When Alicia Markova took the stage, audiences could not keep their eyes off her. She was ethereal, vulnerable and danced like a breath of fresh air.
Born Lilian Alicia Marks on 1st December, 1910, Markova began dancing at the advice of her doctor who hoped it would help strengthen her weak bones. It did much more than that and the little girl’s talent was soon recognised by her teachers – she was quick to pick up difficult combinations and had a natural ability that could not be ignored. She became known locally as “Little Alicia, the child Pavlova”.
At the tender age of 14, she was hired for the Ballets Russe of Monte Carlo by Sergei Diaghilev who saw her dancing in class. She was to become one of his biggest stars and a daughter figure for him (she even called him Sergeipop!). After Diaghalev’s death, a distraught, 18-year-old Markova struggled to come to terms with the loss but found that numerous choreographers were eager to work with her. She returned to England and became the founding principal ballerina of “The Ballet Club” – the first professional ballet company in the UK founded by Dame Marie Rambert (later Rambert Dance Company). She was then invited by Ninette de Valois to join the Vic-Wells Ballet (later Royal Ballet) and later went on to form her own touring company with her lifelong friend and ballet partner Anton Dolin. Even after her retirement at age 52, she remained deeply committed to ballet – as a teacher, choreographer and director of various international balletic institutions.
Dame Markova was a true pioneer in many ways – she was the founding dancer of two of the greatest ballet/dance companies in the world, the youngest-ever soloist in the Ballet Russe at the time (the first real “baby ballerina”, I guess) and the UK’s first Sugar Plum Fairy. She was also the first English ballerina to dance Petipa’s version of Giselle – a role most attributed to her.
Happy birthday Alicia and thank you for paving the way for the dancers that followed you!