Ballet is more enigmatic than any other art form to those unfamiliar with its gestural language. To a dance-blind criminal like myself, it is not immediately apparent why one ballerina is superior to another. We are all aware that Margot Fontaine is the most renowned dancer in the history of this country. then why?
It turns out that even those who have experienced it find it difficult to convey. On a warm, prime-time Saturday, Darcey Bussell was a natural presence. A nation now knows what a top line is because of her. However, Darcy Bussell: The Search for Margot (BBC One) is more of a biographical introduction than a thorough examination of Fontaine’s techniques.
Her collaboration with Rudolf Nureyev, a sour savant who insists on studying alone at her feet, is the best. Given her Strictly fanbase, Bussell remains silent regarding whether their relationship is horizontal or vertical. Nor does she delve into the Priapia adventures of Tito Arias, Fontaine’s Panamanian spouse.
The travel budget for transatlantic sailings to New York and Panama was adequate, but because Bussel was not a historian, the role Fontaine played in the failed rebellion and the extent of her subsequent disgrace were never fully explained. The greatest assets of Basel are the interviews with the great old ballerina queens and dames and the meticulous study of old literature. Most revealing are the retirement ledgers maintained by the penniless Fontaine. “Wheelchair Repair for $1,” one sorrowful article stated.
Regarding Fonteyn’s eyes, teeth, and flawless proportions, much has been said. Every time Bussel suggests a demonstration, my ears brighten up. She stated, “I want to demonstrate some techniques for dancing ‘Swan Lake’.” Or her assurance that she will demonstrate “how Margot shines in the opening scene of Sleeping Beauty.” We immediately relocated, but we were not much wiser. Perhaps these things are simply difficult to convey.
As they enter, the most stunning scene depicts students of the Royal Ballet School touching the base of Madame Margot’s statue. One performer recalls seeing actual feet. It resembles a rugged oak branch. The gap between fantasy and actuality is not quite captured in this charming homage.