writers on dancing


Alicia Markova and Maude Lloyd:

An appreciation

by David Vaughan
copyright © 2004 by David Vaughan

Dame Alicia Markova and Maude Lloyd, both in their mid-nineties, died within a few days of each other in early December and late November, respectively. The most important thing they had in common was that both played a significant part in the early days of British ballet. Maude Lloyd danced in Frederick Ashton’s second important work, the dances for a production of Purcell’s Fairy Queen, in June 1927. She went on to be a member of Marie Rambert’s first performing group, the Marie Rambert Dancers, which became the company of the Ballet Club at the tiny Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill Gate.

Alicia Markova joined the Diaghilev Ballet Russe in January 1925, at age fourteen, but Balanchine did not take her into its successor, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, in 1932, along with the new crop of “baby ballerinas” he had found in the studios of the emigrées Russian teachers in Paris—Baronova, Toumanova, and Riabouchinska. But Markova by then had already cast her lot with Rambert. Both she and Lloyd danced in Ashton’s new ballet La Péri at the first performance of the Ballet Club on 16 February 1931. Markova continued to dance there until the summer of 1934, in ballets by Ashton ("Foyer de danse," "Les Masques," "Mephisto Valse") and also in Ninette de Valois’s only ballet for Rambert, "Bar aux Folies-Bergère," in which she appeared as La Goulue, the vedette of the can-can. In the meantime she had also begun to appear as guest ballerina with de Valois’s Vic-Wells Ballet, where she first danced the ballerina roles in "Giselle" and "Swan Lake," and also created the leading role in Ashton’s first important ballet for the company, "Les Rendezvous." None of these engagements paid her anything like the kind of remuneration a prima ballerina can expect today, and Markova also danced in musicals and movie prologues (but still with Ashton as choreographer). At the Camargo Society, she created the Polka in his "Façade" and danced a mean snake-hips in the jazz ballet "High Yellow" under the tutelage of the African-American choreographer Buddy Bradley, Ashton’s collaborator in the piece. In 1935, after creating the role of the Betrayed Girl in de Valois’s "The Rake’s Progress," she left the Vic-Wells to form a company with Anton Dolin, the Markova-Dolin Ballet, to tour the British provinces.

Maude Lloyd was called in one obituary a “ballerina,” a title she would have been the first to disavow; almost her whole career was with the Ballet Rambert or with Antony Tudor’s breakaway company, the London Ballet. She was not even one of the Rambert dancers whom Balanchine recruited for the short-lived Ballets 1933—the only larger company she danced with was the Markova-Dolin Ballet. But Lloyd created roles for which she will always be remembered: for Ashton, the Pavane in "Capriol Suite" (she also took over Markova’s roles in "Foyer de danse" and "Les Masques," as well as in "Bar aux Folies-Bergère"); for Antony Tudor, Caroline in "Jardin aux lilas," the duet in "Dark Elegies" (with Tudor himself), the Italian ballerina in "Gala Performance;" for Andrée Howard, the young chatelaine in "La Fête étrange." When Tudor left to join Ballet Theatre in New York in 1940, she directed the London Ballet with Peggy van Praagh until it merged with Ballet Rambert. But in that year Lloyd, who had married Nigel Gosling in 1939, retired from the stage.

Markova, on the other hand, had a long, international career. In 1938 she accepted an offer from Leonide Massine to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, whose artistic direction he had assumed, which meant the end of the Markova-Dolin Ballet. (Dolin went to the other Russian company, Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe.) In 1941 she left BRMC and joined Ballet Theatre, where she stayed until 1946, when, reunited with Dolin, she danced with a small troupe presented by Sol Hurok. The two continued to appear as guests with various companies, together or separately, including the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1948, when she danced her first Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty." Finally, in 1951, the two formed another small company which became London Festival Ballet (today’s English National Ballet). She retired from the stage in 1962.

Markova is always identified most of all with the role of Giselle, which she performed in every company she danced with. Among her partners in that ballet were Dolin, Serge Lifar (not a particularly happy experience), and latterly Erik Bruhn. But equally significant, I believe, is the fact that she was the only ballerina who created roles for every great choreographer of the 20th century: Michel Fokine (in "Bluebeard" for Ballet Theatre, where he also coached her in "Les Sylphides," which she was able later to stage in an authentic version); Leonide Massine ("Seventh Symphony" and "Rouge et Noir" for BRMC, Zemphira in "Aleko" for ABT); George Balanchine (the Nightingale in "Le Rossignol" for Diaghilev, for whom she also danced his "La Chatte"); Frederick Ashton (see above); Ninette de Valois (see above); Bronislava Nijinska ("The Beloved One" for the Markova-Dolin Ballet, where she also danced the Girl in Blue Velvet in "Les Biches," renamed "The House Party"); Antony Tudor (Juliet at ABT).

Maude Lloyd by no means severed her connection with dance when she retired: she and her husband became the dance critic of the Sunday paper The Observer, under the joint pseudonym of Alexander Bland. She and Nigel were among the first champions in England of Merce Cunningham, when his company appeared in London in 1964. In later years it is fair to state that the most important thing in their lives was their relationship with Rudolf Nureyev, which began when he first danced in London in 1961. If Nigel’s death was a devastating blow for her, hardly less so was that of Nureyev. Equally sad for her was the loss of sight and hearing, which made it impossible for her to attend performances. “Nobody,” she said to me once, “should live into their nineties,” and as Ms Mary Clarke wrote in The Guardian, shortly after her 95th birthday,“she was ready, calmly to go.”

Markova’s memory was remarkable: she was able to teach her solo from "Le Rossignol" for the George Balanchine Foundation a few years ago. When I interviewed her for my book on Ashton, she not only pulled out marvelous scrapbooks that gave me all kinds of information but was also able to describe in detail her roles in "Les Masques" (which she rightly said was a much deeper ballet than people realized) and "Mephisto Valse." She continued to teach and coach until very nearly the end of her life, and in May 2000 made a grand entrance into the Royal Opera House on the occasion of the first performance of a new production of "Les Rendezvous," in which she had danced nearly seventy years before.

Volume 2, No. 48
December 20, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by David Vaughan


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