Tina Sutton – The Making of Markova (4 stars)

Tina Sutton – The Making of Markova

Meticulously researched and dynamically written homage to Britain's first ballet star


When journalist Tina Sutton was handed the boxed-up archives of prima ballerina Alicia Markova by Boston University, she could scarcely have guessed the treasure trove that lay inside. Decades of letters, diaries, press clippings and theatre programmes poured out about a woman Sutton knew nothing about.

Having sifted through each box, and numerous biographies of other major players from 20th century ballet, she emerged knowing Markova considerably better. That intimate knowledge, couched in fascinating social and artistic context, is now passed on to us, through Sutton’s lovingly crafted homage to Britain’s first ballet star.

Born in London in 1910, Lily Marks was only sent to ballet classes to cure her knock knees. Within a few years, she was being whisked round the world by impresario Sergei Diaghilev and his famous Ballets Russes. A teenage sensation, Markova (re-named to sound Russian, and therefore more marketable) went on to dance to great acclaim into her early 50s. Markova’s career alone would make compelling reading, credited as she is with helping lay the foundations of British ballet, but with 627 pages to play with, Sutton casts her net much wider.

The ground-breaking and influential choreographers, dancers, artists and composers in Markova’s address book reads like a who’s who of 20th century culture. So we not only learn more about Markova but Diaghilev, Frederick Ashton, Anna Pavlova, Igor Stravinsky, Marie Rambert, Ninette de Valois, Henri Matisse, Margot Fonteyn and many more. Each name a legend to dance fans, brought vividly back to life by Sutton’s painstaking research and dynamic storytelling.

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