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c. 1960s

Fonteyn and Nureyev

"The Perfect Partnership"

Age need be no barrier. When the last of these pictures were taken, Margot Fonteyn was almost 50 years old. And she was just slightly less than 20 years senior to her partner, Rudolph Nureyev.

Yet none of this seemed of the slightest significance when the two danced together

Back in 1961, though, many people thought it was of great significance. At the age of 42, It had been assumed that Fonteyn was surely soon to retire. And then Rudolph Nureyev, renowned for his work in the Kirov Ballet, defected from the USSR to Paris in that year, and was immediately asked to join the British Royal Ballet.

“I would have followed her to the end of the world.”
Rudolph Nureyev

He did so, and Fonteyn was asked by its director to dance with Nureyev for his debut. Aware of their age difference, she was reluctant, but was at last persuaded, and in 1962 the dance took place to a full house. 

And 15 minutes of applause. And 20 curtain calls.

Thus began a partnership which lasted almost ten years, and elevated both to something close to superstar status.

Each had distinctive personalities — Fonteyn studious and precise, Nureyev flamboyant and extroverted. Yet their friendship and connection was profound, and sustained. “I would have followed her to the end of the world,” said Nureyev.

Did they have a relationship beyond that? Here they differ: Nureyev said they did, Fonteyn denied it. Who can say?

These stark yet beautiful color photographs document a handful of moments in that relationship, across the 1960s.

ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
PA Images via Getty Images
PA Images via Getty Images
PA Images via Getty Images
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

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