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December 1: Dame Alicia Markova

December 1, 2013

img_1269One of the great classical ballerinas of the 20th century, Dame Alicia Markova (Lilian Alicia Marks) was born in London on this date in 1910. Her Orthodox paternal great-grandfather, Abraham Marks, with whom the family lived when Markova was very young, was a theatrical costume supplier whose storeroom helped spark the theatrical imaginations of Alicia and her sisters. Markova suffered several childhood illnesses and started dancing at the suggestion of the family doctor for therapeutic reasons. She showed great technique and stage presence and debuted as a ballerina at age 10. Markova was best known for her career with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which she joined just one month after her 14th birthday. She was the first English dancer to become the principal dancer of a company, and was co-founder and director of the English National Ballet. She was also a key figure in the formation of the American Ballet Theater in New York. Active until her death at age 94, Markova served the world of ballet as a choreographer, company leader, and international ambassador. To see her dancing as Giselle, one of her most famous roles, look below.

“Glorious bouquets and storms of applause . . . are the trimmings which every artist naturally enjoys. But to move an audience in such a role, to hear in the applause that unmistakable note which breaks through good theater manners and comes from the heart, is to feel that you have won through to life itself. Such pleasure does not vanish with the fall of the curtain, but becomes part of one’s own life.” —Alicia Markova