she developed a very bad cold. Unable to shake it off,
she called in the doctor. He forbade her to leave the fiat for
a few days, lest more serious complications set in. She could
not rouse any enthusiasm for reading, sewing, or even gos-
siping with friends who were prepared to go to see her.
"I know what you can do," I suggested brightly. "You can
write a letter to me all about Giselle. Here is your chance
to record your own impressions. Write to me as if I knew
nothing about it."
A day or two later I received the longest letter Alicia has
December 20, 1949
My dear Patte,
Lying here in bed with a wretched stupid cold, I have been
thinking about Giselle. I feel utterly depressed and really don't
want to see anyone except Tutu. You have not met Tutu, but
you will the next time you come to see me. He is the most ador-
able little kitten, who has just been sent to me as a present from
Brighton. He is a ballet cat because he has white back legs which
make him look as if he is wearing white tights in readiness for
a performance of Les Sylphides. But you don't want to know
about Les Sylphides, do you?
Now what can I tell you about Giselle? Even before I danced it,
I realized that it would be my favorite part if I ever had the good
fortune to appear in it No other role had such an instant and
strong appeal for me. I was quite shaken when I saw Spessiva
dance it with you for the first time, from my wicker chair in the
wings at the Savoy. That sent me flying to "Mr. Beaumont's back
room" to get some idea of the Giselles that had gone before. I re-
member that Carlotta Grisi gave the impression of being "so
1QO ALICIA MARKOVA
slender, so frail, and yet so impervious to fatigue." I gloated over
the lithographs and tried to learn as much as I could from them.
Two years later our chance came to dance the ballet together
with the Vic-Wells. I was to be coached by Sergueff, who would
put me right on all the baffling problems of my role. When we
met for the first time, he delivered a long lecture about Giselle
showing me how not to approach her. He knew I had seen Spes-
siva and I told him that I had read about other great interpre-
tations. He stamped his foot and said it was quite wrong to
imagine I could take stock of all the great Giselles of the past
and then build up my own interpretation by trying to incorporate
all the attractive aspects of each performance.
He told me that I must forget that the part had ever been
danced before. If I wished my interpretation to ring true, I
must treat it like a new ballet and work it out for myself. "The
character," he explained, "is conveyed by the dancer herself and
not by the steps devised by the choreographer. That is why there
are so many Giselles. Only a dreary performance can result
from a dancer with no original ideas of her own."
As we worked on the ballet week by week, I began to see
the character of Giselle quite vividly, as real as any heroine in
a play. The characterization was more fascinating than the tech-
nical problems of the dancing. The basic steps are only the struc-
ture upon which each ballerina builds her individual interpreta-
tion of the part. Giselle became sa real a person to me that I
forgot myself and seemed to enter the skin of a totally different
being. I did not feel that I was dancing the role, I felt I was the
I suppose I have danced Giselle more frequently than any other
ballerina in history, and certain changes have come about with
the passing of time. I feel younger in the first act now than when
I first danced it. I feel that the simplicity of the character is of
vital importance. It seems to come as a sort of second nature now
but in the beginning I was conscious of acting to give the im-
pression of simplicity.
SADLER'S WELLS 19 1
Sergueff insisted that the part should not be danced like a
highly complicated technical exercise. He used to impress upon
me the importance of never making a move unless I knew why
I made it. It is necessary to use one's head as well as one's feet
if one is to create a convincing impersonation of Giselle.
I have seen dancers, particularly in the second act, put up a
performance which must have been as equally bewildering to
them as it was to the audience. That act has been cut consider-
ably, so that it is sometimes difficult to make sense of what re-
mains. The Queen of the Wilis was originally a far greater role
in the ballet, but now the part has been cut down to about a
quarter of the original and, I am sure, lovely choreography. She
should have two variations with the stage to herself, but that
rarely happens in these days.
I have seen Giselles at a loss about their relationship to the
Queen. Many a Giselle comes and bows before the Queen soon
after rising from her grave, but one can tell from the stance and
facial expression that the dancer has no idea why she is bowing.
She does not realize that she bows because, in the traditional
version of the ballet, the Queen touches Giselle with a wand caus-
ing wings to sprout from her shoulders. Only when that fact is
realized, can there be meaning in the bow.
Spessiva used to rely on a mechanical device, so that the in-
cident had more significance from the front. The wings of her
costume were drawn in close to her sides by means of a thread
of cotton. As she bowed before the Queen, she snapped the cot-
ton with her thumb and wings sprang up from her shoulders. I
have never had the courage to adopt the plan, and shall never
forget how nervous Spessiva used to be until she had snapped the
cotton. Perhaps one day, Patte, I will, for 1 know it would give
you such satisfaction.
The only device I have used is a ramp in the last act to give
the impression of flying through the air. If it is built among the
trees at the back of the stage, the dancer can, by traveling at Mgh
speed, with quick but steady steps, give the impression of leaving
1Q2 ALICIA MARKOV A
the ground and rising into the air. One false step is enough,
though, to shatter the illusion.
But we are getting away from the character of Giselle herself,
and the whole ballet stands or falls by that. The story is quite
plausible if the ballerina can convince the audience that Giselle
is the essence of purity, not only young, but completely naive.
Unless she can convey that impression, she fails at the outset, no
matter how brilliantly she executes the technicalities of the
Giselle is the most devoted and sincere of maidens, and Al-
brecht is the sum total of her thoughts. It never crosses her mind
that he could deceive her. She is annoyed by the attentions of
Hilarion, because she has eyes only for Albrecht, and she be-
lieves that he lives for her alone. It is her trusting innocence that
makes the discovery of his betrayal a blow, at once cruel and over-
whelming. It is this shock that unhinges her simple mind and,
grasping Albrecht's sword, she rushes round in her delirium and
before he can take it from -her tightly clasped hands, she has
stabbed fatally her broken heart.
The Mad Scene has led to endless discussion. I will ignore
the other theories and give you my own. Giselle, to my way of
thinking, is not a suicide. Her brain snaps as the result of a very
severe mental shock and an ensuing nervous and emotional col-
lapse. When she sees the sword on the ground, according to
Sergueff, she takes it to be a serpent. She picks it up by the point
and presses it to her bosom, like Cleopatra and the asp. Had she
wished to kill herself by the sword, she would have picked it up
by the hilt and driven it through her body, or fallen upon it in
the best Roman tradition. By that time she is isolated from the
others because she no longer recognizes them. Her strength be-
gins to ebb, and her heartbeats show signs of exhaustion.
At this point, some ballerinas look at their hands with horror,
imagining they are covered with blood from the wound. There
is no blood on her hands because the wound was a mere pinprick.
Giselle regards her hands and arms with terror because they are
SADLER'S WELLS 193
growing cold and she is conscious of an increasing paralysis. She
rubs them in a futile attempt to restore the circulation. Then her
breathing gives trouble. She feels she is choking. It is the end.
She collapses on the ground, dying because she has nothing to
live for. The melodramatic scene can only be moving and con-
vincing if the Giselle is pure and innocent; such a fate could never
overtake a coquette.
In the second act, Giselle should be portrayed as an equally
pure and noble spirit. She is above revenge. After suffering on
earth and dying, she finds her soul and is at peace. She is sorry
for Albrecht as he comes in search of her grave in the forest, be-
cause she feels his suffering is deeper than hers and certainly lasts
If the dancing is to make a convincing spirit, her breathing
must be under complete control. The part makes heavier de-
mands on the ballerina than any other role in the repertoire,
because the emotional side is so exhausting. Following the his-
trionic outburst at the end of Act One she is faced with all the
most exacting dancing when she takes on spirit form. Then there
must be no sign of heavy breathing or human exhaustion. The
effort must be concealed at all costs.
I can never tell in advance just how I am going to dance a per-
formance of Giselle. I am always- striving perhaps too diligently
after perfection, and on that account I suppose only about one
performance in two dozen gives me real satisfaction. Only when
both acts are evenly balanced and when the technical, histrionic,
and emotional aspects of the performance are as perfect as I can
hope to make them only then do I feel that I can rest on my
laurels for five minutes.
Have you ever realized, Patt, that there is less partnering in
Giselle than in any other classical ballet? In the first act, apart
from a couple of lifts, we dance side by side. The only point at
which we touch is the adagio in the second act. There is not a
single supported pirouette in the entire ballet. As the timing and
the acting are so important in such interwoven dances, our part-
1 94 ALICIA MARKOVA
nersMp in this ballet might be summed up as "all timing and no
Few of the audience realize that the first-act variation never
existed in the Carlotta Grisi version of Giselle. It was interpolated
by Spessiva, as a prima donna might introduce a favorite song
into the Music Lesson scene of The Barber of Seville. Spessiva
was so fond of this variation, which she danced to a manuscript
piece of music, that she always included it, and now it has be-
come part and parcel of the ballet. I always enjoy dancing it as
an act of homage to the greatest Giselle I ever hope to see.
Newspaper people often ask me if I get tired of dancing Giselle
year after year. I can honestly say that I have never faced a single
performance without a feeling of happy anticipation.
The secret lies in the fact that the part calls for interpretation.
It is so much more than a succession of intricate ballet mechanics
that it comes up as a fresh problem every time I dance it. The
tempo can vary at every performance, according to my mood,
and so to me the ballet remains as fresh as ever, after hundreds
of repetitions. I never take it for granted and therefore the magic
of Giselle is always there, as well as that glowing feeling of hav-
ing really accomplished something worth while as the curtain
I hope this very-long-letter-for-me will give you some idea of
my regard for my favorite parL
Poor Tutu has just walked in from the bathroom, looking the
picture of dejection, and sopping wet. I cannot think what has
happened, but I must go at once and put him under my hair
dryer or he will die of pneumonia.
I am feeling much better.
All my love to you,
The token of appreciation which Alicia received from
Lilian Baylis after her first Giselle triumph is typical of the
woman who rebuilt Sadler's Wells without a penny in the
SADLER'S WELLS 195
bank. Alicia had been Invited to dance at the Albert Hall in
a lavish production of Elijah, with Albert Goates conducting.
At the Court of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, Alicia was
to dance a solo to Mendelssohn's Spring Song. Naturally, she
had to ask Miss Baylis for permission to accept the engage-
ment. Two days after her historic opening performance as
Giselle, she received a characteristic Baylis letter.
THE OLD VIC,
3- * 34.
I have spoken to Ninette and understand that it will still be
possible for you to dance in our ballets on February igth and
20th, if you accept the Albert Hall engagement, so we will gladly
give you permission to do so, and know that you will see that
they give us as much publicity as possible in connection with
your appearance with them.
I loved your work on Monday. It made me very proud and
happy, and I am sure that you, too, were pleased. I am glad that
the press was so goodyou deserved every word they said.
Yours very sincerely,
Four weeks after Giselle, Alicia tackled her second major
creation for the Vic-Wells Ballet when Casse Noisette was
produced by Sergueff for the first time in its entirety outside
Russia. Alicia danced the Sugar Plum Fairy with Stanley Jud-
son as the Prince. Elsa Lanchester was seen in the Danse
Arabe; Robert Helpmann and Travis Kemp in the Danse
Chinois; Ursula Moreton and Antony Tudor in the Spanish
Dance; and Molly Brown danced the little child Clara, the
ig6 ALICIA MARKOVA
part which Lopokova danced on her debut in St. Petersburg
at the age of eleven.
The Lord Mayor of London lent his Boy Pipers to play
the Twelve Mice, and the Royal College of Music dug the
full score out of their archives and placed it at the disposal
of the company.
It was a grand example of teamwork, and the result was
another popular triumph for the Vic-Wells.
Concerning Alicia, Miss Manchester has written of that
production: "To most of us [Markova] was, is, and always
will be the one and only Sugar Plum Fairy. She was brittle
and sparkling, like the frosted icing on a Christmas cake.
There was a crystalline purity in every movement, and she
made the beautiful adagio an unforgettable experience."
It was on the occasion of this production that Alicia was
paid what she considers the greatest compliment of her career.
Doris was sitting next to a little boy who turned to his mother
when Alicia made her entrance as the Sugar Plum Fairy and
cried: "Oh, Mummie, can I have her for my Christmas tree
next year?" She had captured the child's heart, which is what
the Sugar Plum Fairy should do.
The Sugar Plum Fairy, who reigns over the Kingdom of
Sweets, commands a performance for Clara and dances for
her pleasure. Despite her unreality, she has a kind and gra-
cious nature, and her dancing should have the same glittering
quality as sugar icing. She sets out to give the child happiness,
to show her a veritable load of make-believe.
Robert Helpmann created his first major role on April 3,
1934, when the Vic-Wells Company presented The Haunted
Ballroom. As the Master of Treginnis, doomed to dance to
SADLER'S WELLS 197
death with the ghosts that haunt his own picture gallery, he
gave a magnificent performance. Music by Geoffrey Toye,
choreography by Ninette de Valois, decor by Motley, and
highly imaginative lighting all contrived to make this Grand
Guignol ballet a perfect piece of theater. It was another
triumph of teamwork, with Alicia moving silently and swiftly
about the stage, almost as transparent as her ghostly draperies.
In May Lilian Baylis began to think about the autumn
season, and hearing that Alicia was anxious to remain, in
order to dance in the full-length Lac des Cygnes, she wrote:
THE OLD VIC,
Dear Alicia Markova,
I am so happy that you want to return to us next season, and
I hope you will feel that you can do so for the weekly salary of
"12.0.0, with, an additional fiver to cover extra performances in
The matinee on the Saturday in April was sa successful that
we want to experiment with one a month for the early part of
next season. I hope that they will do well I think they ought to.
It is such a happiness to me to have you with us, and I know
that Ninette too rejoices not only in your lovely work, but in the
help you give her generally. Thank you so much for it all.
Your sincere friend and manager,
Alicia, despite her meek and mild nature, felt that she
was worth more than 12, as her every appearance packed
the theater and roused the audience to cheering enthusiasm
at curtain fall. She held out for more money and indicated,
108 ALICIA MAHKOVA
by way of polite blackmail, that she would have to leave the
company if nothing could be done about it.
Lilian Baylis was far too good a businesswoman to let so
magnificent a box-office attraction walk out of her theater;
she raised Alicia's salary to the princely sum of 15. Her
THE OLD VIC,
16. 5. 34.
Dear Alicia Markova,
Thank you for your letter.
We just feel that we would hate to lose you, and that your
presence in the company, and your general willingness to help
in all sorts of ways is invaluable, so we will make your weekly
salary 15.0.0 (Fifteen pounds) with 5.0.0. for any extra per-
Will you let us have your acceptance of next season's work on
these terms as soon as you can?
I am so glad that you feel you want to stay with us.
The autumn season of 1934 opened with a revival of The
Haunted Ballroom, when a young member of the corps de
ballet named Margot Fontes danced the child part of young
Treginnis. After Alicia's departure, she was to climb slowly
but steadily to the position of prima ballerina and be a
world celebrity under the name of Margot Fonteyn.
Lac des Cygnes was to be Alicia's last major creation for
the Vic-Wells Ballet. It was staged on November 20, 1934. It
had been last seen in London in its entirety in 1910, the year
SADLER'S WELLS 199
of Alicia's birth, when Preobrajenska had danced Odette and
Odile at the London Hippodrome.
Sergueff was in attendance again wtih his precious note-
book in which he had jotted down every step and movement
of the Maryinsky production. As on so many of the red-letter
nights in Alicia's career, a thick fog blanketed both London
and the suburbs, but most of her enthusiasts managed to get
to the theater to see this culminating triumph of her two
years at the Wells.
They had long admired the lyrical tenderness of her
Odette, when the second act of the ballet had been presented
alone, but now they were amazed by the cold, cruel glitter of
her acting and dancing of Odile in the famous Ballroom
Scene. She was handsomely partnered by Robert Helpmann,
with William Chappell as Benno, Into whose arms, one critic
said, she fell as beautifully as a flower swaying in the wind.
The Daily Telegraph rewarded Alicia with one of her most
enviable bouquets by saying: "Last night the role of the Swan
Queen was danced with surpassing grace and beauty by Mar-
kova. It is to be doubted if it has ever been done more per-
fectly. Here, indeed, was a legendary creature of another
world not subject to the burdensome physical laws of earth/*
As with Giselle, Alicia has very definite ideas about the
manner in which Odette and Odile, the twin roles of this bal-
let, should be danced.
"In Giselle, the acting and the dancing technique go side
by side," she explains, "but in Lac des Cygnes the dancing
rather dominates the characterization.
"That does not mean that Odette cannot be made into a
convincing Swan Princess, despite her enchantment. The bal-
200 ALICIA MARKOVA
lerina must realize that when she makes her first entrance
in the White Act of Lac des Cygnes as Odette, she is still
half-bird and half-princess. It is the hour when she may re-
sume her human form, under the terms laid down by the
evil Von Rothbart, who transforms her into a swan by day
and allows her to become human at night. It is important to
remember that Odette was a swan on the enchanted lake a
split second before her first entrance. Her preening move-
ments as she comes on the stage suggest that she is still almost
a bird. Her transformation is not complete.
"When she regains her human form I cannot imagine why
so many ballerinas dance the part like tragedy queens. Odette
is happy, with the entire night before her. She has several
hours of leisure before she is transported back to the lake in
the guise of a swan. Not being accustomed to seeing human
beings in her quiet retreat, she is naturally on her guard and
begs that her life may be spared.
"In the Ballroom Scene, as Odile, the evil Von Rothbart 's
daughter who is masquerading as Odette, the ballerina must
avoid heavy, dramatic acting if she is to put on a convincing
performance. If the Prince is to be fooled and mistake Odile
for Odette, then they must surely resemble each other. The
Prince, who was attracted by the gentle, lyrical Odette, will
not be deceived by Odile if she looks unlike his Swan Prin-
cess. Odile must dance with him, more or less as Odette
danced with him on the lakeside. There should be only a flash
of evil visible when she is near Von Rothbart. She is there
to charm the entire Court, and the hardness of her character
must be expressed by the dancing and not by behavior which
destroys the subtle characterization of the legend."
SADLER S WELLS SOI
By this time Alicia had put British Ballet well and truly on
the map in London. Nothing could give a better picture of
her position than a few lines of editorial matter which ap-
peared in the London Evening News on March 27, 1935-
WILD ENTHUSIASM FOR MARKOVA
BALLET THAT WOULD MAKE A FOREIGNER GASP
If you want to see a packed theater and an audience beside it-
self, go to Sadler's Wells on any ballet night, especially a night on
which the prima ballerina is Alicia Markova. Last night was typi-
cal. Markova had been on the stage for only a minute or two,
dancing with Harold Turner in the Blue Bird, when the audi-
ence went mad. They had good reason. There may be, and there
may have been, better dancers than Markova, but I for one don't
Alicia had obviously proved that ballet was acceptable to
the masses, and Lilian Baylls must have been rather pleased
at having had the good sense to give her that extra 5 a week
In order to keep her at the Wells. She could easily manage to
pay her prima ballerina that fantastic salary of 15 a week
out of the house receipts. Less than four years previously
Ninette de Valois had nervously but courageously staged her
first ballet program, In which I took part, at the Old Vic.
Now, thanks largely to Markova's magic, ballet nights meant
It was a wonderful achievement to have staged full-length
versions of Giselle ^ Casse Noisette,, and Lac des Gygnes, and to
be able to claim them all as box-office winners.
The Vic-Wells still held their own, even when Colonel de
Basil staged spectacular ballet seasons every year at Covent
202 ALICIA MARKOVA
Garden with Danilova, Baronova, Riabouchinska, Tou-
manova, Massine, and Lichlne In the company. Markova still
drew her admirers to Sadler's Wells, where there was no fall-
ing off in the box-office receipts. British Ballet had taken root,
and was determined to flourish.
The success of the Vic-Wells Ballet and Markova was be-
ginning to reach the West End of London. Vivian van Damm,
manager of the Windmill Theatre, was persuaded by Alicia's
sister Doris to pay a visit and see Alicia and the company
dance. A full house and tumultuous enthusiasm met his eyes
and ears and he realized that here were possibilities of which
advantage could be taken.
The outcome of Vivian van Damm's interest in the ballet
was an agreement to tour the Vic- Wells Ballet during the
summer of 1935. A short season was scheduled at the Wells
during the latter half of May, under the auspices of Vivian
van Damm, Mrs. Laura Henderson, and Alicia.
Lilian Baylis was only too happy for the tour to be ar-
ranged In association with her, as long as she was not ex-
pected to furnish any money. Mrs. Henderson had to finance
the expense of taking a company of forty-five dancers on the
road, with Constant Lambert as the conductor. The company
was the greatest triumph to date for British Ballet, as every
member was British-born. In addition to Alicia and myself,
the principal artistes were Ninette de Valois, Ursula Moreton,
Beatrice Appleyard, Harold Turner, Walter Gore, and Wil-
History was made during the farewell season at the Wells
by staging the first all-British ballet The Rake's Progress.
This ballet, with music by Gavin Gordon, choreography
by Ninette de Valois, and d<cor by Rex Whistler, depicts
SADLER'S WELLS 203
the road to ruin In balletic terms and was inspired by the
Hogarth drawings In the Soane Museum in Lincoln's Inn
Fields. It was essentially British in style and atmosphere,
danced by an all-British cast, with Alicia as the Betrayed Girl,
Walter Gore as the Rake, Harold Turner as the Dancing
Master, and Ursula Moreton as the Lewd Dancer In the
No ballet was a more complete product o the Vic-Wells
organization, as the dresses were made In the workroom, and
the miniature fiddle used by the Dancing Master was dis-
covered In the nearby Caledonian Market, after a search of
the leading West End music shops had failed.
Ninette's choreography translated Hogarth's pictures into
movement. She was not afraid of the painter's realism or
the truths about the town life of the period as lived outside
the fashionable houses. No attempt was made to refine the
horrors, and It was obvious from the first performance that
this low-life romp would become a classic of British Ballet.
For a prima ballerina, Alicia accepted a very small part as
the Betrayed Girl. Her chief dance was executed on a narrow
strip of stage in front of the act drop, but she brought im-
peccable virtuosity and a wonderful sense of character to the
part. The pathos of the last scene, wherein she visits the In-
habitants of Bedlam, was something to haunt the memory.
After seeing It, Herbert Farjeon said that Alicia was the
greatest dancer of our time. The Daily Sketch seemed a little
anxious about Alicia's physique when the critic wrote: "Mar-
kova, as the Betrayed Girl, was her exquisite self a delight-
but one wishes for her art's sake that she would eat a dozen
steaks a day."
Ninette de Valois came Into her own as a choreographer,
ALICIA MARKOV A
for she proved then that British Ballet was really worth watch-
ing and something to write about abroad.
The night of June ist marked the end of this short but
dazzling season; it also marked Alicia's last night at the Wells.
She was now going out into the world to conquer larger
fields after proving that she could more than hold her own
with foreign ballerinas in the great classic roles, and after
demonstrating beyond all doubt that there were audiences
for ballet in London. She had watched them grow in num-
bers from 500 to 2,000 a performance. Her faith had been
Her bank balance may not have increased to any consider-
able degree, but she had gained infinite satisfaction from
watching young dancers improve from week to week until
the company had become a team of which she could be proud.
In the beginning there was no time to wait for dancers to at-
tain anything like perfection before they were seen by the
public, and in many cases they were cast as soloists while still
working hard to improve their technique.
That remarkable reign of Alicia's as prima ballerina as-
soluta at the Wells, from the autumn of 1933 to the May of
1935, had been well worth while. A house packed to suffoca-
tion was to thank her on that glorious June ist. They shouted
for a curtain speech, and for the first time Alicia spoke from
the stage. With a nervous smile on her lips, she said quite
simply, "Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."
About four hundred people were standing that night, and
the air was charged with an excitement that had to be ex-
perienced to be understood. Alicia received a mountain of
flowers, ranging from gigantic gilt baskets of roses to simple
SADLER'S WELLS 205
little bunches of violets from her devoted gallery admirers.
She had to hire three taxis to take them home.
I joined the company during their second week at the
Wells, and then It was decided to give eight special perform-
ances at the Shaftesbury Theatre In the West End before
opening the tour at Blackpool on the following Whit Mon-
When we moved on to Blackpool for this first Vic-Wells
tour of the provinces we took a company of fifty, with an
orchestra of forty. Our repertoire Included Giselle, Lac des
Cygnes, Casse Noisette (Act III), Les Sylphides, The
Haunted Ballroom, Job, The Jar, Les Rendezvous, Spectre
de la Rose, and Blue Bird.
Now that the company was dancing every night of the
week, Instead of giving only a couple of performances, as had
been the custom at the Wells, Alicia naturally could not take
all the leading parts every night, so other dancers were given
a chance; one of these was fifteen-year-old Margot Fonteyn,
who danced Alicia's part in The Haunted Ballroom from
time to time. She had already been taking a great Interest In
this girl, and I remember them dancing together In The Lord
of Burleigh earlier In the year.
The house gave Margot a warm reception and, as the cur-
tain rose and fell It was Alicia who whispered hurried instruc-
tions to her on how she should take her call.
This first Vic-Wells tour was the most Important ballet
event In the provinces since the death of DIaghlleff. Our con-
tact with out-of-town audiences left the local critics quite at
a loss for words. They had never seen any stage performance
to compare with such well-danced ballet, and they were be-
206 ALICIA MARKOVA
wildered when they sat down to tell their readers about it.
One critic wrote: "Markova she is moonlight on a rip-
pling stream, she is the wind stirring the pine trees, ruffling
the golden tops of the corn, she is thistledown blown from the
lips of a child. Or, if you like this metaphor better, she makes
the average tap dancer look like a centipede with sore feet."
It was the same everywhere. In Glasgow Alicia and I had to
write a letter of thanks to the press to convey our gratitude
to the people of that city. In Manchester there were frenzied
scenes such as had never previously been witnessed at the
Opera House while wave after wave of applause was accom-
panied by stamping and cheering. The press said that one
had only to see the audience greeting Markova, as the curtain
fell, to realize that the age of miracles was still with us.
It was at this time that the Manchester Guardian wrote
about Giselle: "It is not necessary to say that Markova is a
dancer of very great genius, and yet the scene in which she
realizes, as the program charmingly phrases it, that *she has
bestowed the fullness of her virgin love on one who can never
be hers/ and goes quietly and convincingly mad, owes less
to her dancing than to her acting. Markova, one thinks, could
be a great Ophelia, without a movement of her body. And
yet it is precisely because she made her body reproduce a life-
less travesty of the dance she had so bewitchingly executed
with her lover ten minutes before that she achieved her
Success was not confined to the provinces. The British com-
pany were beginning to hold their own with the visiting bal-
lets from abroad. When the De Basil Company gave their
London season that summer, Riabouchinska and Guerard
SADLER'S WELLS 207
in the Blue Bird pas de deux were compared with Markova
and Harold Turner. The British dancers were definitely bet-
ter. So we were catching up. It was something to know that
this progress was receiving public recognition.
Encouraged by the financial success of the Vic-Wells tour,
the overwhelming enthusiasm for ballet in the provinces, and
the promise of financial support from Mrs. Laura Henderson
and Vivian van Damm, we thought seriously of forming our
own company in the autumn. Britain was obviously becom-
ing ballet-minded and we saw no reason why we should not
take advantage of the pioneering seeds we had already sown.
Ninette de Valois was perhaps sorry to lose us, particularly
Alicia; she probably wondered how Sadler's Wells would get
on without Alicia to guarantee a full house at each perform-
ance, but she was generous enough to express a certain satis-
faction at realizing that there was now sufficient response in
Britain to support two ballet companies. Five years previously
there had been no British Ballet at all. Ninette had trained
six girls to make some sort of show in the opera ballets. From
this humble beginning the Vic-Wells had grown into an en-
terprise running regular ballet performances in London for
eight months of the year.
At one moment it looked as though we would both return
to the Vic-Wells Ballet for another year as full-time artistes
of the company. They needed Alicia and they needed me, as
Robert Helpmann had accepted an engagement in a revue
at the Adelphi Theatre. This revue, however, had not turned
out to be the success for which he had hoped, and Bobby was
quite willing to return to the fold from which he had strayed
for a brief moment.
208 ALICIA MARKOV A
As Ninette allowed Helpmann to return to the company,
she did not need me but she did want Alicia. However, Alicia
and I had a gentleman's agreement with Laura Henderson
and Vivian van Damm that we would remain together, either
with the Vic- Wells Company, where we expected to dance for
at least a year or, failing that, in a company of our own.
And so the Markova-Dolin Ballet came into existence.
THE MARKOVA-DOLIN BALLET
^*>*iX&*3?4>**> e S*>^<g> : +^
THERE was a great deal of excitement that autumn of
as Alicia and I worked together on the formation of the
Markova-Dolin Ballet Company, which was to be our sole
interest for the next two years.
We recruited forty dancers, who were all British artistes
of considerable promise. Apart from ourselves, the soloists
included Wendy Toye, Prudence Hyman, Molly Lake, Kath-
leen Crofton, Beatrice Appleyard, Diana Gould (now Mrs.
Yehudi Menuhin), Algeranoff, Frederick Franklin, Travis
Kemp, Guy Massey, and Keith Lester. Our musical director
was Leighton Lucas.
The repertoire, of which a new company might well be
proud, included three fine new works 'JDat/td, a Biblical bal-
let written for me by Poppoea Vanda, with a much-discussed
act drop designed by the famous Jacob Epstein; Aucassin and
210 ALICIA MARKOVA
Nicolette> the first ballet ever created for Alicia and me, with
choreography by Wendy Toye, music by Josef Holbrooke,
and dcor by Motley; and Show Folk, a burlesque of the
circus by Susan Salaman with story and decor to some of Of-
fenbach's gayest melodies.
These were our favorite new creations, and they were
backed by a good solid selection from the classics and some
attractive divertissements. The classics included Giselle, Lac
des Gygnes, Les Sylphides, Carnaval, Casse Noisette, Hun-
garia,, The Nightingale and the Rose. The divertissements
were Espagnol, Rose Adagio, Bolero, Water Lily, Pas de
Quatre, Hymn to the Sun, and The Blue Danube. Later,
when Nijinska joined the company as our ballet mistress, she
revived for us her two famous ballets, The House Party and
The Beloved One.
We opened at Newcastle on November 11, 1935, with
David as the eagerly awaited new offering, Carnaval and
Casse Noisette completing the triple bill. It is a great pity
that Epstein's powerful act drop which he painted himself,
was his first and only work for the theater, as his bold style
is admirably suited to the medium of theatrical decor.
The Newcastle opening was a heartening experience. Alicia
won a tremendous ovation. The critics went into raptures
over her elfin grace and said that not since the death of
Pavlova had the city seen ballet in its true and colorful
In Nottingham the house was sold out night after night.
We staged the premiere of Aucassin and Nicolette, a
thirteenth-century troubadour's tale, in Liverpool. Eighteen-
year-old Wendy Toye choreographed the ballet after read-
THE MARKOVA-DOLIN BALLET 211
Ing a translation she had picked up in a secondhand book-
shop in the Charing Cross Road. Motley, who created the
scenery and costumes in exquisite pastel shades, was obviously
inspired by Proissart's Chronicles and the Bayeux Tapestry.
The ballet remained one of the most popular items in our
repertoire throughout our company's existence. It was a
simple love story, delicately expressed and enchantingly
At the end of 1936 Vivian van Damm and Mrs. Laura
Henderson took the Duke of York's Theatre for a year, with
the idea of making it a center of British Ballet. We staged a
Christmas season, with an opening bill consisting of Show
Folk; Lac des Cygnes, and Casse Noisette. The press hailed
the standard of the company as the finest attained by any
British ballet to date. London audiences were very proud of
Alicia. She was British. They had seen her grow up, artisti-
cally, since her student days. Other fine dancers had come to
London ready-made, but in Alicia's case they had watched
her striving for perfection and eventually attaining it. She
never seemed stale, but somehow managed to recapture the
emotion at each and every performance.
The Spectator paid a tribute to Alicia at this time which
is worth quoting:
"As a dancer, Miss Markova approaches nearer to the thistle-
down lightness of Pavlova than any other I have seen. She does
not quite achieve that appearance of magic detachment from the
earth which made you wonder by what effort of will Pavlova
forced her toe to touch the boards at all. But her exquisite per-
formance in Les Sylphides was a good approximation to that
ethereal defiance of the laws of gravity/*
212 ALICIA MARKOVA
After the Christinas season at the Duke of York's Theatre
we left London and spent practically the whole of 1936 tour-
ing the provinces, taking ballet to towns where in many cases
it had not been seen for years. We tried to prove that ballet
could be an entertainment that everyone could understand
and appreciate. We aimed at building up a new ballet tradi-
tion with an all-British company possessing a style and in-
dividuality of its own. Our programs were designed to give
every possible scope to native dancing and talent, and to ap-
peal more widely to the British public than would be pos-
sible with some of the works in the Russian repertoire. We
avoided anything eccentric, obscure, or ultra-modem, concen-
trating mainly on the romantic and poetical type of ballet
with a good story and plenty of action, easy to follow and like.
We made an instant appeal to the man in the street with the
poetry and pathos of Swan Lake and the dramatic action and
glowing pictorial beauty of David.
I felt that our audiences took a certain pride in the fact
that we were an all-British company. For once native dancers
had not been allowed to languish unappreciated and un-
known, but were applauded as much as, if not more than,
It was not easy transporting the 1,600 costumes of the
Markova-Dolin Ballet round the country. A special pantech-
niconit became known as the "Markova-Dolin Noah's Ark"
-was built to accommodate the costumes, which slid on hang-
ing stands into this gigantic wardrobe. There was less chance
of their creasing when transported in this manner. They
were under the direction of St. John Roper, who prided him-
THE MARKOVA-IX>LIN BALLET
self on the freshness of the dresses which never had that tired
look so often evident in a theatrical show that has been on
the road for a year or more.
We kept a keen eye on our costumes because we wanted
to attract people to the theater who were not already balleto-
manes. We knew that ballet lovers would come in any case,
but unless our ballets were well-dressed, we could not ex-
pect theatergoers, long used to lavish musical productions,
to appreciate them.
The recognition of our work was not confined to the pub-
lic. There was one occasion when Alicia and I were the guests
of the O. P. Club with Madame (now Dame) Adeline Genee
in the chair. The dinner was given in recognition of our
services to ballet in London and in the provinces.
Madame Genee recalled how, in her heyday, she had asked
the management at the Empire for a danseur to partner her,
instead of the danseuse en travesti, which was the custom in
Britain at the turn of the century. She was refused because
it was declared that the British public considered male danc-
ers effeminate. We had advanced beyond that stage. It was
now possible for young men in Britain to learn to dance with-
out fear of being criticized.
I remember thanking Laura Henderson on that occasion
for giving fifty British artistes guaranteed work for a year on
salaries that permitted them to save and continue their
studies. She gave British dancers something to work for, apart
from music halls and the Russian Ballet companies. By mak-
ing their lives less precarious she gave them a peace of mind
never before enjoyed, and the result was soon apparent in the
improved quality of their work.
214 ALICIA MARKOVA
The ballet boom was at its height in June 1936 when three
companies were all flourishing in London at the same time.
De Basil was at Covent Garden, Fokine had a company at
the Alhambra, and the Markova-Dolin Ballet were at Streat-
ham Hill. The three companies danced eighty-one ballets in
London during the same week, yet all three theaters were
playing to capacity. In the provinces we were still meeting
with unparalleled enthusiasm. I remember an audience in
Nottingham rising to their feet and cheering, almost as if the
incident had been rehearsed. This was audible evidence that
the enterprise was proving worth while.
The provincial newspapers also reflected the excitement. A
glance at the headlines from the press cuttings of the period
reveals such tributes as: "Audience Spellbound by Ballet"
"The Enchanted Hour"-"Markova's Genius"-~"Markova
the Wonderful" "Ballet Inspires Audience" "Ballet's
Magic Spell" "Ballet at Its Best" "The New Charm of Bal-
let" "Markova's Triumph" "Markova's Magic."
In Glasgow they said that our company was reminiscent of
Diaghileff 's Ballet at its best. The Daily Express wrote: "The
ethereal beauty of Markova's movements at times held her
audience too spellbound to applaud, but they made up for it
later. I lost count of the number of curtains taken at the end
of the program."
Slowly but surely we had begun to make the public realize
that ballet was not necessarily associated with a Taglioni bal-
let skirt, but was a form of entertainment that interpreted
every mood and catered to every taste. Far from it being high-
brow and above the head of the ordinary man and woman,
we proved that it could be a richly varied entertainment com-
THE MARKOVA-0OLIN BALLET 215
blning brilliant characterization with elaborate spectacle,
melodious music, and even light comedy.
As we could not rent a London theater during the Christ-
mas season of 1936, the company were forced to take a holiday
for a few weeks.
Alicia and I accepted an engagement to dance at the Lon-
don Hippodrome in Mother Goose, a pantomime, in which
Florence Desmond played Principal Boy and George Lacy
was The Dame. We had lots of fun in that pantomime, and
no one seemed to enjoy it more than Alicia. She very seldom
watched other artists' performances, especially during the
show in which she herself was appearing. But this was a com-
plete change, I can still see her in the wings at the Hippo-
drome laughing loudly and unrestrainedly at George Lacy's
antics while he wobbled about on his toes in his burlesque
That engagement was very good for Alicia, and acted on
her like a tonic.
After two weeks' rest we rejoined our company for a short
spring season at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith. Broni-
slava Nijinska had been persuaded by us to join our com-
pany as maitresse de ballet, and to revive two of her great
ballets, The House Party and The Beloved One. Both re-
vivals were a great success for Alicia. In The House Party
she danced the famous role that had been created by Vera
Nemchinova. Her slim little body in its blue, tight-fitting
boyish costume made a lovely contrast to the frilly shining
tutus that Manya always made for her. The Beloved One
also gave her a role equally suited to her.
Nijinska created for us two of the loveliest pas de deux
2l6 ALICIA MARKOVA
she ever composed. Alicia loved the ballets, and it was very
good to have such an authoritative person in charge as Broni-
slava who was able to take some of the responsibilities off
We gave our season of ballet at the King's Theatre during
the Coronation celebrations of His late Majesty, King George
VI. The Markova-Dolin Ballet was fast becoming an artistic
enterprise and one to be reckoned with. Although there was
a bus strike in London at the time of the Coronation, it made
no difference to the size of our houses. People walked for
miles, and seemed to enjoy the ballets all the more because of
the effort they made to see them.
Then, suddenly, tragedy was upon us.
Ten days before our ballet season was to end in London
Alicia hurt her foot. It was during the last minutes of Giselle.
Suddenly, as I was about to lift her, following the support I
had been giving her in a series of hops in arabesque, she
gasped. "Patte, my foot. It's gone." She carried bravely on in
great pain. No one realized what had happened.
The evening ended with a divertissement in which Alicia
and I were appearing in the last moments of the Finale. She
put on her costume but could barely walk, let alone dance,
the few steps that were required for our entrance, so I carried
her on my shoulders and waltzed around the stage, filling in
the bars of the music. She smiled, used her lovely arms and
hands, dancing with them.
I placed her carefully down beside me as we took our
curtain calls. The injury to her foot had also jarred her spine.
Synovitis symptoms appeared. She was told by her doctor
that she must not dance again for some weeks.
THE MARKOVA-DOLIN BALLET
In a panic we wired to Paris, and Vera Nemchinova came
over by plane, being granted a Labour permit by the Home
Office at very short notice.
She saved the situation for us by dancing her original role
in The House Party and by taking over Alicia's parts in Gf-
selle, Lac des Cygnes y and The Nightingale and the Rose.
Alicia's foot healed during the summer vacation, and she
was able to rejoin the company when we opened our provin-
cial tour at the end of the Hammersmith engagement.
This tour proved to be the last undertaken by the Markova-
Dolin Company. The curtain fell for the last time at the
Theatre Royal, Birmingham, in December 1937, just more
than two years after that memorable first night of David in
Laura Henderson, who had spent 25,000 on the company,
felt that she would have to tighten the pursestrings, so It
meant disbanding the company. This does not mean that
Mrs. Henderson lost 25,000. She still had the costumes, the
scenery, and the performing rights of our extensive reper-
toire which she presented to me, having such faith in the
capabilities and in the future of ballet in Britain.
The theatergoers of the provinces owe Laura Henderson
a great debt for the pioneering work she undertook during
those early days of British Ballet with the twenty-two works
she financed for the Markova-Dolin Ballet. We opened up
the road for others who have since triumphed on the same
circuit. Now it is possible to take a super-cinema holding
4,000 people and, with the presentation of good ballet, sell
out every night for a week. Laura Henderson is largely re-
sponsible for this. Her courage and sporting spirit made our
2l8 ALICIA MARKOVA
early work possible, though we did not reap the harvest we
had hoped for. The expenses incurred in running a full-
scale ballet company in those days were even heavier than we
Alicia, however, was very much happier at the end of the
two years than she had ever been before. She had enhanced
her reputation and, like the rest of the company, she was all
the better for dancing every night, instead of appearing only
a couple of nights a week. Her name now meant something
to the general theatergoers of the big provincial cities; her
fame was not only confined to the habitues of Sadler's Wells.
When we first went on tour with the Vic- Wells Company
I was amazed to discover how little Alicia's name meant even
in a city such as Glasgow. As I was dressing to go on the stage
for the opening performance at the Alhambra, the manager
came into my room. He knew me because I had appeared
in his theater with Eleanor Smith's Ballerina and Jack Bu-
chanan's Stand Up and Sing. "Who is this Markova?" he
asked me. "Is she good? What part of Russia does she come
Alicia, of course, had to give only one performance in the
theater to leave an unforgettable impression upon the audi-
ence and to become the topic of excited conversation through-
out Glasgow the next day.
Financially, she was better off than she had ever been, as
both she and I received a salary of 40 a week. We had to
live in hotels, of course, and keep up a certain standard of
living an appearance, but Alicia was as clever as ever at dress-
ing beautifully on a mere pittance.
At the end of the Markova-Dolin Ballet Markova signed
with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
Two years with the Markova-Dolln Ballet meant that audi-
ences In London and all over Great Britain saw Alicia and me
continuously together as dancing partners. Neither was seen
without the other, and so we became associated in the minds
of the public. One cannot think of Romeo without calling
Juliet to mind. The mention of Tristan instantly conjures up
Ours was the longest of all ballet partnerships, even out-
stripping that of Karsavina and Nijinsky, but after the dis-
solution of the Markova-Dolin Ballet our ways parted for a
while. Then we were reunited in America during World
War II when Alicia joined me in Ballet Theatre with the
idea of renewing our partnership and appearing in Giselle
with me again.
We did not dance together continuously when Alicia first
22O ALICIA MARKOVA
joined Ballet Theatre, as I was partnering Baronova in a
number of ballets while Alicia was dancing a good deal with
George Skibine and Hugh Laing. But when Baronova left
Ballet Theatre in 1944, Alicia took over her roles in addition
to her own, and since that time we have danced together con-
tinuously, and almost exclusively, either with ballet com-
panies or in our own dance recitals practically all over the
Though Alicia's name has been so closely linked with
mine, I suppose she has danced in her time with more part-
ners than any other top-ranking ballerina. In the Diaghileff
Company, she danced with Nicolas Efimov, Constantine
Tcherkas, Serge Lifar, and Stanislas Idzikowsky. In the Bal-
let Club performances, when she returned to London, she
was partnered by Frederic Ashton, Rupert Doone, William
Chappell, Walter Gore, and Stanley Judson. Harold Turner
was her partner in A Kiss in Spring.
While she was at Sadler's Wells, Robert Helpmann had his
first experience of partnering with her in The Haunted Ball-
room. Apart from dancing with me in the Markova-Dolin
Ballet, she was Frederick Franklin's partner when he danced
his first leading roles, taking over from me Aucassin in Au-
cassin and Nicolette and sometimes the Blue Bird pas de
When Alicia joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo
under the artistic direction of Massine, she appeared with
Lifar and Franklin again, as well as with Michel Panaieff,
Roland Guerard, Marc Platoff, Igor Yousekevich, and Andr
Apart from our own close association in Ballet Theatre,
Alicia danced with George Skibine, who gained his first
chance of partnering her by appearing with her in Bluebeard,
Les Sylphides, and Aleko. Hugh Lalng was her Romeo, and
Massine took over my part in Aleko when I was 111 in Chi-
cago. John Kiiza also partnered Alicia on a number of oc-
casions. In America, with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo,
she was partnered by Igor Yousekevlch In Rouge et Noir. In
other ballets her partners were Oleg Tupine, Luis Trapaga,
George Zoritch, and Leon Daniellan.
In view of the unique length of our own partnership, It
is astonishing to observe so many other dancing partners in
the record of Alicia's career.
When I sit down and count my blessings I give a rather
special thought to the stroke of good fortune that guided
Alicia across my path and linked us together as dancing part-
ners. We were so well suited from a physical appearance point
of view; also we were pleasing to look at when dancing to-
gether in a pas de deux.
I think that the danseur should have a more mature quality
to enable him to show off the danseuse to better advantage.
He must stand firmly on his two feet In readiness to support
her when she Is on one pointe, and therefore he should never
appear slimmer or younger than the ballerina. Alicia and I
each looked our best when we were seen together, as our
weight and stature were so admirably balanced. Alicia must
always choose her partner with care. Beside the more robust
Andre Eglevsky she looked so like a wraith that the audience
who should have been admiring the beauty of her work
were too often concerned about her delicate appearance.
The success of our partnership was due just as much to
222 ALICIA MARKOVA
our mental outlook as to our dancing technique. On the
stage we had a similar mental approach to our work, but
away from the theater no two people could be more dissimi-
lar. While Alicia took her relaxation quietly at home, I pre-
ferred to mix with people in as many different walks of life
as possible and, according to Alicia, "doing all the things a
dancer should not do/' such as smoking to excess and attend-
ing too many late-night parties. As it was, we were both
tolerant of each other. I should have been bored if I had
lazed about as much as she did in her leisure hours, and she
would have been worn out if she had attempted to keep pace
with my social life.
I like theater people and Alicia undoubtedly enjoyed
meeting them through me. I introduced her to Beatrice Lil-
lie, Constance Collier, and Ethel Barrymore.
More than one critic hailed our partnership as perfect. I
think the secret lay in the fact that we were both so aware of
each other during every moment we were on the stage. Our
strength lay in our union. We were constantly concerned
about each other and interested in each other. I was con-
scious that Alicia was watching me to see what was happening,
and she knew that I always had my eye on her. We were both
working for the same end, and therefore there was never any
suggestion of rivalry or jealousy in our artistic relationship.
Such jealousy was a failing of the peerless Pavlova. She
frequently changed her partner. Mordkin, Volinine, Novi-
koff, and Vladimiroff all had their reign; so did Nijinsky.
She is said to have danced with Nijinsky only once. The bal-
let was Giselle, and he was so phenomenally successful in the
second act, when their chances were more or less equal, that
Pavlova refused to appear on the same stage with him again.
It was left to Karsavina to complete the historic partnership
and to leave an unforgettable record of their association.
I enjoyed so much presenting Alicia In an adagio that we
have been told that we gave the Impression of two people In
love. We were certainly both In love with the same art, and to
me, when dancing with her on the stage, no other woman
mattered, or could matter, in my life. That was what I tried
to convey to the audience, and it Is something which should
be the proud privilege of anyone who has the honor of danc-
ing with Markova.
Alicia and I have danced the same classic pas de deux
hundreds of times, and yet every time I made my entrance In
Casse Noisette or Les Sylphides I felt that I was about to
partner her for the very first time. The classics never grow
wearisome because they are capable of such different Inter-
pretations. Alicia's performances of the same role were apt
to vary. For instance, she might alter the speed of a pirouette,
which brought a new excitement to the dance and kept it
alive and fresh, therefore it was essential that the ballerina
have a permanent partner, capable of dealing with the situa-
tion and ready for any emergency.
No one could wish for a more versatile partner than Alicia.
She was reminiscent of Olga Spesslva, whose work always left
me speechless with admiration, but she had a far wider range
than Spesslva ever had. From the classicism of Giselle,, Alicia
wandered through the melodrama of Aleko to the saucy
humor of Freddie Ashton's Fagade, brilliant In every one.
Furthermore, she had such magnetism on the stage that she
could hold an audience spellbound with a solo completely
divorced from a full-length ballet.
Adeline Genee with her Hunting Dance and Pavlova with
her Dying Swan were the only two ballerinas capable of
rousing a house to frenzied enthusiasm by means of a pas seul.
Alicia has done the same thing with The Dying Swan, as well
as with her Autumn Song and the Fagade polka.
If a coat of arms is ever created for Alicia, a clock must
figure in the design. Her clock is as indispensable to her
dressing room as the make-up box. It stands in front of the
mirror at the theater and rules her life from the moment she
starts preparing for the stage.
Alicia arrives at the theater at least two hours before the
curtain goes up and works to a strict schedule in order to be
ready on time. She takes things in a leisurely fashion, as she
considers that-no ballerina should ever appear flustered, and
that it is of the utmost importance that she should make her
first appearance in the right frame of mind, either giving
herself up to a dreamy Chopin valse or a gay Rossini taran-
tella. No dancer can hope to dominate her audience if she
has to make up in a panic, working against time, possibly
adjusting her headdress as she dashes from her dressing room
to the stage.
The first fifteen minutes of Alicia's two-hour preparation
is devoted to choosing the right slippers for the first ballet.
Her feet have moods. They have to be humored, and as no
dancer can work unless her feet are happy, choice of slippers
needs careful consideration. Alicia has about six pairs in her
dressing room, all ready to wear, with the ribbons carefully
stitched on by herself. She selects a pair, keeping in mind the
ballet to be performed, the amount of technical work it en-
tails, and the stage upon which she has to dance.
The next fifteen minutes is occupied in getting out of her
everyday clothes, settling down comfortably in a dressing
gown, and collecting all the essential make-up paraphernalia
about her. It takes her about forty-five minutes to make up.
She works on her face with the exquisite care of a miniature
painter, but that does not mean she creates an elaborate mask
of make-up. She is horrified by the modern tendency of
dancers to plaster make-up on their faces, producing gro-
tesque masks with purple lips and jade eyelids.
Alicia maintains that the dancer should make herself look
as attractive as possible, always using the contours of her
own face as the basis for any artificial mask she may have to
devise with grease paint. She uses the minimum of make-up,
bearing in mind that while no one sitting farther back than
the tenth row of the stalls can see any details of her face, she
still has to make an effect on the man or woman at the back
of the gallery. Make-up means nothing to them. She realized,
even in her Diaghileff days, that she could excite her audi-
ences only by her dancing technique and not by a prettily
After making up, Alicia slips down to the stage in her
practice tights for fifteen minutes of barre exercises to warm
up and get her muscles supple in readiness for the first dance.
She returns to her dressing room and spends half the remain-
ing time arranging her hair and fixing her headdress. The
greatest care has to be taken with this ritual. The headdress
has to be firmly but invisibly attached to the hair so that it
will not become dislodged. A garland of roses knocked over
one eye is enough to kill any romantic ballet.
During the last fifteen minutes Alicia slips into her tights
and ties her slippers. When she puts on her costume, she
never sits down. Cleaned and pressed, it must always give
the impression of being worn for the first time. "Tired"
dresses are an insult to the dancer *s audience.
On first nights Alicia gives herself more than two hours.
Press photographers may want a last-minute picture, or
decisions may have to be made about cuts or entrances as a
result of considerations at the dress rehearsal. Allowances
must be made for all these demands on her time.
As a ballerina's feet mean everything to her, slippers are
a vital consideration. Alicia always wears lightweight slippers
with the smallest of blocks, and she never prepares them for
the stage by darning the toes. They are little more than gloves
on her feet. She believes in the old Italian theory that a danc-
er's feet should be strong enough to need the minimum of
protection in the form of the lightest imaginable slippers.
The Niccolini slippers which Nemtchinova used to wear in
the Aurora's Wedding adagio were so light that they only
lasted out the dance. They served her purpose in giving her
the support she needed and then were thrown away.
As a child Alicia watched all this, and made up her mind
to adopt the same policy when the big roles came her way.
Her ideas were strengthened further when she saw Spessiva
dancing Giselle in a slipper which lasted for a single per-
formance. Even in the early days Alicia never economized on
ballet slippers. She always bought the softest and best she
could afford, even if it meant wearing cheaper shoes in the
In class she wore only one pair of slippers. Many dancers
preferred to change them for pointe work, but Alicia learned
to do without changing. As she said, she would be obliged
to restrict herself to one pair during a public performance,
and could not hold up the performance while she changed
into her "pirouette" slippers, so she might just as well get
used to working in the same pair in class.
Like Spessiva, Markova is aloof from her audience. Her
remote quality is ideally suited to her roles in romantic bal-
lets such as Les Sylphides or the last act of Giselle. This was
probably responsible for a certain obstinacy which showed
itself from time to time in our discussions about our work.
She had set ideas about some of her roles and I found it dif-
ficult to make her see them in a new light. For years she had
danced the Mazurka in Les Sylphides. I agreed that she was
exquisite in it, but insisted that she would be even finer in
the Prelude. She wouldn't listen to me at first, but I was so
persistent that eventually she came to the conclusion that I
might be right. The first time she danced the Prelude in
Les Sylphildes in New York she literally stopped the show.
Two of the greatest interpretations of music by dancing
that I have seen in the past thirty years are Markova dancing
the Prelude and Techemicheva dancing the same solo.
When I first danced with Alicia in our Diaghileff days I
found it easy. It was not necessary to turn her; she knew how
to hold her breath and not be a dead weight when I lifted
her. But there was no excitement in our dancing. With the
passing of the years and a wealth of stage experience behind
us we 'gained complete confidence. We had such faith in each
other that even a minor disaster seemed out of the question
at any performance. There have been moments when our
dancing has been touched with a magic which comes to few
artists who have not had the good fortune to dance together
for thousands of nights.
<^*S> f S*S>Sz<&*S*'^>>**S>3*>^
CHRISTMAS, 1937, was not particularly happy for Alicia, as
our own Markova-DoBn Company had just been disbanded
and she was anxious about her next professional move and
the future in general.
We had put the Sadler's Wells Ballet on the map and made
the key cities of the English provinces ballet conscious. She
had done more for the art of ballet in Britain than any other
single dancer at that time, but her reward was not obvious
as she sat by the fire on Christmas night and wondered about
her future plans. Massine had written to her, saying that he
was forming a company in Monte Carlo and would be de-
lighted if she would join it. The contract was not a good one.
In any case, Alicia wanted to stay on in England, to do more
for British Ballet, which was definitely going to flourish. She
had seen it grow from nothing in a mere span of seven years.
She was hailed as the first British ballerina in ballet history.
Naturally she was anxious to remain with her own people
and to help the ballet in England to secure an international
She wanted advice. So one evening early in the new year
she invited two of her valued friends Ninette de Valois and
Arnold Haskell, who was now recognized as one of our lead-
ing ballet critics to dine at Claridge's. They admitted that
she was the finest British dancer, but there was no place for
her in her own country. Ninette could not offer her an en-
gagement at Sadler's Wells, where Margot Fonteyn was win-
ning her own public in Alicia's old roles.
Arnold Haskell had never approved of Alicia going to the
Sadler's Wells Ballet in the first place. He thought she had
"wasted her time dancing in a London suburban theater in-
stead of joining the De Basil Company and appearing with
the Russians in the most famous opera houses in the world."
So Alicia's two friends "advised" her to pack her bags and
go to America to prove her worth in an international com-
pany. She was bitterly disappointed. Her Irish blood rose at
the thought that no doors were open to her in her own coun-
try, and she vowed that she would make a name for her-
self abroad. She had an idea that in America she would be
accepted as one of the best dancers in the world irrespective
of her nationality. What did it matter if an artiste were
British, American, German, Russian, Mexican, or an Eskimo
if she could dance better than any other ballerina within
It must never be said that Alicia went abroad and deserted
British Ballet in those years when her presence might have
ABROAD AGAIN 23 1
meant so much to it. She left because she was cold-shouldered
out of her own country, not because she wanted to go abroad
and make a fortune. Money never entered Into the question.
At that time she would have been far happier dancing at
home, with only sufficient salary to cover the rent.
It was just as well that Alicia decided to go abroad. It was
a blessing in disguise. Had she been asked to go back to
Sadler's Wells, she would have gone like a shot, and she might
easily have stayed with them for ten or twelve years. Then
she would have missed those wonderful years in America,
all those coast-to-coast tours, and the triumphant visits to
Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, Honolulu, Manila,
and South Africa. She would have reigned at Sadler's Wells
and, later, at Covent Garden, when the company made the
Opera House their headquarters, but she would not have be-
come the most widely-known ballerina in the world, nor
would she have developed as a personality, as she did on
Feeling somewhat like an exile, Alicia made her way to
Monte Carlo to join the new company, known as Les Ballets
de Monte Carlo, under the direction of Rene Blum. Later it
became known as Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, when Mas-
sine took over the artistic direction. Originally he was mai-
tre de ballet as well as the leading male dancer.
Wten the season opened in Monte Carlo, in April, Alicia
shared the ballerina roles with Alexandra Danilova. When
the company came to London later in the summer it was
joined by Tamara Toumanova, Mia Slavenska, and Serge
Lifar. Some of the other fine dancers were Nina Tarakanova,
Nathalie Leslie (now Krassovska), Nini Theilade, Michel
Panaieff, Roland Guerard, Igor Yousekevich, Frederic Frank-
lin, Jean Yasvinsky, and George Skibine.
That first season in Monte Carlo saw the world premiere
of Gaiete Parisienne, in which Tarakanova created the Glove
Seller, now one of Danilova's most popular roles. Alicia ap-
peared as the Spirit of the Air in Beethoven's Seventh Sym-
phony, which Massine created, with dcor by Christian
Berard. She danced with Yousekevich in the Scherzo in which
the sunlit atmosphere of B&rard's dcor matched the music so
perfectly. Previously Massine had mounted ballets on sym-
phonies by Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Berlioz, but this was
his first experience with Beethoven.
Before the company left Monte Carlo, Alicia danced in
Spectre de la Rose with Yousekevich, in Les Sylphides, Les
ElfeS; the Fokine ballet with Berard dcor, and in L'Epreuve
In July 1938 the company came to Drury Lane Theatre.
On that occasion the Punch critic, speaking of Alicia as the
Spirit of the Air, said: "Alicia Markova has a special place
in the heart of her London public. Her swift, neat movement,
her lightness, and her great gift of making the air her own
particular element combine to make her the supreme classi-
cal exponent of her day."
During this season Alicia appeared in Giselle, dancing the
part for the first time with a Russian company, with Serge
Lifar as her Albrecht.
Markova, back in London, dancing Giselle, was enough to
pack Drury Lane from floor to ceiling. The vast audience
played as vital a part as the dancers on that historic evening
when Lifar failed to display the gallantry usually expected
ABROAD AGAIN SJg
of a premier danseur. He was obviously jealous of the tre-
mendous reception accorded to Alicia, which he was deter-
mined to share, until the audience made it quite clear, even
to him, that they intended to have their own way about it.
I prefer not to give my own description of Lifar's ungal-
lant behavior on this occasion, but to quote Tangye Lean of
the News Chronicle, who wrote:
"Serge Lifar, specially imported from Paris, seemed more in-
tent on advertising himself than Markova. Markova has been
too little visible in this company. Her dancing last evening was
so diamond bright and her acting so restrained that she empha-
sized what London audiences already know, that there is no
finer classical dancer in the world.
"She did this against the heavy handicap of a partner whose
intensive efforts at feats of elevation and display made anything
but a satisfactory background. The performance ended with a
campaign waged relentlessly by the gallery to separate Markova
from her partner and give her her belated due. After ten fero-
cious minutes they succeeded. It was nice to be on their side."
Since the days of Edmund Kean the Drury Lane audiences
have been proud of having a will of their own; it was good
to see them restoring the equilibrium and preventing Lifar
from upsetting the balance of the ballet.
When, finally, Alicia stepped out in front of the curtain
alone, she was greeted by a roar of applause which was almost
terrifying. Just behind the curtain, Lifar was being held back
by two male dancers, an incident which was to have spec-
tacular consequences In New York three months later.
Apart from Alicia's dramatic acclamation by her admirers,
she was warmly welcomed by the critics who really matter.
Edwin Evans wrote in Time and Tide, "There are rare col-
oratura singers who create the illusion that their florid con-
vention is a natural mode of expression. That is what Mar-
kova does with the classical convention on the points so suc-
cessfully that when she descends from them it seems a
condescension. * '
When the newly formed Massine Company was giving its
season at Drury Lane, the De Basil Company, then called the
Covent Garden Ballet and under the direction of German
Sevastianov, were giving their season at the famed Opera
House. Baronova, Riabouchinska, and Lichine were the stars.
September of that year they were to leave for a long tour of
Australia; I flew out to join the Company as first dancer, and
so our paths were divided by half a world of distance, as Alicia
left for America. On the opening night at Drury Lane, Alicia
danced with Panleff as her Prince in Lac de Cygnes being, as
one critic described, "Smothered in well deserved applause
The following morning, during a rehearsal at Covent Gar-
den, Alicia slipped and injured her ankle so badly that she
was not able to appear again that season. She didn't dance
again until the company opened at the Metropolitan Opera
House, in New York, in October 1938.
I AM sorry that I did not partner Alicia when she danced
Giselle for the first time in America at the Metropolitan
Opera House, New York, on October 12, 1938 but I was
touring Australia and New Zealand with the De Basil Com-
pany. On that occasion Serge Lifar was her Albrecht, with
Marc Platoff as Hilarion and Danilova as the Queen of the
Wilis. Naturally, Alicia was a great success, but had we been
dancing together I would never have given Lifar's crude pres-
entation of Giselle. His interpolations ruined the continuity
of the ballet, which struck New York as being old-fashioned
and rather silly. One critic said that the work consisted of "a
preposterous mixture of supernatural creatures, mistaken
identities, and fabulous improbabilities."
Alicia and I had already proved in our own Markova-Dolin
production that, when properly staged and presented, Gf-
236 ALICIA MARKOVA
selle could be as moving as any tragedy on the legitimate
stage. By clawing the air persistently and tearing non-existent
passions to tatters, Lifar tended to overbalance Alicia's per-
formance at her New York debut, so that the beauty of her
rendering of her greatest role seemed rather sad and listless.
She was acclaimed, but not so wildly as she ought to have
been. The New York Sun said that "to describe her as a
Heifetz among dancers would only approximate the blend of
ease, precision, and charm which comprised her individual-
ity." That first performance was not greeted by the hysterical
applause which stormed the Metropolitan on later occasions
when Alicia appeared with me in the same ballet.
Lifar was very much in the news at that time. When he ap-
peared with Alicia in Giselle at the Metropolitan, she injured
her foot in the first act so severely that she was unable to
dance for two weeks, and Slavenska had to be rushed on to
finish the performance. The audience, who had seen a raven-
haired Giselle in the first act, were presented with a redhead
in the second.
A day or two after that performance Lifar challenged Mas-
sine to a duel at dawn in Central Park, Massine, as artistic
director of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was given choice
of weapons. Instead of choosing a pistol or a rapier, Massine
treated Lifar as a petulant schoolboy, told him to quit talk-
ing tommyrot, go home, and take some aspirin! The press re-
vealed that Lifar had objected to the applause given to Ro-
land Guerard after a solo in Lac des Cygnes. Lifar insisted
that the solo should be cut, but Massine, who had the last
word as artistic director, refused to alter the ballet. A dead-
lock ensued, followed by Lifar's dramatic challenge.
Then Sol Hurok, who was presenting the Ballet Russe de
Monte Carlo, explained that the trouble between Lifar and
the management really started at Drury Lane the previous
July, after that performance of Giselle, when the audience had
insisted that Alicia appear alone before the curtain. Lifar had
been so infuriated by the ovation given her, and so resented
the fact that he had been forcibly held back by two artists in
the company, that he bore a grudge against the management.
Hurok, afraid that Lifar might be tempted to sabotage the
production by refusing to dance, always had another dancer
dressed in readiness to go on if that happened.
When the company landed in New York, Lifar refused to
dance with Alicia, insisting that Tamara Toumanova should
dance with him. Neither Massine nor Hurok would hear of
it, so Lifar walked out of the company and sailed back to
Paris, leaving Igor Yousekevich to dance Albrecht to Alicia's
Alicia danced in Lac des Cygnes on the last night of the
season and then set off on her first coast-to-coast tour, which
covered sixty cities. On the tour she appeared in Giselle, Lac
des Cygnes, Petrouchka, Les Sylphides, Les Elfes, Blue Bird,
Coppelia, Seventh Symphony, UEpreuve d' Amour and Spec-
tre de la Rose.
Columns were written about the effect Alicia had upon her
out-of-town audiences. Perhaps the critic of the Hartford
Daily Courant spoke for thousands when he wrote: "The best
of the new (dancers) is Alicia Markova, the balletomane's
dream of beatitude, and of all dancers of the day, the one who
owns the copyright on the adjective 'exquisite' as applied to
herself and her dancing. Her style is so lyric, her technique
so fine and delicate, and her execution so dainty that you
could smash your neighbor's top hat out of sheer excitement/'
In Chicago, during December 1938, her critics praised her
secure, poised, and delicately precise technique, and were
fascinated by her innately reticent personality which never
played to the audience, knowing full well that the audience
would come to her. The following March she was back at
the Metropolitan, celebrating the Silver Jubilee of Sol Hurok,
that courageous impresario who had presented Pavlova, Isa-
dora Duncan, Mary Wigman, Uday Shan-Kar, Tetrazzini,
Elman, Ysaye, Marian Anderson, and Chaliapin to the Ameri-
John Martin had made up his mind about the greatness
of this new ballerina and he paid tribute to her in the New
York Times. "Alicia Markova in Lac des Gygnes is pure
poetry. Nor is it alone a matter of mood, for the fine, long
line, the miraculously held arabesques, the completely un-
wavering verticality of her pirouettes in the adagios, and her
incomparable lightness could belong only to a classical dancer
of the greatest distinction."
Four days later he said: "There are in the company, to be
sure, more captivating personalities, for Markova has nothing
of the glamour girl about her. What she wins from her audi-
ences is won by her intrinsic gifts as a dancer and not by
Hollywood attributes or other subterfuges. To at least one
habitue of the ballet, who is weary of the artificial eyelash
type of allure, this comes as a blessed relief. Actually, it
would be greatly to Markova's advantage if she were to capi-
talize upon it more, and to adopt a style of complete simplic-
ity even to the point of plainness, for her dancing is most
distinguished when it is most devoid of surface ornament and
Thus the discerning eye spotted one of the greatest dancers
of all time, but it took Alicia longer than that first American
season to become a household word throughout the length
and breadth of the United States*
The Ballet Russe gave a Monte Carlo season in the spring
of J 939> when Rouge et Noir was staged by Massine, mounted
on the Shostakovich Symphony, with Matisse costumes. Mar-
kova and Yousekevich danced the Man and Woman, with Pla-
toff, Franklin, and Panaieff in the cast. A June season fol-
lowed in Paris at the Palais de Chaillot, and in July Alicia
slipped over to London to dance in the Faust ballet at the
Albert Hall, at a charity concert at which Alfred Piccaver
sang. Later that month she appeared as La Camargo in a
show given at the Westminster Theatre by the Production
Club of the Royal Academy of Dancing.
I came back to England in August, fresh from my wander-
ings with the De Basil Company, and joined Alicia for one
or two dance recitals in Harrogate and Brighton. She was
looking forward to an autumn season at Covent Garden
when she hoped to surprise London with her dramatic danc-
ing in Rouge et Noir, which was to be the novelty of the
The curtain never rose on that season, as World War II
broke out the previous day. All theaters in London closed
their doors, fearing the devastating air raids which, we were
warned, would arrive at any moment.
DURING those early days of September 1939 everyone
walked about London with one ear on the air-raid sirens, ex-
pecting to be blown to pieces any minute. Alicia naturally
wanted to be with her family and share whatever fate lay in
store for them, but she was under contract to Ballet Russe de
Monte Carlo and was expected back in New York for their
autumn season. She had no alternative but to go, and so made
preparations to sail on the S.S. Washington on the last day of
I was going to America, en route to joining the De Basil
Company on another tour of Australia. Mrs. Marks was
heartbroken at the idea of her daughter leaving England, but
when I promised I would take care of her, she consented to
let her go, comforted by the knowledge that Alicia and I
would be together.
The S.S. Washington appeared to be carrying a whole cargo
o famous dancers, including Danilova, Baronova, Paul Pe-
troff, Gerry Sevastianov (Baronova's husband), as well as
three British dancers, Andree Howard, Antony Tudor, and
Hugh Laing; the last three were going out to join a new
American company, Ballet Theatre, which was just being
formed with the financial backing of Lucia Chase.
Though none of us knew it at the time, Alicia was to spend
eight years in America, and during that time she was to be
transformed from the quiet ballerina of British Ballet into
a glamorous international star of the dance, with a personal-
ity of her own, the center of attraction at all the social gather-
ings to which she was invited.
During those eight years she was to dance the length and
breadth of America first as one of the ballerinas of the
Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, later with Ballet Theatre, and,
finally, with the small company created for us by Sol Hurok,
on dance recital tours which took us thousands and thousands
of miles in the United States, Mexico and Central America,
to the Caribbean and the Pacific. All this traveling and the
people she met on these journeys made an entirely new
woman of Alicia.
I was thrilled to see this transformation taking place, as
in no small measure I was responsible for it. It used to hurt
me to see Alicia, after a triumph at the Metropolitan, enter
a New York restaurant unnoticed. I wanted people to stop
talking and nudge each other as she passed their table and
say, "Look, there's Markova!"
During our early days in New York the many parties to
which we were asked became something of a nightmare.
WAR YEARS 243
Alicia never seemed to be holding her own in the conversa-
tion and was a disappointment to people who had been
thrilled by her when she was dancing. It was annoying to see
these social celebrities deciding that Alicia was a rather dull
and ordinary person. But as she scarcely opened her mouth in
their presence one could hardly blame them for coming to
When people were introduced they would gush over her
and say,"I thought your performance was divine/' or words
to that effect. Alicia would smile and assure them that she
was glad they had liked it. Then they would invariably ask
the name of her favorite ballet. She would tell them that it
was Giselle. If they tried to pursue the matter further, Alicia
would say "Yes" or "No" and that would be the end. Finding
it heavy going, they would usually make a polite getaway, and
I would discover Alicia left high and dry. She would be oc-
cupying the seat of honor, but alone.
I was determined to do something about it so I went to my
friend Constance Collier, and asked her to take Alicia in
hand. Constance had reigned as successfully in the drawing
room as in the theater for more than one generation, so I
begged her to try to help Alicia socially. Her first words were,
"Whatever shall I talk about?" Obviously, she had had the
same reaction as many other people.
However, to please me, she invited Alicia to lunch. They
got on wonderfully, and I must say I had not heard Alicia
chatter so vivaciously ^since those days when she sat and talked
to her cat in the dressing room at Monte Carlo. A most
amazing friendship grew up between the two women and
Constance was able to draw Alicia further out of her shell
244 ALICIA MARKOVA
than any other person I have known. Alicia took to Constance
immediately because, as she explained, "She was the first per-
son who did not treat me as a fool. She looked upon me as an
individual in my own right, listened to what I had to say,
and respected my point of view."
Alicia escaped momentarily from the world of ballet and
talked about other things than dancers and slippers, which oc-
cupied so much of the conversation when she was with Dani-
lova. She began to realize that a drawing room was very dif-
ferent from a dressing room, where one only exchanged com-
pliments with people who came around after a performance.
She found herself surrounded by cultured and interesting
people and she noticed that when Constance Collier and
Ethel Barrymore met they did not talk about their roles, but
about the international news in the daily papers.
Alicia soon saw that she must take an interest in the people
about her, discover who they were, what they did in life. They
might be more important in the scheme of civilization than
she was as a prima ballerina. It was not enough at these
parties simply to smile and say "Yes" and "No." She could
not go to a reception after a performance at the Metropolitan,
and then leave early after having had something to eat at
the buffet. She was expected to make some contribution to
the evening by entertaining those guests who had been in-
vited to meet her.
She had always been a listener, but now she learned not
only to listen but to show interest in what people were say-
ing, and to carry on an intelligent conversation with the per-
son talking to her.
When Constance introduced her to Charlie Chaplin and
WAR YEARS 245
his wife, Oona, it was a great success, because Chaplin loves
a good listener and can always feel whether you are concen-
trating on what he is saying or not. Alicia was an ideal audi-
ence for Charlie, who talked a great deal about matters very
dear to him.
Alicia began to appreciate now that criticism meant
nothing in the making of a world personality. It was useless
to have volumes of press cuttings saying that you are a heaven-
sent Giselle if you have nothing to say for yourself when you
meet people. It is you yourself who count if you are to make
an impression as an international figure in the world of art
or in any other sphere. That is one of the truths that Con-
stance impressed upon Alicia during their many happy meet-
As a result of all this Alicia acquired an individuality that
compelled attention in a quiet manner. She became equal to
any occasion, mastering every situation with dignity touched
Eighteen months were to elapse before Alicia and I danced
together in New York. Soon after the S.S. Washington
docked, Colonel de Basil released me from my Australian con-
tract with him, and I signed up as premier danseur with Bal-
let Theatre. Alicia started immediate rehearsals with Ballet
Russe de Monte Carlo for their opening at the Metropolitan.
Mia Slavenska danced in Giselle to a packed house, but I
gathered that a large proportion of the tickets had been
given away. When Alicia made her appearance in the same
ballet a few nights later, with Igor Yousekevich as Albrecht,
the vast theater was half-empty. I suspected intrigue and
wished that Alicia and I had been members of the same com-
246 ALICIA MARKOVA
pany, so that I could have kept a closer watch on things and
taken some hand in fighting her battles. In eighteen months
my wish came true.
While Alicia was appearing in New York and in the key
cities of America with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, I
was dancing with Ballet Theatre, having made my debut with
them as Albrecht in my own production of Giselle in Janu-
ary 1940, with Annabelle Lyon in the title role.
Alicia Alonso, Muriel Bentley, John Kriza, and Jerome
Robbins became members of the company.
In the autumn of 1940 we gave a season in Chicago. Alicia
was in Detroit with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. This
meant that she was near enough to come over and see some
Ballet Theatre performances. Her contract with the Ballet
Russe was nearing its end, and I was anxious that she should
join Ballet Theatre and dance Giselle as it should be danced
In a production worthy of her brilliance. Impressed by our
work, I was able to persuade her to join us, though it was
not until the following summer of 1941 that she signed the
Before the autumn season opened Alicia and I ran a sum-
mer school at Ted Shawn's farm, Jacob's Pillow, where the
Ballet Theatre Company were given full board and lessons.
Alicia had the job of catering for a hundred people. This en-
terprise of ours the running of the school, the lessons, and
the lectures that were given by guest teachers kept the com-
pany together during these summer months.
I shall always remember the superb open-air performance
Alicia gave of La Sylphide, a pas de deux in the style of the
old Taglioni ballet, which we performed against the slender
silver birch trees in the woods near Jacob's Pillow.
WAR YEARS 247
Hurok decided that Ballet Theatre should open their
autumn season in Mexico City where the new works could be
tried out before they were seen on Broadway. Markova and
Baronova were the ballerinas of the company, which in-
cluded Lucia Chase, Annabelle Lyon, Nora Kaye, Karen
Conrad, Rosella Hightower, Hugh Laing, Antony Tudor,
George Skibine, Ian Gibson, and myself.
On the opening night in Mexico City Giselle was a sensa-
tion. One of the leading local critics wrote: "Markova
brought to it all that genius and breath-taking beauty, light-
ness and quality which today have become a legend/'
Not only Mexico City but New York City became fully
alive to the glory of Alicia's Giselle, to quote John Martin's
tribute in the New York Times. "As Giselle, she gave such
a performance as balletomanes dream about seeing in some
distant realm of perfection, but never really expect to see.
. . . Not only does she dance the role with exquisite precision
and incredible lightness, but she plays it with such imagina-
tion and style that, stilted and old-fashioned as it is dramati-
cally, it becomes both believable and moving. Truly here
is the first ballerina of her time/*
On another occasion he said: "She has both elevation and
extension in an extraordinary degree; she is uncannily bal-
anced, she has speed, a steely strength, impeccable precision,
a feeling for the rhythmic phrase, and all without a sense of
strain. An exquisite quality of suspension pervades all her
During the Mexico City season Alicia gave me enormous
pleasure by impersonating Taglioni in my Pas de Quatre, a
work for which we both have a great affection. I had always
wanted her to dance in this ballet, as she was the most obvious
248 ALICIA MARKOVA
ballerina in all the world to emulate the style of the ethereal
Taglioni She had read a good deal about the ballet in Mr.
Beaumont's back room, and as we had spent many hours dis-
cussing it, perhaps I may be forgiven if I wander back a cen-
tury to recall the original production, with one or two ex-
tracts of eyewitness accounts from London newspapers of
In the year 1845 Benjamin Lumley, the director of Her
Majesty's Theatre in London, conceived an ambition to see
the four greatest dancers of his timeMarie Taglioni, Fanny
Cerito, Carlotta Grisi, and Lucille Grahn appear together in
the same ballet. By some miracle, he succeeded in persuading
these four temperamental stars to do so. He commissioned the
music for a new divertissement from Cesare Pugni, in whose
ballet, EolinCj Lucille Grahn had made her London debut on
the opening night of the season, and Jules Perrot to do the
Discussing Perrot's tricky task, Lumley reflected, "Every
twinkle of each foot in every pas had to be nicely weighed
in the balance, so as to give no preponderance. Each danseuse
was to shine in her peculiar style and grace to the last stretch
of perfection; but no one was to outshine the others unless
in their own individual belief/'
Trouble arose as to the order in which each danseuse
should perform her pas. The place of honor, the last, was
unanimously granted to Taglioni, but the others claimed
equal rights, and neither would appear before the other. A
deadlock developed, but finally, with a stroke of diplomatic
genius, Lumley decreed, "Let the oldest take her unques-
tionable right to the envied position." What could be fairer?
WAR YEARS 249
The ladies smiled in confusion, and seemed at a loss for
words. So Perrot stepped in, and the management of the af-
fair was left in his hands.
The Pas de Quatre was first danced on July 12, 1845, be-
tween the acts of Donizetti's opera, Anna Bolena. It was re-
peated on three other occasions. The third performance, on
July 17, was given in the presence of Queen Victoria and
The Times of July 14 referred to the Pas de Quatre as
"the greatest terpsichorean exhibition that ever was known
in Europe we repeat the phrase that ever was known
in Europe. Taglioni, Cerito, Carlotta Grisi, and Lucille
Grahn were all combined in one pas de quatre, and such a
combination was altogether unprecedented, nay, might have
been declared impossible. For secret history will ooze its
way even through the pores of a curtain, and then do we
learn that these ethereal-looking creatures whom mortals call
danseuses, and who appear to live solely for the purpose of
floating, bounding, and smiling in an atmosphere perfumed
by the bouquets of admirers, are not remarkable for love
toward each other, and that the task of getting four of them
into one pas supposes a power of persuasion and argumenta-
tion bordering on the preternatural.
"There is not the slightest doubt that even at half-past ten
o'clock on Saturday night there were many sundry skeptics
who believed that the announced pas would never take place,
who thought that the words in the bill were merely some
lusus typgraphce without real signification or at any rate that
some unlucky apple of discord would be thrown among the
fair party, creating a sort of centrifugal force which would
350 ALICIA MARKOVA
render futile all attempts to regather the fragments of the an-
nihilated pas. Certainly people had seen a pas de deux by
Elssler and Cerito, danced amid an enthusiastic warfare that
threatened to revive the blue and green factions of the Hip-
podrome, but then how great the difference between two
and four! For the difficulty in these cases does not merely pro-
gress in the geometrical ratio of the number of artists, but
must be estimated by squares, like the velocity of falling
"Therefore, we say, when the curtain rose for the impos-
sible Pas de Quatre, and the marvelous four entered all in a
line, hand holding hand, as a testimony of amity, the house
burst forth into a tumult, not only of admiration, but of
amazement. There was the problem visibly solved the feat
that was manifestly impracticable was accomplished Colum-
bus had placed the egg erect. All came forward and curtsied
and then, what a portentous pause! The audience were all in
expectation as to what would happen under circumstances so
unparalleled, and the partisan feeling doubtless worked high
in many a bosom! A large shower of yellow papers descended
into the pit, apparently from the gallery slips, but whether
these contained an epic poem, an ode, or a pastoral drama,
in honor of the occasion, we are unable to say, not having
had the felicity to catch one.
"The slow movement of the pas began, and the four ladies
formed in a series of groups, matchless for taste and elegance,
Taglioni usually occupying the central position. Then came
the quick movement with the variations by the way, do our
readers know why the steps which each danseuse executes
sola in the course of a grand pas are called Variations? If
WAR YEARS 251
they do, they are better informed than we are. Then, we say,
came the variations and here was the period for the greatest
excitement, now was the question to be decided how each
would put forth her strength.
"Taglioni displayed all her commanding manner, relying
much on that advancing step, of which we believe she was
the inventor, and astonishing by some of her bounds. Lucille
Grahn, a disciple of the same school, danced with a breadth
and vigor which showed a determination not to be outdone
by her elder competitors. Cerito entered into the contest with
that revolving step which invariably delights; and Carlotta
Grisi, forming a striking contrast, gave a piquant, coquettish
sort of variation with her wonted fascination.
"Perrot, the inventor of this wonderful pas, conducted it
at the wing, and might be seen from the left side of the house.
The exertions of the danseuses were certainly equaled by his
own. He beat time, he fumed, he fidgeted in an agony of zeal,
the weight of his own work being heavy to bear. Never was
such a pas before. The excitement which a competition so
extraordinary produced in the artists roused them to a pitch
of energy which would have been impossible under other
circumstances, and hence every one did her utmost, the whole
performance being a complete inspiration.
"We shall not say one word as to which we think the best,
or the second best not one word tending to dissolve the
harmony that has resulted in so wonderful an exhibition. All
did admirably none left anything to desire. The manifesta-
tion of enthusiasm on the part of the audience was scarcely
less remarkable than the manifestation of energy on the part
of the artists. The whole long pas was danced to a running
252 ALICIA MARKOVA
sound of applause, which, after each variation, swelled into a
perfect hurricane, the furore of partisanship being added to
the weight of general admiration.
"Bouquets flew from every point, in immense profusion,
as each danseuse came forward, so that they had to curtsey
literally in the midst of a shower of floral gifts. Cerito's
wreaths and nosegays were more than she could hold in both
her arms. Many of the bouquets were demolished by the fall
and scattered their particles about, so that the front of the
stage was almost covered with flower leaves."
The critic of the Illustrated London News wrote on July
19, 1845: "Every other feeling was merged in admiration
when the four great dancers commenced the series of pic-
turesque groupings with which this performance opens. We
can safely say that we have never witnessed a scene more per-
fect in all its details. The greatest of painters, in his loftiest
flights, could hardly have conceived, and certainly never
executed, a group more faultless and more replete with grace
and poetry than that formed by these four danseuses; Tagl-
ioni in their midst, her head thrown backwards, apparently
reclining in the arms of her sister nymphs. . . . No descrip-
tion can render the exquisite and almost ethereal grace of
movement and attitude of these great dancers, and those who
have witnessed the scene may boast of having once, at least,
seen the perfection of the art of dancing, so little understood.
"There was no affectation, no apparent exertion or struggle
for effect on the part of the gifted artistes; and though they
displayed their utmost resources, there was a simplicity and
ease, the absence of which would have completely broken
the spell they threw around the scene. Of the details of this
WAR YEARS 253
performance it is difficult to speak. In the solo steps executed
by each danseuse, each in turn seemed to claim pre-eminence.
Where every one in her own style is perfect, peculiar indi-
vidual taste alone may balance in favor of one or the other,
but the award of public applause must be equally bestowed,
and, for our own part, we confess that our penchant for the
peculiar style, and our admiration for the dignity, the repose,
and the exquisite grace which characterize Taglioni, and
the dancer who so brilliantly followed the same track
(Lucille Grahn), did not prevent our warmly appreciating
the charming archness and twinkling steps of Carlotta Grisi,
or the wonderful flying leaps and revolving bounds of Cerito.
Though, as we have said, each displayed her utmost powers,
the emulation of the fair dancers was, if we may trust ap-
pearances, unaccompanied by envy.
"Every time a shower of bouquets descended, on the con-
clusion of a solo pas by one or other of the fair ballerinas, her
sister dancers came forward to assist her in collecting them;
and both on Saturday and on Tuesday did Cerito offer to
crown Taglioni with a wreath which had been thrown in
homage to the queen of the dance/'
I have always been charmed by the lithograph made by
T. H. Maguire from the drawing by A. E. Chalon of the four
ballerinas in this Pas de Quatre, a copy of which used to hang
on the wall of my Chelsea studio. One night several friends
who had been to the studio to supper were discussing a new
purely classical ballet for the Markova-Dolin Company.
Various ideas were put forward, when Poppoea Vanda
pointed to the lithograph on the wall and suggested a new
254 ALICIA MARKOVA
ballet, opening and closing with the dancers grouped as in
the lithograph. Keith Lester arranged the choreography to
the original music which Leighton Lucas orchestrated from
documents provided by the British Museum.
Pas de Quatre was first danced in Manchester in May 1936,
with Molly Lake as Taglioni, Kathleen Crofton as Cerito,
Prudence Hyman as Grisi, and Diana Gould as Grahn. It was
very well received and became a useful addition to our reper-
toire, but Alicia never appeared in it at that time.
In 1941 Ballet Theatre asked me to stage it for them. I
wrote to Keith Lester asking him to send me his notes, but
they were detained by the War Customs authorities, who
thought that they were some sort of code message. As they
never reached me, I created my own choreography for a
premiere at the Majestic Theatre in New York in February,
when Nana Gollner appeared as Taglioni, Katia Sergava as
Cerito, Nina Strogonova as Grisi, and Karen Conrad as Grahn.
It was in November of that same year that Alicia first
danced Taglioni in Mexico City, with Nora Kaye as Grisi,
Annabelle Lyon as Cerito, and Irina Baronova as Grahn. The
same four ballerinas enchanted New York with it at the end
of the month. After a few performances Baronova, who had
been working far too hard, retired from the cast and Karen
Conrad again took over her role.
On September 18, 1949, I staged the divertissement for
the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera
House with Alicia as Taglioni, Danilova as Cerito, Kras-
sovska as Grahn, and Mia Slavenska as Grisi. Never have
four great dancers worked so magnificently together in an
attempt to give us an idea of one of the greatest occasions in
WAR YEARS 255
the whole history of ballet. Each one seemed to capture some
quality of those four great ballerinas who sent early Vic-
torian London wild with excitement.
Another glorious creation of this period in Alicia's career
was her poignant conception of Pavlova's immortal Dying
Swan, the most famous dance solo in the world.
Most of us are under the impression that this pas seul was
created for Pavlova by Fokine on the occasion of a charity
matinee at the Maryinsky Theatre in 1905, but Lydia Kyasht
in her memoirs claims that she created it. She always told
me that it was first danced in public at the Dvorianskoe
Sobranie during a matinee given for the benefit of soldiers
who had been wounded in the Russo-Japanese War. As she
danced, she was accompanied on the cello by Berednikoff,
grandson of the Lord Mayor of St. Petersburg. Only later, ac-
cording to Lydia, did Anna Pavlova dance it in England and
other countries outside Russia.
In any case, this dance will always be associated with
Pavlova's name. The time came when she dared not leave it
out of her repertoire, and though she danced it thousands of
times, the applause always lasted longer than the dance itself.
As far back as 1923 Alicia danced The Dying Swan. Asta-
fieva arranged it for her at that Albert Hall performance
when I first appeared as Anton Dolin, but she had not danced
it since attaining the rank of ballerina. Indeed, no great
dancer had dared to perform it since the death of Pavlova in
1931. Though she was admirably suited for the solo, Alicia
would never dance it, because it had become so closely linked
with Pavlova. Fokine, however, was so anxious to revive it
for Alicia, that finally she consented to do it.
256 ALICIA MARKOVA
She first danced it at the Boston Opera House on the an-
niversary o Pavlova's death, but only after Markova's insist-
ence the management agreed to state in the program that the
performance was dedicated to Pavlova's immortal memory.
Alicia never saw Pavlova dance The Dying Swan, so she ap-
proached it with an open mind but under the personal direc-
tion of Michel Fokine, who created it. The dance has become
her own favorite divertissement as well as that of her audi-
ences. It is particularly popular with the younger balleto-
manes who are now able to get some idea of what Pavlova
Those who have seen both ballerinas, realize that Alicia's
interpretation is essentially her own. She has never been
content to follow in the footsteps of another. The founda-
tion is always there, of course, but it leaves room for im-
provisation, and the Saint-Saens music is the kind that car-
ries the dancer away, according to her mood at the moment.
Though the solo lasts only three minutes and consists mostly
of bourr^-ing on pointes, the body and arms are constantly
changing, calling for technical strength from the artist in
order to retain her balance.
Alicia always found the dance emotionally exhausting.
She would be so out of breath at the end that it took her
about five minutes to recover, though actually the physical
demands of the choreography are far from heavy. Each per-
formance used to give her enormous satisfaction, if only to
feel the reverence with which the audience watched the
dance. They seemed to be conscious of the spirit of Pavlova
living on in the work of another great dancer who worshiped
her and who bears a strange physical resemblance to her
WAR YEARS 257
Pavlova usually performed The Dying Swan against black
velvet curtains, but, where possible, Alicia chooses a cyclo-
rama flooded with sky-blue light. The space and simplicity of
such a setting seem to intensify the pathos by adding an ach-
ing loneliness to the frantic flutterings of a tragic bird, left to
die in solitude. For this same reason, the dance is particularly
well suited to arena presentations of ballet, and as so much
is danced with the back to the audience, the angle of vision
is not of particular importance.
No matter where this solo is performed, it evokes pity
which frequently draws tears from the spectators. When peo-
ple went around to see Alicia after a performance, often too
moved to speak coherently, she was always amazed by the
amount of sympathy a swan could inspire in an audience.
The bird had become the symbol of grace in the ballet,
which shows how the theater can touch a character with
magic and direct an audience's trend of thought. In reality,
the swan is a clumsy creation with enormous feet and a mean
and vicious nature.
Fokine scored something of a triumph when he persuaded
Alicia to dance The Dying Swan. When a film was being
made during the 19305, Alicia was invited to impersonate
Pavlova dancing at the Palace Theatre on the occasion of
her first appearance in London. The promoters of the film
were anxious to engage her because of her resemblance to
Pavlova, especially in a swan costume, but she refused, say-
ing that it would be an audacity on her part to impersonate so
great a dancer. She suggested that they use cuts from a film
which Pavlova herself had made, but they considered those
early films too crude and dated, and they eventually per-
suaded Pearl Argyle to play the part.
258 ALICIA MARKOVA
Had Fokine known about this incident, he might not have
had the courage to approach Alicia to dance The Dying
As far as modern ballets are concerned, I suppose Alicia
would rate Juliet as her finest creation. Antony Tudor's
narrative ballet, Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeare's
tragedy, was first given on April 6, 1943, at the Metropolitan
Opera House in New York, with music by Frederick Delius
and scenery and costumes by Eugene Berman. Hugh Laing
was seen as Romeo, Nicolas Orloff as Mercutio, Jerome Rob-
bins as Benvolio, Antony Tudor as Tybalt, Richard Reed as
Paris, and Alicia as Juliet.
No one who saw her will ever forget her shyness, as the
unspoilt child burst in upon the Capulet ball since, for the
first time in living memory, one saw a Juliet who "had not
seen the change of fourteen years." With shoulder-length
reddish hair, this figure of wraithlike fragility looked as
truly girlish as Shakespeare meant her to look. She proved as
memorable as any of the great Juliets seen on the Broad-
way stage and they included such famous actresses as
Modjeska, Mary Anderson, Ellen Terry, Julia Marlowe, Eva
LeGallienne, Katharine Cornell, and, on the screen, Norma
One critic wrote, "Alicia Markova as Juliet is not only the
greatest dancer of her time, but also the greatest actress.
There is nothing more touching on the stage today than that
fatal anguished look cast by Markova as her attendants dress
her for the wedding with Paris."
The Balcony Scene was remarkable for a pas de deux in
WAR YEARS 259
which the lovers never made contact. Romeo danced in the
garden, while Juliet swayed on the balcony above to some of
the loveliest music Delius ever wrote. In the Tomb Scene,
Markova stabbed herself with her back to the audience, dying
with her face on the floor, an effective gesture which "obliter-
ated, with its economy and poignancy, those years of ex-
pansive acting that had hovered over the Metropolitan Opera
House like a bad dream."
When Antony Tudor set about interpreting Shakespeare's
poetry through the medium of the dance, he suggested that
Alicia take the text and learn Juliet's part by heart, so that
she would understand what his choreography was trying to
convey in each successive scene. This she did. Further in-
spired by the spirit of the Delius music, she created so ex-
quisite a Juliet that the schools of drama in New York sent
their students in batches to see her. By miraculously trans-
lating inner thought into outward movement she proved how
effectively the essential spirit and feeling of poetic drama can
be projected over the footlights without using a single word
Diaghileff was always urging the members of his company
to visit museums where they could learn so much about the
beauty of attitudes and the balance of groupings. When in
Italy with the Diaghileff company, Alicia had been fascinated
by the Botticelli paintings, and her knowledge of them
proved an inspiration during the creation of her Juliet. She
based her stance on the figures she had seen in those master-
pieces, and not on the principles laid down by the Russian
She was so successful that, when Vincenzo Celli and his
560 ALICIA MARKOVA
wife first saw the ballet, they said they were so carried away
that they felt they were back in Italy, and could almost de-
tect the perfume of a flower garden they once loved in
Markova's name was touched with yet a new magic at this
time, when she established an all-time record for ballet at
the Metropolitan. For weeks the public refused to allow the
last night of the season to be announced. It was postponed
and still further postponed until Alicia eclipsed all the
previous records set up by Gene*e, Nijinsky, Karsavina,
Pavlova, and Argentina. In short, as John Martin phrased it,
Markova was recognized as "the greatest ballerina of history.*'
ALICIA'S triumphs in the early 1940$ were not confined to
Broadway. With both the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and
Ballet Theatre, as well as with our own company afterward,
she soon became hardened to the rigors of coast-to-coast tour-
ing. She was a born pioneer and gained enormous satisfaction
from dancing to audiences who had had rare opportunities of
seeing ballet. She remembered our first tours with the
Markova-Dolin Company in Britain, and looked upon North
America with delight, as another vast world to conquer.
She had the advantage of having Danilova as a companion
for her first tour with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo the
year before the war. Danilova had been in America for four
years before Alicia arrived, so she knew the ropes and was
the best possible guide. During that first tour Danilova and
Alicia shared rooms in the various hotels along the route,
262 ALICIA MAHKOVA
partly because they enjoyed each other's companionship and
partly because accommodation was difficult, as conventions
were always being held in the various cities.
When they reached Los Angeles, although the Wine
Growers' Convention was in possession of the hotel, they
managed to get a room together. Danilova was continually
telling Alicia how courteous the American people were to
the theatrical profession; they took it as something of a com-
pliment, she said, when great artistes took to the road.
Her claim seemed to be justified when, on the first day, a
large basket of fruit was sent to their room.
"Look at this/* exclaimed Danilova; "even the hotel man-
ager is anxious to welcome us to the town."
The next day two bottles of wine of a rare vintage arrived.
Danilova was even more impressed.
On the third day, at five o'clock, two lovely corsages were
An hour later two elderly gentlemen called to take them,
out to dinner. They had mistaken them for members of the
Danilova, with her quick wit, soon took the situation in
"You can have your flowers back/' she smiled, "but I fear
we have eaten your luscious fruit and drunk your delicious
wine. Now, alas, I must go to the theater to dance Le Beau
Danube and my friend must dance Swan Lake. Thank you so
In the old days America saw very little ballet. Fanny
Elssler made a triumphant tour, as did Genee and Pavlova in
later years. The Diaghileff company paid two visits, but
Nijinsky, rather than the ballet, was the attraction. This
meant that there were millions of people in the United
States who had never seen a ballet. Pavlova, for instance, did
not go to America every year, and then, gave only short sea-
sons, with the rest of the world clamoring to see her. On her
American tours she probably averaged one performance in
the key cities every three years, which was not very satisfying
for those citizens who enjoyed seeing ballet.
Conditions have improved since Markova and Danilova
made coast-to-coast tours with a certain regularity. Out-of-
town audiences began to know them. They are easily the
two best-loved ballerinas in America, and whenever they
play a return engagement they are treated like old friends
and given a special welcome of their own.
There is no doubt that in the early days Alicia did much
to make Americans ballet conscious. It took patience to
educate them along the right lines and to resist the tempta-
tion to give them what they wanted, in order to win a storm
of applause. On the road Alicia danced just as she would in
any famous opera house.
On her Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo tours Alicia would
usually share the evening with Danilova. She would perhaps
dance the White Act of Lac des CygneSj while Danilova
would close the evening with Gaiete Parisienne. Although
Alicia would perform all the real classical dancing of the
evening, Danilova would get twice as much applause. Dani-
lova's twinkling legs, her naughty wink, and her saucy smile
instantly captured the audience, who yelled themselves hoarse
until she came before the curtain.
There was no question of jealousy on Alicia's part. She
264 ALICIA MARKOVA
knew that would happen. She was determined to go on danc-
ing the classical ballets in their perfection until her Ameri-
can audiences began to appreciate and like the pure classicism
of her style.
The next year, when they visited the same town, Alicia
might appear in Coppelia or Blue Bird, so that those of the
public who had seen her Swan Queen on the previous visit
would get some idea of her versatility. After three or four
years she began to receive applause which compared more
favorably with that given to later and more popular works.
There was not such a gap in appreciation between Les Sylphi-
des and Gaiete Parisienne.
By her versatility, which ranges from the pure ethereality
of Giselle to the wild gypsy in Aleko, Alicia helped to break
down a tendency to type casting in the ballet. Too frequently
it is the fashion to type artists in certain roles. If a ballerina
scores a triumph as Swanhilda, shall we say, audiences are
apt to regard her interpretation of that part as authentic and
to expect all other dancers to copy it.
Diaghileff, on the other hand, often assigned major roles
in his repertoire to as many as three different ballerinas, who
all danced the same part in a different manner, just as Kirsten
Flagstad and Jennie Tourel give entirely different interpre-
tations of a Schumann song. Diaghileff never criticized a
dancer for not slavishly copying her predecessor in a role. He
realized that there was always more than one interpretation
of any great choreographic creation, and he would even go
to the length of having a dancer's costume altered to suit her
interpretation of a part, as happened with Alicia herself in
Carnaval and other ballets.
American life rather overwhelmed Alicia when she first
arrived in the States, and in some aspects it still amazes her.
In a community where people read condensed novels be-
cause they have not the time to study the detail of the full-
length work she felt that they appreciated the outline rather
than the detail of ballet. She wondered whether it was pos-
sible for artistes to develop as they should in cities where life
was lived at such high pressure. How could they possibly find
peace and leisure for contemplation in such an atmosphere?
She looked back on the Diaghileff days at Monte Carlo when
the dancers cut themselves off from big-city life in order to be
quiet and think seriously about the parts they were called
upon to interpret. The tempo of American life made serious
solitary contemplation more than difficult.
Alicia was overwhelmed by the kindness of American
friends who called to see her when she was convalescing after
an operation. They wanted to bring armloads of books and
give her a portable radio. They feared she would be bored if
left alone without any sort of diversion. They could not un-
derstand her love of solitude or the pleasure she derived from
exploring the avenues of her mind in a peaceful, silent room.
'There is no shame in being quiet," she would protest. Only
one person understood what she wanted. He brought her a
ginger kitten one morning. It proved an ideal sickroom visi-
tor, wandering silently about the bed, always eager for a
game, and equally ready to take a nap when Alicia felt ex-
hausted. The kitten did far more than a shelf of books or a
radio set toward warding off depression and keeping any
suggestion of loneliness at bay.
The one-night stands on the coast-to-coast tours proved
266 ALICIA MARKOVA
grueling for Alicia, when she first experienced them. Nothing
like them exists in Europe. In Britain the distances between
the big cities are a matter of only a few hours, and the cities
themselves are large enough to accommodate a ballet com-
pany for a whole week. This means that the dancers can live
in a hotel and make themselves at home for a week or longer
before they move on to the next place. In America, it is all so
different. Only New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San
Francisco are large enough to permit a ballet company to stay
for any length of time. Most of the other cities are visited for
only two or three performances, and in many cases for one
It often happened that the dancers did not sleep in a
hotel for as long as three weeks at a stretch. They would ar-
rive in a town only an hour or two before the performance,
and as soon as the curtain fell they had to dash back to the
railway station to their sleeping car and remain on the train
until the late afternoon of the following day, when they
reached the site of their next performance. After the show,
they would make their way back to the station and on again
to the next town.
The great danger of such a tour, especially as far as the
novice was concerned, was that traveling rather than dancing
became the uppermost factor in the artist's life. If that hap-
pened, there would be a tendency to walk through per-
formances, with a mind occupied with the ways and means of
getting to the station or securing a much-needed hot meal, or
even devices for sleeping on the noisy, swaying trains. Many
dancers who found it difficult to rest on the train took sleep-
ing pills about an hour before they were due to board the
night train, so that they could be sure of some refreshing
sleep. Many an amusing incident has been told of artistes
who have taken their pills and then discovered that the time
schedule had been altered, leaving them in a state of col-
lapse in the wings or on the station platform.
On the one-night circuits, the ballet companies often
presented the same program in every town, with two or three
alternate casts. When Alicia was with the Ballet Russe de
Monte Carlo she had to add Swanhilda in Coppelia to her
repertoire, so that she could dance it every third night. Dani-
lova and Slavenska danced it on the other two. In addition,
she alternated with Slavenska in Gasse Noisette. Alicia danced
with Eglevsky, Slavenska with Yousekevich. One occasion,
when Slavenska was ill on a one-night-stand tour, Alicia
danced in the ballet every night for three weeks, with
Eglevsky one night and Yousekevich the next.
Alicia was never at her happiest on these strenuous tours,
as she felt that no dancer could expect to give of her very
best every night of the week, particularly under such trying
conditions, with so much traveling, different orchestras and
different theaters every night. In many cases they had to per-
form in improvised auditoriums on stages which were never
meant for ballet and were therefore dangerous, with an over-
steep rake. Sometimes the dancers would arrive at the theater
with only sufficient time to slap on their make-up, leap into
their costumes, and get on to the stage. There was not time
to warm up, so their work became doubly difficult.
Traveling in America during the first years of Ballet
Theatre was undeniably hard. The trains were always
crowded. There were never any reserved seats. The trains left
2 68 ALICIA MARKOVA
late and were later still arriving so that we were always
anxious about being able to get ready in time for the sched-
uled rise of the curtain. If we wanted a meal on the train, we
had to wait hours. The youngsters in the company who could
not afford to buy a meal on the train had to go without food
or rely on what they could pick up at refreshment buffets at
the station before we started. Hotel accommodations were
always difficult. If the performance was being given in an
auditorium instead of at a theater, invariably it was situated
miles out of town. As it was well-nigh impossible to get taxis
back after the show, and with sometimes only an hour in
which to catch the train to the next town, it was unpleasant
to feel that you were marooned four miles away from the
I remember one of the Ballet Theatre tours when, for two
weeks, our average sleep in bed was three hours a night. But
the company were wonderful, coping with that very difficult
wartime travel. There was always a smile on most of those
tired faces. We were often late starting on our journey,
which meant that the audience at the other end had to ex-
ercise patience while we changed and rigged up our lighting.
The curtain often fell at unearthly hours in the early morn-
ing, but we were always given a warm and grateful reception
which made us feel that our efforts had been worth while.
One December morning, at three o'clock, to be exact, I re-
call a group of the world's greatest dancers waiting for a bus
to take them to Miami twelve hours away. Alicia was
stretched out on the pavement with three overcoats mine
and those of Jerome Robbins and John Kriza as her mat-
tress, and her own hatbox as a pillow. Next to her, on three
suitcases, lay Jerome Robbins, fast asleep. Antony Tudor,
Hugh Laing, Annabelle Lyon, and Nora Kaye were playing
some sort of a new card game. Lucia Chase and Irina Baro-
nova joined us after indulging in the luxury of two hours'
rest and a wash at the local hotel. Rosella Hightower took
John Kriza's dog for a walk, while Andre Eglevsky went
around the company taking candid pictures.
Such were the nights we spent in the war years as we
traveled the length and breadth of the United States. I am
happy to say, though, that we were never guilty of giving
slovenly performances. Nothing would have been more un-
fair to those balletomanes in vast states such as Texas, where
ballet came but one night a year. Surely they deserved the
best that we could give after waiting so long.
While she was with Ballet Theatre, Alicia came into her
own in America, being greeted with fantastic press notices
and wild enthusiasm whenever she appeared. She worked
hard under Vincenzo Celli and gave performances with me in
Les Sylphides, Lac des Cygnes, Giselle, and Aurora's Wed-
ding, the like of which I had never seen before. The settings,
the brilliance, and the richness of the costumes equaled those
in DiaghilefFs production of The Sleeping Beauty twenty
years earlier. I was thrilled at seeing my Pas de Quatre danced
to perfection and being demanded everywhere, so that it be-
came quite as popular as Les Sylphides on our coast-to-coast
In spite of the endless train journeys, the monotonous
meals snatched in coffee shops, and the short stays in hotel
bedrooms that all looked alike, Alicia maintained her fresh-
ness and kept the magic of the ballet alive, both on the Ballet
27O ALICIA MAJRKOVA
Theatre tours and on those later tours when Sol Hurok pre-
sented us with our own ensemble in excerpts from the clas-
sical and romantic ballets.
In 1944 Alicia added to her professional experience by
making an appearance in a Broadway revue. Billy Rose was
presenting a show in New York called The Seven Lively
Arts, for which he was engaging the greatest artists he could
find, each a specialist in his own particular branch of the
Meeting Agnes de Mille at a New York premiere one
night, he said to her, "Agnes, who is the greatest ballerina in
the world?" Without a moment's hesitation she replied,
"Why, Alicia Markova, of course.
"Who is she? What does she look like? Where is she danc-
ing?*' was Billy's immediate comeback.
"Well, she's not dancing at the moment. She's here in
New York recovering from an operation. Why don't you tele-
phone her at her hotel?"
Billy Rose called Alicia the next day. She telephoned me
in Detroit, where I was appearing with Ballet Theatre, to
ask me what she should do, and how I felt about her leaving
the company and appearing without me in a New York
I told her quite frankly that if she wished to accept an
engagement with Billy Rose and be free for a while from
one-night stands and tours of America, I would not stand in
her way. Naturally, I would be disappointed if she did not
return to the company, but I understood exactly how she felt.
When she was well again, she came back to Ballet Theatre
for a while, and it was when she was appearing with me at
the Metropolitan Opera House in Giselle that Billy Rose saw
her dance for the first time. A few days later he came to the
Metropolitan again. This time Alicia was appearing in my
production of Pas de Quatre and I was dancing my role of
the Red Devil in Fair at Sorochintz. Billy called Alicia the
next day and asked her to bring me to lunch. It seemed that
now he wanted to engage not only Alicia but me as well for
I was not particularly anxious to appear in a revue in
New York at this time. I was quite happy and contented
dancing with Ballet Theatre. I had no wish to leave the com-
pany, although I knew that Alicia was not anxious to stay,
only because of her operation.
It was my old friend Sol Hurok who persuaded me to go
into The Seven Lively Arts. He advised me that it would be
best for me to stay with Alicia. So, against my better judg-
ment, I left Ballet Theatre and Alicia and I signed a con-
tract to appear in Billy Rose's revue.
At the time I was accused of persuading Alicia to desert
the ballet and to cheapen her art by joining a revue. I can't
understand why it should be considered vulgar to dance a
classical pas de deux in revue, when the same dance per-
formed on the stage of a world-famous opera house would be
regarded as the perfection of balletic art. In this instance, it
was Alicia who persuaded me to go into revue, strange as that
may sound after my varied career in the English music hall.
She had become a little weary of constant travel and thought
that she would rather welcome a season of at least six months
in New York.
We danced an excerpt from Stravinsky's Scenes de Ballet,
2J2 ALICIA MARKOVA
for which I did the choreography, and it was very gratifying
to see the smart after-dinner audience appreciating ballet as
part of revue. One of the minor players in the cast was Dolores
Gray, who was later to make theatrical history by becoming
a star over-night on the occasion of the London premiere of
Annie Get Your Gun at the London Coliseum.
That season on Broadway was good for Alicia. She was now
a star in her own right in the theatrical firmament, not only
in the specialized world of ballet, and she could meet such
people as Katharine Cornell and Helen Hayes as equals. She
became one of the great names of the American theater, and
not just an exotic importation giving brief but sensational
appearances at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Alicia is at her best when breaking new ground, so she
was overjoyed when, soon after World War II, we were in-
vited to give a series of dance recitals in the Philippines. That
meant going by air, Alicia's favorite mode of travel.
She had no fear of flying, and thanks to her early training
under Guggy, when she slept to order between pantomime
shows at Kennington, she managed to sleep throughout most
of the plane journeys which we took together. We traveled
hundreds of thousands of miles by air, becoming the most
widely-traveled dancers in the world, with more flying hours
to our credit than any other members of our profession.
Before our trip to the Philippines we had had some ex-
perience of dancing in the tropics. In the spring of 1947 we
undertook a Central American tour, covering Cuba, Jamaica,
Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and
Salvador. In eight weeks we danced in eight different coun-
tries. In the autumn of the same year we flew to Mexico for a
season during which we could dance only four times a week,
because of the altitude. Following the torrid heat of Chicago,
we had to endure winter temperatures in Mexico accompa-
nied by disturbing electric storms.
On returning to the United States we embarked on a
twenty weeks' tour, .dancing on a different stage almost every
night, and spending the best part of the intervening day in
the air. Pavlova danced her way round the world, but never at
our breathless speed. In one week, London, New York, and
We left San Francisco by air in March 1948, for our Pacific
expedition, which proved an unforgettable experience, even
in our full and varied professional lives. We spent a week in
Honolulu and three weeks in the Philippines, with Manila
as our base. We danced favorite pas de deux and pas seuls
from our repertoire without the aid of a supporting company.
Our reception was marvelous, one that genuinely touched
The Philippines were devastated. The air-raid damage was
great, but, even worse was the trail of wreckage left by the
Japanese, who literally fought from house to house on these
islands. In this land of ruin and rubble, these gallant people
were living in a makeshift sort of way, leaving one to wonder
why they bothered to go on at all.
They could hardly believe their ears wh'en they heard that
we were going to dance for them. It was the first visit of
artistes of international standing since before the war, when
celebrities on their way to Australia would sometimes stop
and give a performance or two, as Pavlova did in 1924, when
she danced at the Manila Opera House. No one ever went
out especially to perform in the Philippines.
When we stepped out of our plane on Manila airfield we
274 ALICIA MARKOVA
were welcomed with garlands of gardenias and greeted like
royalty. A car was placed at our disposal and Alicia was pre-
sented with two native dresses, which she wore at the various
functions held in our honor. We danced to a piano accom-
paniment at the Opera House, on the stage where Pavlova
had danced The Dying Swan a quarter of a century earlier,
but for our open-air performances at the Stadium we ap-
peared with the Manila Symphony Orchestra. Thousands
who had never seen ballet hailed our opening performance
as the greatest night since the Liberation. Alicia was given
a cluster of pearls which the Japs had missed on their looting
expeditions, and was begged to have them made into earrings,
as a token of their undying gratitude.
Our first provincial engagement was at Beguio, an hour by
air from Manila. It was all rather primitive. The auditorium
was tiny and the stage, far too small for our requirements, was
dangerously slippery. Even rosin seemed to have no effect
upon the surface. We rigged up a temporary dressing room
which looked rather like a fortune teller's tent at a country
fair. We managed to secure a couple of spotlights from the
general store and arranged for two Filipinos to operate
them. We gave them our gelatine frames and explained how
the various items on the program were danced in light of
varying color. We might as well have saved our breath, as
the light remained blue throughout the entire evening.
At first we were furious, but later regarded the negligence
as a compliment. The two boys engaged to work the lights
were so entranced by what they saw on the stage that they
had eyes and ears for nothing else. They just crouched at the
side of the stage and watched us. They had never seen a bal-
lerina in their lives, so that tights, ballet slippers, and Alicia's
tutu were something quite new and fascinating to them.
When Alicia went up on her pointes, they thought they were
seeing a miracle.
In Bacolod we danced in heat that was simply overpower-
ing, even at nine o'clock in the evening. "Ballet was never
meant for the tropics," sighed Alicia, as she tried to get her
swollen feet into her ballet slippers. On the stage, her hand
was so hot with the humid heat that she had to rub the palm
surreptitiously against her velvet bodice before she extended
it to me. Otherwise it would have been impossible to grip it.
We both envied the natives who wore.no footwear at all.
Once again the audience gasped with amazement as they
watched Alicia standing on her toes, or me leaping into the
air. Most of them were seeing ballet for the first time, and
many were seeing a live show for the first time. Up to now
their entertainment had been confined to films. At the end
of our Chopin Suite they threw flowers on the stage, and
baskets of glorious blooms were handed up to Alicia after
the Don Quixote pas de deux.
We were practically compelled to give an additional re-
cital, though we found dancing in the heat a grueling experi-
ence, but it was impossible to refuse such delightful and en-
While we were in Manila we found time to impart a little
of our knowledge of the ballet. There were four large danc-
ing schools there, so anxious were the people to learn the
classical ballet. We gave a short but intensive course to one
of the teachers, leaving her with sufficient material to last
her pupils a year. The natives move with a natural grace, so
that dancing comes easily to them.
It would be impossible to take a full ballet company to the
276 ALICIA MARKOVA
tropics by air, as the fares alone would cost a fortune, but we
showed what could be done in the way of dance recitals under
hastily improvised conditions. We hoped that our pioneering
expedition would induce other famous artistes to go out to
the Pacific outposts, particularly musicians, who would not
be called upon to take a dozen stage costumes, packed as ours
were, in specially built lightweight luggage.
It was rather gratifying to look back on the tour when we
returned to the States. Before World War I, Diaghileff dis-
played the balletic gems of Imperial Russia in the sophisti-
cated centers of Europe and America. Now we tried to keep
pace with the times and improved modes of transport by
taking the ballet to the jungle towns of the Philippines.
We felt that Sergypop would have approved, even though
such an undertaking was beyond the wildest dreams of his
I HAVE seen Alicia receive many an ovation from audiences
wild with excitement, enthusiasm, and gratitude. I can still
hear the cockney pantomime-goers whistling their approval
as that tiny child let out a shriek in the death agony of her
Salome Dance. Her Blue Bird pas de deux always moved
Diaghileff audiences to an outburst of joy, and she won the
plaudits of Queen Mary when she danced in Lac des Cygnes
at Covent Garden. The applause sounded like thunder on
the night she first danced Giselle at the Old Vic, and there
was almost a riot at Drury Lane when the audience insisted
upon cheering her before the curtain without Lifar at her
Memorable as were all those receptions, they do not com-
pare with the applause Alicia earned when she really found
her feet in the United States. When she danced Giselle at the
278 ALICIA MARKOVA
Metropolitan Opera House in New York, the final curtain
was greeted by something that sounded like a stampede, as
the audience screamed their appreciation.
Though Alicia is not susceptible to flattery, her work is
definitely influenced by applause. She is the first to admit
that she is never good at rehearsal and always nervous in
class, but once she gets on the stage, with a crowded audience
on the other side of the footlights, she loses all feeling of re-
straint, inspired as she always is by the people who have come
to see her dance.
I am sure that Alicia will never forget how the audience at
the Metropolitan helped her in the most critical hour of her
whole career by the warmth of their welcome, when she felt
almost terrified to make her entrance.
It happened when she returned to the stage after her ill-
ness in 1943. In the summer of that year she met with an ac-
cident while dancing on the West Coast and, some weeks
later, it was discovered that she had ruptured herself and
that only rest would cure her. She appeared at the Metropoli-
tan on the opening night of the season but collapsed the fol-
lowing evening during a performance of Lac des Cgynes. The
next day she had to go to the hospital.
The operation (hernia) was successful, but in order to in-
sure a permanent recovery, she would have to stay in bed for
some weeks. For Alicia, that was hell. The longer she re-
mained in bed, the longer it would take her to get back
into dancing trim, and there were times, as she lay in her
New York apartment, with only her kitten for company,
when she doubted if she would ever dance again. As she con-
fided to me, she had reached the very pinnacle of her career,
only to be faced by the possibility that she might have seen
the last of her triumphs while still young. It was a ghastly
Her maestro, Vincenzo Celli, understood how she felt, and
made a point of calling to see her regularly after he had given
his morning lesson. He told her who had been to class, and
what they were doing. He told her of new ballets he had seen,
new shows on Broadway that had attracted his attention, and
how she would enjoy them when she was up and about again.
He kept her mind alert, but, above all, he gave her courage.
He banished her blackest fears, assuring her that she would
soon be dancing again, though he himself was not sure of this.
As Alicia herself has said, Celli inspired her with the will to
dance. Without his encouragement she probably never would
have tried again.
Wild rumors circulated about New York that Alicia would
have to give up dancing. No doubt there were some jealous
rivals who would have been very pleased to see her on the
When the wonderful day arrived that she was able to visit
Celli's studio, she found half the ballet critics in New York
assembled there. It was a terrifying moment, but Celli would
not allow her to execute more than three plies, and then sent
everybody away. Rather shaken by the experience, Alicia
began to wonder whether, even if she danced again, she
would ever be able to regain her old perfection. Celli en-
couraged her, just as a doctor might encourage a patient try-
ing out an artificial limb for the first time, and at last she felt
that she could accept Hurok's invitation to rejoin the com-
pany on the coast, and dance once a week.
280 ALICIA MARKOVA
At first Alicia did not attempt to do any of the big adagios,
and it depressed her to watch other dancers taking over parts
which were hers by right. For the first time in her life she ap-
preciated the importance of good health. She worked on the
tour gradually, until she was back in her stride, though she
had yet to dance Giselle again. Hurok asked her if she would
dance it on the opening night of their season at the Metro-
politan. She consented to do it, but a cold fear took posses-
sion of her as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Would
she be able to do it? Could she possibly surpass the perform-
ances she had given in the past, or even equal them?
The dreaded night arrived. Sick with nerves, she faced her
make-up mirror in her familiar dressing room at the Metro-
politan. She had dressed so often for Giselle in that very
room. Had the magic of those nights gone forever? She had
never felt so wretched in the whole of her life, she told me.
The music flowed along, getting nearer and nearer to her
cue. At last the moment came. Albrecht knocked at the door,
and she opened it. The moment those thousands of people
saw her, they shouted their delight, and for a few moments
there was tumultuous applause.
Alicia was so stunned by it that for a few seconds her mind
went completely blank. Then she experienced such confi-
dence as she had not known since her illness. Through their
applause, those people had told her that they were delighted
to see her back, and that they wished her well.
She went back to her dressing room that night literally
walking on air, thrilled with the knowledge that once more
she had danced a two-act ballet and that she was still the dar-
ling of the New York balletomanes. Her tour of triumph
swept away any bad effects which those months o suffering
and anxiety might have left in her mind. The public had
assured her that she was still their prima ballerina assoluta.
No wonder Alicia loves her public. Even so, she never
takes them for granted, which is one reason why every Mar-
kova performance is an exhilarating experience for every
member of the audience. She regards every gathering of
people as an unknown quantity. It is impossible to prophesy
how they will react, so she dances with the one idea of capti-
vating them. Imagining to herself that she is meeting them
for the first time, she sets out to make a favorable impression
and win them over.
No wonder the public love Alicia! She treats them with
the greatest respect, whether they are on Broadway or in the
heart of Texas. To use living's old phrase, she is indeed their
Alicia would never tolerate dirty slippers or tired costumes
on the stage. Even in the wilds of the Philippines, in the
highest temperature we had ever experienced, she looked fit
to make an entrance on an opening night at the Metropolitan.
"I think applause should be encouraged," Alicia says, "not
because it flatters one's vanity, but because I think it is good
for the artistes and the audience. It never worries me when
they applaud in the middle of a ballet, after a variation or an
adagio. It is encouraging to have a pat on the back when you
yourself know that you have danced particularly well. The
classical ballets were designed to evoke applause at certain
points. The dancers strike attitudes, and it is quite natural
to applaud them before they go on to the next item or move-
ment in the ballet. These breaks for applause are helpful in
282 ALICIA MARKOVA
giving the dancer time to recover her breath in readiness for
the next phase.
"When an audience is swept away by the excitement
created by dancers on the stage, they require spontaneous ex-
pression of their feelings. It is only natural that they should
want to shout 'Bravo' when the ballerina completes a varia-
tion which, to use that most hackneyed of phrases, is the very
poetry of motion. Applause must always be spontaneous and
never asked for by a ballerina who dances her variation in a
manner to accentuate the difficulties of her art. She must
never say to her audience even mentally, 'Now, watch! Look
how difficult this is!' Such an artiste is only fit for the sensa-
tionalism of the music hall or the circus.
"If a dance looks difficult from the front, through the man-
ner in which it is executed, the artiste is obviously not ready
for the stage. She must go back to the classroom and work still
harder before she shows herself in public. In my Diaghileff
days I would perform four or five pirouettes in class, but
never more than two on the stage. I was taught to give the
impression of having great reserves and of being capable of
doing far more than I actually did at a performance.
"Students are much too impressed by acrobatics, failing to
realize that they cannot begin to interpret a role in ballet if
they have to concentrate too deeply upon the technical dif-
ficulties involved. The ballerina has to put something of
herself into all the great roles, and this is possible only when
she is in a position to forget her technique. As Danilova once
said to me, 'If our legs don't know where they are going by
this time, they never will! 5
"I have no patience with dancers who pretend to dislike
applause breaking in during the action of a ballet. If they
feel that way about it, they should never appear in a theater,
but confine their dancing activities to a studio behind locked
doors. Any artiste who steps on to the stage of a theater can
no longer expect to be sheltered. She lays herself open to criti-
"Just as I think applause should be spontaneous, so should
be the ballerina's curtain call. For that reason I no longer
take a flower from my bouquet and give it to my partner. If
I do so every time, it loses all significance by becoming a rit-
ual, almost a part of the performance, which is anticipated
by the audience. After all, the curtain call is not part of the
ballet, but a moment of personal contact between the artiste
and her public. It can never be rehearsed or it ceases to be
either spontaneous or personal. The custom of the ballerina
presenting her partner with a flower has often been ridiculed
in the American press, particularly by the cartoonists, who
enjoy depicting the dancer unable to snap the stem of the
flower she selects. As soon as I saw one of those drawings, I
realized that the sooner the custom was discontinued the
"Stage doors are another expression of admiration. It is
gratifying to find people waiting there, sometimes long after
the performance, as it means that the artiste has aroused a
lasting interest, an enthusiasm which lives on after the fall
of the curtain. It is hardly fair to cheat them by slipping away
from the theater by means of another exit door. It is not the
right way to foster a spirit of loyalty or devotion in one's
public. There are moments when it requires something of an
effort to face the stage-door crowds, but it is just another
penalty for being in the public eye.
"Never shall I forget the last night of our 1948 season at
284 ALICIA MARKOVA
Covent Garden, when we appeared in London for the first
time after World War II, dancing as guest artistes with the
Sadler's Wells Ballet. The last night was a Saturday. I had
given two performances and therefore had not eaten since
breakfast-time. I was almost sick with hunger and with the
heat, which happened to be very oppressive in London just
"As I was moving out of the theater that night, I had to
superintend a certain amount of packing and clearing up,
which meant that a good hour elapsed before I reached the
stage door. The street was solid with admirers. With the aid
of the stage-door keeper and two firemen from the Opera
House I managed to climb into a waiting car. Once I was
safely installed, the crowd surrounded the car on all sides,
pressing their faces against the windows and even against the
glass panel behind my head.
"Programs and photographs were thrust in for me to auto-
graph. There were hundreds. While it was all very gratifying,
there were moments when it was unpleasant, as I felt rather
dizzy from want of food, and though I never suffer from claus-
trophobia, it was rather disturbing to look up and see faces
bearing down upon me on all sides. It would have made a
wonderful nightmare sequence in a macabre film. My wrist
was bordering on collapse as I signed the last program, after
thirty minutes of high-speed penmanship.
"When everyone had secured my signature and a few had
requested a flower from my bouquets, the car was able to
move away. As we proceeded, the crowds divided themselves
into an avenue, almost as if they had rehearsed the scene
earlier in the evening. As we drove between those two densely
packed lines they cheered and cried 'Come back soon!' I felt
a lump in my throat. It was a wonderful moment which I
would never have known had I escaped by the front of the
"I have never been able to understand why stage-door
crowds seem to exist only in English-speaking countries. In
Britain, the United States, and South Africa, I have been
greeted by masses at the stage door, but never in any other
countries, though we have received most enthusiastic ap-
plause in the theater after our performance. It was the same
with the Diaghileff company. No one ever came to the stage
door in Monte Carlo, though the performances evoked scenes
of the wildest enthusiasm in the theater."
Apart from the glorious flowers which are presented to
Alicia after every performance she has received the strangest
expressions of admiration. When, during World War
II, it was difficult to get some foods and delicacies, and she
was trying to put on weight, Tony, the night stage-door
keeper at the Metropolitan, gave her a huge bunch of ba-
nanas, which made a strange companion for the exquisite
sprays of orchids which were handed to her as the curtain fell
on Giselle. Ray, the day stage-door keeper at the Metropoli-
tan, would bring an occasional lamb chop as his part of the
diet. One of his family did not eat meat, so he passed it on
to Alicia, who looked so fragile that he thought she must be
When we visited Durban on our South African tour, Alicia
was attended by a very fine masseur, who refused to take a
fee for his services. Instead, he begged to be allowed to take
S>86 ALICIA MARKOVA
a plaster cast of her right foot, which he considered to be per-
fection itself. He wanted it to be on permanent exhibition in
his city, giving as much pleasure as a piece of rare sculpture.
Alicia's dresser had to keep a strict watch on her costumes
and accessories, especially when we were on tour, in strange
theaters, or improvised town halls. In Cape Town, for in-
stance, somebody stole the white wreath which she wears in
the last act of Giselle. It was of no value, but such zeal on the
part of souvenir hunters could quite easily lead to an embar-
rassing situation for the ballerina. If Giselle had no flower
to pluck or the Swan Queen no crown to wear, the ballet
would be in a pretty bad way.
I have never asked Alicia what she considered her most
cherished token of admiration, but if I were she I would say
it was this article which John Martin wrote in the New York
Times on April 11, 1943. It was headed "Miracle That Is
Markova," and read in part:
. . . Markova is the perfect epitome of the classic ballerina.
It is not always understood just what this implies. It has nothing
to do with how many pirouettes or fouettes or entrechats she can
execute; it has equally little to do with her pulchritude or her
qualifications as a mate for one of those college boys who an-
nually imagine themselves stranded a deux on a desert island.
The essence of the classic ballet is the presentation of the highest
possible idealization of person, as purely abstract person, un-
fettered by the limitations of the actual universe, able to trans-
cend its laws at will and of course.
The true classic dancer never tries to deceive you into thinking
in terms of the actual; she is not a peasant maid cruelly betrayed
in Giselle, she is not an erotic gypsy without conscience in Ale"ko,
she is not an enchanted princess in Swan Lake. She is always and
invariably an idealization of herself, using these characters on so
many occasions to demonstrate the wideness of her dominion. . . .
There is no attempt whatever at realism or credibility or any of
the concerns of romanticism; there is only the sheer logic of the
medium, itself, the most complete aesthetic abstraction of which
the human body is capable. In the light of this theory, Markova's
art stands forth in all its effulgence. It is because she has so in-
stinctive a mastery of formal beauty within these terms that night
after night she moves her spectators to such emotion that often
they find themselves automatically cheering. Her lightness and
brilliance, extraordinary as they are, are only incidental to this
larger aspect of her art. No phrase is ever left unfinished, no move-
ment is ever difficult, no subtlety of design is ever overlooked.
But the wholeness of the art is more than merely the sum of all
these parts. There are things that cannot be understood; like
light or air they can be analyzed to the last detail and remain still
magic and mystery in experience.
MAITRE DE BALLET
*+*>*^S>*> f Sxe>**S>^^3xS^
IT may come as something of a shock to the ordinary person
to learn that a great dancer such as Markova should have a
daily lesson from a maitre de ballet, in her case Vincenzo
Celli. He or she probably imagines that she has learned all
there is to know about the art of dancing and can rest on her
laurels. Nothing is further from the truth. She has, of course,
long mastered all the steps, but, like all other great dancers,
she still finds it necessary to be watched by someone in au-
thority, in order that she may avoid falling into bad habits
or acquiring mannerisms.
When Markova danced in New York, Celli sat in front
and went round to her dressing room afterward with a frank
opinion of the performance. There was no suggestion of flat-
tery about his remarks, which consisted of an honest account
of his observations. If he saw a fault creeping in, he said so,
2QO ALICIA MARKOVA
and at class the next day they worked on that part of the
ballet until it was perfected.
A man such as Celli who not only teaches beginners but
professional dancers as well who come to him as a singer goes
to an operatic coach for advice and guidance, delights in
coaching a rare talent. As in the world of music, where teach-
ers are so often specialists, so in the ballet, dancers choose
their ballet masters according to their individual require-
Diaghileff changed his maitre de ballet almost every year,
and each time he chose a specialist in a different sphere.
When Alicia first joined his company, she was put under
Cecchetti, as she needed placing, and her work called for
strength and endurance. The next year Legat, who was very
alert and quick, gave her that speed and precision which had
been essential qualities of the great ballerinas in Imperial
St. Petersburg, where he was soloist to the Tsar. During her
third year with the Diaghileff company, Balanchine showed
her a more modern approach to ballet, and while in Paris,
Diaghileff sent her to Egorova, a former Maryinsky ballerina,
who gave her a sense of the theater and the grand manner.
In the daily classes, Tchernicheva kept her rigidly to the
Cecchetti ideals and saw that she lost none of the strength
which the old maestro had given her.
When we formed the Markova-Dolin Company, we en-
gaged Nijinska as our ballet mistress, and she gave Alicia a
new style and made her even more theater-conscious than
ever. After the termination of our company, and before Alicia
joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, she studied with
Anna Pruzina, in London.
MAITRE DE BALLET 2Q1
Alicia did not dance in public for three months. She had
a complete overhaul, something which was not possible while
she was working and on tour with our own company. Under
Pruzina, she developed the lyrical and plastic side of her work
in readiness for the parts she was to dance in Massine's sym-
phonic ballets. In Monte Carlo, she had lessons from Sedova
and, later, in the United States, she worked with Spessiva in
her New York studio. In Chicago, she and Danilova shared
lessons with Novikoff, one of Pavlova's most famous partners.
In London, before she danced Aurora in 1948, she had lessons
with Vera Volkova.
Even from the time of her earliest lessons with Astafieva,
Alicia has never depended upon a teacher. In the theater,
one sees actresses who give the impression of genius when
guided by a particular director. Under the influence of
another they emerge as mediocre artists, incapable of a memo-
rable performance. Such a state of affairs would be even more
devastating in the ballet, where the dancer must always be
in a position to hold her own and to dance with any partner
worthy of the name. Her maestro may be three thousand
miles away, so if she always has to rely upon him, she will
stand a poor chance of making a favorable impression upon
Alicia has listened carefully to all the various ballet mas-
ters, but she has never been completely swayed by any one of
them. She has always kept her independence by retaining
thoughts and ideas of her own. She can never be classed as
So-and-So's pupil on the stage, just as certain photographs,
by their style and lighting, proclaim the name of the photo-
grapher even before one has had a chance to examine the face
2gS ALICIA MARKOVA
of the sitter. Alicia has tried to assimilate something from
each maestro, and upon that she has built her own concep-
tion of a ballerina, according to her individual style and
approach. She still needs a maestro at her side to assure her
that she is within reach of her ideal.
The maestro should be a sure link with tradition. Great
teachers such as Egorova, Preobrajenska, and Khessinska all
danced in the Imperial theaters of Russia, and know how the
classic ballets should be performed. By setting up dance
studios in Paris, they have passed on the great tradition to the
Western world, so that a young dancer of today can be sure
that her Aurora or her Odette is conceived along the right
The maestro has a great responsibility in handing down
the choreography of ballets from father to son, so that as
little as possible is lost and the production of a ballet today
bears a fairly close resemblance to that of the original per-
formance in the last century.
Massine, when he was with the Ballet Russe de Monte
Carlo, recorded the choreography of most of the ballets with
his own movie camera. At Monte Carlo, where the company
did their intensive spring rehearsing for their tours of Europe
and America, he had a special projection room to which
every new member of the company was taken for preliminary
study of the ballets in which they were to appear. Most of the
films were made while the company were in practice clothes,
though a number of others were taken during actual per-
formances on tour. Special shots of each set were made to
complete the record of the production.
In London, Marie Rambert has a vast collection of
MAITRE DE BALLET 2 93
privately made films which will prove invaluable to dancers
of the future, as they include Spessiva's Mad Scene from
Giselle and Alicia in a number of Ballet Club productions,
almost forgotten, even now.
BACK TO BRITAIN
**S?4!> : S**>+*S>SZ&>&55><Sz&>S^^
ALICIA was dancing in Mexico City when we received the first
intimation that we were going to be asked to return to Lon-
don to appear with the Sadler's Wells Ballet. We had already
had two other offers from England, one of which I was very
anxious to accept. That I changed my mind was due entirely
to Alicia's good judgment. "No, PatteY* she said. "We will
wait until we are asked officially to come back to dance with
the ballet. Money is not the main object. We must make it a
right return in every sense of the word." She was being very
sensible. Once again we were in complete accord.
In that summer of 1948 we turned down a $32,000 con-
tract with Sol Hurok and accepted instead an offer from the
Sadler's Wells Ballet Company to appear as guest artistes at
Covent Garden dancing in Giselle, Lac des Cygnes, The
Sleeping Beauty^ and Les Sylphides. I was also going to do
one or two performances of Job, in which Alicia did not
It was arranged that I should fly to London alone, to make
the necessary arrangements, and to discuss technical matters
with Ninette de Valois, leaving Alicia to follow by ship. She
made her plans so that she would have about ten clear days
between landing and making her first appearance at Covent
Garden in Giselle. She dislikes sea travel, but she thought that
she had left herself more than sufficient time to be on top
of her form for her new conquest of her native city.
A week before I left New York to fly to London, a cable
reached us from the directors of Covent Garden, asking if
we would appear at the annual performance for the Sadler's
Wells Benevolent Fund at which Her Majesty Queen Eliza-
beth, now the Queen Mother, and Her Royal Highness Prin-
cess Margaret were to be present. Under ordinary circum-
stances it would have been difficult to refuse, but impossible
in this case when we should have the honor of dancing before
a beloved Queen and Princess who were so interested in
ballet. Naturally, we accepted although we knew it was going
to be very difficult for us.
I arrived in London two days before the royal performance
was to take place. The ship on which Alicia traveled to Eng-
land docked at Southampton in the dead of night, and a wait-
ing car rushed her to her suite at the Savoy Hotel, where her
sister, Vivienne, whom she had not seen since 1939, was wait-
ing for her.
Doris, who had come over from New York with Alicia,
stayed behind to cope with the luggage and to get the neces-
sary costumes through the Customs, in order to have them
BACK TO BRITAIN
ready to wear at Covent Garden that night. Mrs. Marks was
staying in London, and Bunny, now married and living in
Birmingham, was traveling the next day with her baby, Susan,
whom Alicia had never seen.
Our hurriedly arranged appearance at Covent Garden was
not one of our best performances, as Alicia was still feeling
dizzy from the crossing and was conscious of the motion of the
ship all the time we danced on the stage. Unfortunately,
we had chosen one of the most difficult pas de deux, the Don
Quixote one. However, it provided some grand material for
malicious gossip in the Crush Bar, One very well-known
critic was heard to say in a loud voice, which was meant to
carry to those within earshot, and did to several of my friends,
that "Markova was finished, and Dolin had gained in
The house gave us a warm welcome, though, which helped
to lessen our disappointment at the absence of the present
Queen Mother, who had had to cancel all public engagements
because Princess Margaret was confined to Buckingham Pal-
ace, suffering from an attack of measles.
I was sorry that I had persuaded Alicia to make the effort,
but she was so happy to be in London again that she soon
threw off her depression and eagerly looked forward to her
appearance in Giselle.
The night of our real return to Covent Garden was some-
thing of an occasion. The vast house buzzed with excitement,
and I was happy to hear, just before the curtain rose, that
Adeline Gene was in the theater. Alicia and I were both ex-
tremely nervous, and as we had just come from our engage-
ment in the Philippines, I comforted her by saying that what-
2Q8 ALICIA MARKOVA
ever else might happen, we need have no fear of being
blinded by sweat running into our eyes, which actually hap-
pened in Manila. That brought a quick, frightened smile
from her as she took up her position behind the door of Gi-
selle's cottage in readiness to make her first entrance.
She gained a certain confidence from the knowledge that
her mother was sitting in a box with Bunny, while Vivienne
was in another part of the house with Mr. and Mrs. Golodetz,
those faithful friends of her childhood. Fortunately she didn't
know that Mrs. Marks, who was ill with excitement, had even
refused a little brandy, she was so afraid of being sick and
disgracing the star of the evening.
The curtain rose. I knocked on Giselle's door. Alicia
skipped on to the stage, to receive a welcome that almost
knocked her back again. She told me afterward that she was
so scared and at the same time so relieved to get her entrance
over that she wanted to smile, but discovered that her nerves
had brought on a sort of facial paralysis. She tried to smile,
but nothing happened. For a second she was terrified that
the affliction would spread to her legs and leave her helpless
in the center of the stage. But all was well. The music gave
her courage. And we danced on the crest of a triumph which
culminated in one of the most moving Mad Scenes Alicia has
Her sister Bunny saw Alicia dance Giselle for the first time.
When she had been in the corps de ballet at Sadler's Wells,
she had often appeared in this ballet with her sister, but never
realized just how moving it was from the front. It was almost
too much for her. As soon as the curtain fell, she slipped back
into the dark corner of the box and sobbed her heart out. Be-
BACK TO BRITAIN 2 99
low, the house was roaring its approval. Above, the gallery
stamped and whistled their agreement. Old friends and new
fans joined together to welcome us without reserve. The
worst was over. Mrs. Marks, with misty eyes, breathed a long
sigh of relief, and then turned to comfort her tearful youngest
daughter sobbing in the shadows behind her.
Perhaps a few lines from Theatre World illustrates what
that Covent Garden audience thought of us:
"Frenzied applause greeted their final curtain that thunder
only heard on historic occasions at the Opera House. Both Mar-
kova and Dolin had never been seen to better advantage. It was
not necessary to make excuses for them or to wish the younger
generation had seen them ten years earlier. They were obviously
two of the greatest dancers of our time, now at the peak of their
careers. Their ballet partnership is of such long standing that it
has developed that same telepathic quality which is a feature of
the teamwork of the Lunts in the theater. The merest gesture
of one dancer finds a reflection in the other. Their confidence in
each other is something to marvel ata miracle rarely experienced
outside the music hall, where trapeze artists take the breath
away by the trust they place in each other. Rarely do dancers
have the good fortune to partner each other almost exclusively
for more than a generation.
"Markova's Giselle is still one of the great balletic characteriza-
tions within living memory. It is never used as a vehicle to dis-
play her dancing technique. The simplicity of the mad scene
heightens the pathos, while the second act transfigures her into a
vision as ethereal as any lithograph of Grisi or Taglioni. A pure
inner flame burns throughout, so that we are ever conscious of
the tragic Giselle rather than the expert ballerina. Though Giselle
is a character created by a choreographer, and not by a dramatist,
she is, when danced by Markova, as real to us as Juliet or
gOO ALICIA MARKOVA
Some of my readers may think me vain for reproducing
this criticism, but as I have eulogized so much about Alicia
during the earlier days of our partnership and with justifi-
cationit seems only fitting to include an opinion that was to
appear so many years later.
We knew both Giselle and Swan Lake in their entirety.
After all, Markova had been the reason for the first produc-
tions at the Sadler's Wells many years previously. She had
first danced Giselle with me at the Old Vic and later, when
Swan Lake was produced, Robert Helpmann was her partner.
It was not until the summer season of 1935 that I learned
Swan Lake and thereafter danced it with her many times.
One of the things I shall always remember about Alicia was
the rapidity with which she learned The Sleeping Beauty.
She had a phenomenal memory and added to this blessing
the gift of learning a role quickly. There was no time to study
this long and exacting work over a period of weeks, even
months, as other ballerinas had done. She knew the Rose
Adagio and the variation of the second act. She also knew
the famous pas de deux of the last act and the solo that ac-
companies it. That was all. I knew a little more, for I had
watched from the wings week after week and learned much
from that never-to-be-forgotten Diaghileff production of the
same ballet at the Alhambra Theatre in 1921.
Alicia learned this tremendous role in less than two weeks,
in addition to dancing two other ballets at the same time. It
was an amazing feat, and I doubt whether it has ever been
equaled by any other ballerina.
Alicia danced all through the first acts as only she could
BACK TO BRITAIN 301
dance, but I feel sure she will agree with me that the breath-
taking brilliance of the pas de deux in the last act and the
diamond, steel-like quality she gave to the Aurora variation
were the climax of a wonderful tour de force.
That engagement at Covent Garden was exciting and chal-
lenging. It had not been easy to pick up the threads after an
absence of nine years and to dance before a new generation of
critical balletomanes who had heard all about us from their
elders, but were anxious to pass their own judgment. Two of
the leading dancers at Sadler's Wells, Beryl Grey and Moira
Shearer, had never seen us dance. They were schoolgirls
when we went to the United States. And it was the same with
many other younger members of the company.
It was pretty obvious to us that during those years in the
States, ballet had increased in popularity in Britain and now
appealed to an even wider public than in the days of the
Markova-Dolin Ballet. No doubt the war had increased the
demand for ballet, as people had found it an ideal medium
of escape in those dreadful days. When most of the London
theaters were closed at the beginning of the bomb attacks,
the New Theatre, the home of the Sadler's Wells Ballet, was
packed to capacity.
It was also obvious to us that many people who wanted to
see us dance had not been able to get seats for the Covent
Garden season, as our appearances there were limited to two
or three a week. Certainly the gallery seats were bookable in
advance, but very few could spare the time to stand in queues
for hours. Feeling that something ought to be done to cater
to the thousands of people who still wished to see us dance,
Alicia suggested that we should take on a little more pioneer-
g02 ALICIA MARKOVA
ing and give what were to be the first arena performances of
ballet in Britain.
Early in 1949 we agreed to dance at the Empress Hall,
Earl's Court, for five nights, and we gave a series of dance
recitals which were a colossal success. Though the stadium
was normally used for ice hockey matches, and though the
temperature in London was more conducive to a night by the
fireside, we managed to pack the enormous hall. As there
was undoubtedly a tremendous audience for arena ballet in
London, at the end of August 1949 we appeared at the even
bigger Harringay Arena, and drew a total of 40,000 people
in five nights. Lower prices of admission made ballet acces-
sible to the masses. The people flocked to see us, and we re-
ceived shoals of letters begging us to return.
Our appearances at Earl's Court and Harringay shocked
the highbrows, who claimed that we were vulgarizing the bal-
let by dragging that great art to the level of the circus. I can
do no better than quote a letter which I wrote to the Man-
chester Guardian as far back as 1937. That paper suggested
that Markova had imperiled her artistry by appearing in
pantomime at the London Hippodrome during the second
year of the Markova-Dolin Ballet, when we were unable to
secure a theater in London for our own ballet during the
Christmas season. It is as follows:
"This snobbism appalls me. I danced Espagnol just as well at
the Manchester Hippodrome (then a music hall) under Sir Os-
wald StolFs banner as I did at the Opera House when I appeared
with the Markova-Dolin Ballet. Markova's performance in The
Nightingale and the Rose was received with as much enthusiasm
by the audience and the critics at the same theater (where she
danced it on many occasions with me) as it was recently at the
BACK TO BRITAIN 30$
Opera House. Did Pavlova imperil her art because she appeared
at the Palace music hall or danced in a bull-ring? Was the Rus-
sian Ballet any less great when, in 1924 and 1925, it was presented
as part of a music-hall program at the London Coliseum?
"I would like to point out to your critic that in these days it
requires the finest of dancing (not only in the theaters that spe-
cialize in and cater for the ballet) to satisfy an audience watching
and paying for entertainment. When Markova and I appeared
in Mother Goose at the London Hippodrome, we gave the audi-
ence a strictly classical Tchaikovsky pas de deux based as nearly
as possible on the original Petipa steps. We were dressed in the
strictest of classic pas de deux clothes, and the only criticism
from the audience who came to see Markova and Dolin dance
was that they would have liked more.
"Let me say in conclusion that it takes a very great artist to be
a complete success outside the atmosphere and entourage of the
ballet, where everything is done to help. This may sound boastful,
but in the interests of accuracy, it must be said that both Markova
and I have appeared on many occasions without this help and at-
mosphere and always received at the hands of the audience our
full measure of success/'
I feel that my words are just as true today. We never cheap-
ened our programs, which consisted of the same pas seuls
and pas de deux which would have been given on an evening
of popular ballet at Covent Garden. To the masses at Har-
ringay WQ gave a full-length version of Giselle, the second act
of Lac des Cygnes, Casse Noisette, Les Sylphides, and a num-
ber of solos, such as The Dying Swan and Autumn Song for
Alicia and Ravel's Bolero for me. These works gave countless
people a chance to hear some of the loveliest music written
by the master musicians and to see some of the finest choreog-
raphy in the whole repertoire of ballet.
As I stood behind a trelliswork column and watched Alicia
304 ALICIA MARKOVA
casting her spell over 8,000 people, more than four times the
size of a capacity audience at Covent Garden, I knew that we
had done the right thing. The cheering people at the end
more than confirmed my opinion.
When we succeeded in drawing to the ballet crowds of a
size only previously associated with popular sporting events
in England, we were naturally able to command higher fees
than would have been possible in an ordinary theater. The
highbrows again raised their hands in horror and talked of
vulgarity. Surely we could still be good dancers, even though
we managed to attract thousands rather than hundreds of
people a night. Taglioni and Fanny Elssler earned large fees
in their day, so did Genee and Kyasht at the Empire, and
Pavlova left a fortune of 82,000 in Britain and America, as
a result of twenty years* hard work. Surely artistes deserve a
good salary after devoting twenty years or more of their life
In the spring of 1949 Alicia and I flew to South Africa to
give twelve performances and stayed to give forty-eight. The
audiences simply overwhelmed us with gratitude. After some
appearances they detained us for as long as two hours while
we signed programs and they tried to express their apprecia-
tion of the joy we had given them. We opened in Johannes-
burg, where we had to give six extra performances before we
moved on to Pretoria, Durban, and Cape Town, where I
produced the first full-length Giselle seen in South Africa.
For this I used a finely trained and disciplined company
picked from Dulcie Howes' Cape Town University Ballet
and the South African National Ballet directed by Cecily
Robinson, who turned out to be one of the best teachers
and trainers of corps de ballet that I have ever seen.
BACK TO BRITAIN 305
Before we left South Africa, we danced in Port Elizabeth,
East London, and Bloemfontein, returned to Johannesburg,
and then went on to Bulawayo, Salisbury, and Nairobi, where
Alicia had to have a cat in her dressing room to catch the mice
and prevent them from making their home in her costume
The whole tour was highly successful.
Unfortunately, the triumph was clouded by a tragic blow
that descended upon Alicia unexpectedly. While we were in
Johannesburg, she received a cable from her sister Vivienne
saying that their mother had died suddenly. Mrs. Marks had
been spending a good deal of her time with relatives in
Brighton. She came up to London to have lunch with Vivian
van Damm and ask his advice about some business. While
sitting with him in the canteen at the Windmill Theatre,
she said she felt ill. Before lunch was over, Vivian realized
that she was seriously ill. He telephoned to Birmingham for
Vivienne and Bunny, but before they could reach London
Mrs. Marks had passed away in the Charing Cross Hospital.
Doris was in Italy acting as manager for Katherine Dunham
and her company.
I am very glad that I was with Alicia when the shattering
news came. I had known her mother for twenty-eight years.
We had first met at Astafieva's, and I had seen a great deal
of her during the Diaghileff days when she joined Alicia after
Guggy's tragic death. During Alicia's seasons at Sadler's
Wells, and throughout the two years of the Markova-Dolin
Ballet, I saw so much of her, and grew so fond of her, that
she came to look upon me as a son. After all, Alicia and I had
grown up together, and Mrs. Marks had been there all the
time with that kind smile and quiet optimism which meant
306 ALICIA MARKOVA
so much to Alicia when her plans failed to materialize as
quickly as she would have wished.
That evening, only a few hours after Alicia learned of her
beloved mother 's death, she had to dance with me in excerpts
from the second act of Giselle. It was part of our announced
program. At that moment I admired Alicia not as the artiste
but as the woman. To have to rise from her grave as Giselle,
to have to descend into it at the end, as the scene demanded,
called for a will power and a strength that I had not thought
possible. Her Dying Swan that evening was danced to and
for her mother. At the end of the dance, as Alfred Katz and
I helped her to her dressing room, she was on the verge of
Alicia bore her loss bravely and, true to the trouper's tradi-
tion, she carried on, the "humble servant" of her public. It
is what her mother would have wished. Loving the ballet
so much herself, she would never have approved of Alicia
disappointing hundreds of people, especially in a country
where ballet was such a rare treat.
Poor Mrs. Marks! She did everything she could to make
Alicia the most widely-known ballerina in the world, but that
fame which her daughter won only served to keep them apart.
As the years went by and Alicia climbed higher up the lad-
der, she saw less and less of her mother. She was always the
most dutiful and affectionate daughter, but the responsibili-
ties of an international career brought about a situation
which made it more than difficult for her to spend any length
of time with her mother.
Mrs. Marks was very unhappy at times about Alicia. She
felt that she was not getting the happiness she deserved. Her
BACK TO BRITAIN 07
career made such enormous demands upon her that her life
had become nothing but work, travel, and living up to her
reputation. There seemed to be no time to sit down and enjoy
it, as they had hoped in those Diaghileff days when, in some
tiny hotel bedroom, they would dream of the time when
Alicia would be a prima ballerina, occasionally able to rest
on her laurels and enjoy some of the luxuries which were
then beyond their grasp.
It never turned out quite as they had imagined. When Mrs.
Marks joined Alicia in America for a time, no one was hap-
pier than she when they stayed together at Danilova's country
place in New Jersey. That brief spell really seemed like old
times, but ballerinas cannot remain for long in one place,
and they, too, soon had to depart to fulfil their respective
engagements. Mrs. Marks knew Felia Doubrovska, one of the
Diaghileff ballerinas, who was Danilova's neighbor in New
Jersey, but it was not the same without Alicia and Ghoura.
In New York, though Alicia's friends were kind to her
mother, paying her regular and frequent attentions, she was
lonely. There was no one there who knew her in the old days
and who could see Alicia's career in the same light as her
friends in England. No one in New York knew the whole
story from the Kennington pantomime to the Metropolitan
Opera House. She came to see me one day and told me she
was going back to England. Sad though she was at leaving
Alicia in America, she felt it was best.
"Pat dear," she said, "Alicia is busy. She is famous. Though
I know she is always my most-loved daughter, I feel it better
that I should go back to London now. I must not be a burden
308 ALICIA MARKOVA
to her in any way. Her work must come first. That is what I
Before Alicia and I accepted the engagement for South
Africa she expressed the wish that the air trip to Johannes-
burg would allow her to stop off in London to see her mother
and her sisters. It was not easy, for African Theatres, our
managers in South Africa, were becoming impatient and in-
sisting more and more on our immediate arrival.
We flew in from New York and stayed in London a few
days before flying on to Johannesburg. Alicia entertained a
handful of her really intimate friends in her room at the
Savoy. After they had gone, and she was left alone with her
mother, she promised to buy her a little house out of the
money she was going to make on the South African tour.
They would try to find a place not too far from London,
probably somewhere near Brighton, so that the family could
go down and stay with their mother whenever they could
manage to steal a few hours away from their jobs. Also it
would be an ideal spot for Alicia in which to rest between
Before we went to South Africa, we fixed the Harringay
performances for the end of August and the beginning of
September. Alicia wanted to dance at this time in order to
be able to spend August with her mother, between the two
engagements. By the time she returned to London in August,
Alicia was herself the head of her little family.
After Harringay, our first and very happy engagement
under the management of Tom Arnold and Clem Butson, we
toured some of the larger cities, appearing for two and three
BACK TO BRITAIN 309
nights in each of them in the largest halls we could engage.
We were now preparing a tour presented by Dr. Julian
Braunsweg, following on our reappearance in London at
the Covent Garden Opera House. I had had my first discus-
sions with him, on behalf of Alicia and myself. He was very
anxious to bring us back again to England to tour the larger
cities, either just the two of us, or supported by a small group
of dancers. We thought the latter arrangement was best, and
once again Gracie Cone, my old teacher and a dear friend of
both Alicia and me, was in charge of a small but fine en-
semble of dancers whom we took with us on this our first
tour of England since 1937.
We opened the tour on September 12, 1949, at Newcastle.
Fourteen years previously on November 11, 1935, to be
exactit had been there that we opened the Markova-Dolin
By means of a portable stage and steel scaffolding, we
managed to erect a theater in each hall, so that our per-
formances were not entirely stripped of that atmosphere
which helps to make ballet all the more enjoyable.
In Hull, the City Hall, which holds 1,800 people, was sold
out six weeks before we opened. On the previous evening
the local paper carried an advertisement offering five guineas
for a single seat or standing place.
The audience, typical of the many we encountered on that
tour, stamped and waved their programs, and the next day
the newspapers reported an "outbreak" of balletomania in
Hull. It was the same in every city we visited, whether we
danced in a municipal hall or on the stage of a super cinema.
HOME AT LAST
As we were flying back to London at the end of our South
African tour, I glanced at Alicia, sitting pensively in the next
seat. A book lay unopened in her lap. I had not the faintest
idea what she was thinking about. She looked more Sphinx-
like than ever. I began to wonder just what her life had given
her, apart from an international reputation. Her career had
become her life and her life her career, but had it all been
It seemed to me that she had paid a very high price for her
fame. Her childhood pleasures were swept aside as she had
prepared to dance Salome for Kennington pantomime pa-
trons. Then came the arduous years of perfecting her tech-
nique at Astafieva's as well as with Diaghileff. The period at
Sadler's Wells must have given Alicia her first spell of sus-
tained happiness. There, as England's first ballerina in every
sense of the word, she danced the great classic roles for the
first time and drew all London out to a suburban theater to
be spellbound by the magic of ballet.
Since then she had not had much fun. With our own Mar-
kova-Dolin Ballet we were constantly on the move, and by
now Alicia must have lost count of the mileage she had cov-
ered in Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa, by land, sea,
It is not easy to maintain an international reputation and,
in the case of a ballerina, the sacrifice is great. Alicia never
made personal contacts so easily as I did and must often have
known the agony of loneliness on those distant tours. Even
when we traveled together, there were times when I had to
be away from her, attending to business or making arrange-
ments for our next appearance, particularly if it happened
to be in an improvised auditorium. She was certainly treated
like royalty on our tours, but that is not always an advantage.
It can make one's loneliness even more acute. People hesi-
tated to make the first move and speak to her, and as she is
shy and retiring by nature, she found it difficult to approach
In any case, being constantly with strangers is rather weary-
ing, particularly when, though exhausted with traveling or
dancing, one is still expected to behave like a celebrity and
put up some sort of show, even off stage. There were times
when Alicia longed for those old friends of years 1 standing
the companionship of Mrs. Haskell, Valia Golodetz, Ninette
de Valois, or her own sisters.
Romance crossed Alicia's path more than once. But she
was wedded to the dance, perhaps to our partnership. Had
HOME AT LAST
she married, it might have meant her making the greatest
sacrifice of all her art. And perhaps she was never in love
enough to make that sacrifice. The hundreds of thousands
who have worshiped her dancing, and will go on doing so,
must be grateful that so far she has chosen the dance and her
God-given artistry instead.
During that first tour of England Alicia was happy. She
now knew that though she had been away from England for
some years, as I had, she was still the beloved Markova. Other
great English names had now taken their place in the firma-
ment of the English Ballet, but Markova was still magic,
something unique, intangible. In her own lifetime she had
become a legend.
Behind all the outward happiness, though, I could feel a
sadness that now, when money was no object, when every
comfort could have been hers, a home for her to share, if she
so wished, her mother was gone. We made a sad little pil-
grimage together to her resting place on the Brighton Downs
overlooking the English Channel. Alicia's three sisters were
in London now. Bunny was the favorite. Happily married,
she had a little daughter, Susan, whom Alicia worshiped.
Little Susan was always the center of attraction, and Alicia
would willingly take a back seat, listening to her niece telling
how the elephants in the Zoo "danced like Auntie Licia."
I think the Christmas of 1949, in some respects, was the
happiest Alicia had ever spent, though it was the first after
her mother's death. She loved being hostess at the first Christ-
mas party she had ever known in her own home. Always
before she had been her mother s guest, or the guest of friends
in various parts of the world. It was not a large or an elabo-
314 ALICIA MARKOVA
rate party, as Alicia hates crowds of people, either under her
own roof or elsewhere. A few choice friends, "the friends of
years" as she calls them, were chosen to gather round her
fireside, to play with Susan's toys, and to talk about the circus,
the pantomime, the price of poultry, and the other homely
topics which pervade family conversation at that time of the
year. As far as I can remember, the ballet was never men-
tioned. There was no suggestion of a world celebrity enter-
taining her guests.
One of the guests at the party who gave Alicia infinite
pleasure was Dorothy Curnow, who had lived next door to
the Marks family many years ago, and who had visited Monte
Carlo during Alicia's earliest days with the Diaghileff Ballet.
She had watched the momentous career from the beginning.
One of the first things Alicia bought for the new apartment
was a radio, as she felt it would be company for Vivienne
when she was left alone in town during our tours. That radio
has reminded me more than once of Alicia's phenomenal
memory. I have been at the apartment drinking coffee, when
a certain melody has come over the air. "Listen," Alicia
would say, "we used to dance to that with Diaghileff." And
she would get up at once and execute the steps on the hearth-
rug. Even though she probably had not heard the tune for
twenty years or more, she still remembered Che steps "word
Alicia now made better use of her leisure than she did
formerly. She had what I called her lazy days, when she
stayed quietly in her restful little sitting room, sewing rib-
bons on her ballet slippers, with Taglioni looking down
from the wall and a bust of Jenny Lind smiling from those
HOME AT LAST 315
bookshelves lined with volumes all devoted to the dance in
one or other of its varied aspects.
Some years ago, in California, we had a few words about
what I called wasting valuable time. We were staying at the
Biltmore Hotel. Under the same roof was the Biltmore
Theatre where Ethel Barrymore was playing in The Corn Is
Green. After seeing Miss Barrymore's performance one night,
I called on Alicia. She was in her apartment, pottering about,
listening to the radio, looking through the window, or brows-
ing over some magazines. Although it was really no concern
of mine, I was annoyed.
"Really, Alicia, you ought to be ashamed of yourself/* I
said, "wasting a whole evening, when, without the effort of
leaving the building, you could have seen Ethel Barrymore
giving one of the greatest performances of her career. Don't
you realize you ought to see other great artistes? She might
die and you will have to admit that you never saw her, though
you wasted an evening while, under the same roof, she played
the best part she has had for twenty years/*
Alicia went the next night, and then called me to thank
me for having shamed her into going. After that, whenever
she had time, especially in London, she tried to see every-
thing that was going on in the theater, appreciating Mary
Martin in South Pacific as well as Mai Zetterling in Chekov's
I remember her visit to The Seagull rather vividly. Earlier
that evening a journalist had called to interview her, and
asked her how her fame had affected her. Failing to think of
an answer on the spur of the moment, she begged leave to
think it over. He agreed to call back the next afternoon.
gi6 ALICIA MARKOVA
When Alicia returned from seeing The Seagull, in which
Ian Hunter played Tregorin, her eyes were glinting with
"Now I know what I think about fame," she said, as she
began to tell Doris and Vivienne about her night out. "In
The Seagull, Nina asks the celebrated novelist, Tregorin,
what it is like to be famous. He puts my own feelings into
words which I could never have found. He speaks about be-
ing a writer, but it is just the same for a dancer. I must go
over to Harrod's in the morning and get a copy of the play to
give that young man."
When the journalist returned for Alicia's reflections on
fame he was given a copy of The Seagull with some lines
marked from Tregorin's speech in the second act. They read:
"Day and night I am overwhelmed by one besetting idea. I
must write, I must write, I must ... I have scarcely fin-
ished one long story when I must at once somehow write an-
other, then a third, after the third a fourth. I write cease-
lessly, as though traveling posthaste, and I can't do otherwise.
. . . When I finish work, I run to the theater; there I ought
to find rest and forget myself, but no, already a heavy cannon
ball is tossing in my heada new subject and I'm already
impelled to the desk, and must hasten again to write and
write. And so it is always without an end, and I have no rest
Such is the life of a famous dancer in a nutshell.
As I once pointed out to Alicia, she would have had a much
tougher time as an internationally famous actress. The
dancer has many advantages over the actress, though her
career may not be so long. The dancer has no language bar-
HOME AT LAST giy
rier. She can move an audience profoundly without being
able to speak a single word of their language. Nor is the bal-
lerina ever desperate for a new vehicle, while the actress is al-
ways searching for new plays.
I remember meeting Gertrude Lawrence when we were
both making a two-hour journey out of New York. I was de-
lighted she was on the train, as no one could wish for a more
congenial traveling companion. She realized that I expected
we'd travel together, and hastily explained why she wanted to
"Tony/' she said, "Pygmalion is coming off, and I am at my
wit's end to find a new play. I've brought two scripts with me
to read on the train, and I must finish them before I get to
The ballerina never experiences such an acute agony of
mind. She learns a repertoire consisting of Giselle, Gasse
Noisette, Lac des Cygnes, and others, arid as long as she
dances them well enough, the public is content to come and
watch her for a lifetime. Even when the actress feels she has
found a winner, she may eventually discover to her dismay
that the public doesn't agree with her choice. The ballerina,
on the other hand, if she is of Markova's status, knows that
her Giselle will always be a sellout. She is never at a loss for
a vehicle and a successful one, at that.
Markova will never suffer from a sense of frustration and
failure. If she never dances in another new ballet, she has the
satisfaction of knowing that she can always set out from
Knightsbridge or her apartment in New York upon a finan-
cially successful tour whenever she feels inclined to slip her
lovely slender foot into a ballet slipper.
gl8 ALICIA MARKOVA
Since that opening night in Newcastle of September 12,
1949, Markova and I have danced together in London, the
cities of Great Britain, and in Monte Carlo. We gave our
last performance together in Glasgow on Monday night,
October i, 1951. Just before the performance began, Alicia
was practicing on the stage. The orchestra was playing the
overture to the first ballet. She was dancing happily, "warm-
ing up." She leaped off the floor only to land on a slippery
spot. The agonizing pain warned her that she had damaged
her ankle. Knowing that I was worried about the illness of
another dancer in the company, she did not tell me of her
fears but carried on and danced the two exacting acts of The
Nutcracker. I could feel that she was saving herself and
thought that, as can happen to anyone, it was not a good
night. But it was much more than that: she was unable to
dance for ten more weeks of the tour. The company, how-
ever, had to carry on, and tragic though the loss of its star
was, carry on we did. Now it was no longer the two of us, but
a company of young dancers all working and striving to take
their place in English Ballet, just as Alicia and I had done
Markova returned to the company, to dance again The
Nutcracker on the opening night of our season at Monte
Carlo, her first re-appearance after being incapacitated for
more than two months. She looked radiant. I could not dance
with her on that opening night. During our years of partner-
ship there have been very few times when I have not been
able to partner Alicia. Two days later she left Monte Carlo.
Her foot had not had time to heal.
HOME AT LAST 319
I felt that I must stand by the company. For months I had
known nothing else but rehearsals, productions, and the
work that goes into the building up of a ballet company.
Once before I felt it was right that Alicia should go off on her
own. This time, however, it was determined by the command
of her physicians to give her ankle ample time to heal. In all,
we have been too dependent on each other. From the point
of view of her career, it was once the best move she ever
made, to go off independently. Now she has decided to do
the same thing again.
How can one ever conclude the last chapter of a biography
of Markova? Forever in the annals of the dance her name will
be memorable, irreplaceable, and never to be forgotten. Not
only in the pages of Ballet has she imprinted the perfection of
her "pointes** but also in the hearts of many she has left an
indelible picture of herself, a lithograph of rare beauty and
security, that will take its place with those of yesteryear.
As I close this book, I know that Alicia is happy. She has
made in New York in the fall of 1952 a triumphant return to
Ballet as a guest artist. As they did before, the New York
critics have again acclaimed her. The words are as true today
as when I first said in 1934: "Markova is the first ballerina of
England, and maybe of the world!'* As I began this book, I
called it in my mind: "Markova, the story of a great ballerina,
by Anton Dolin, written with love and affection. ..." and
so it has been.