Friday, May 24, 2019

When Margot Fonteyn Got Caught at a Pot Party in San Francisco

Fonteyn and Nureyev dance in 1967, the year they were arrested for pot.
British Ballerina Margot Fonteyn was 42 years old in 1961 when 23-year-old Rudolf Nureyev defected from Russia and became her dance partner.

By then Fonteyn had long been the top dancer in the world, as told in the documentary Margot, now on Amazon Prime. A vision of grace and beauty with a brilliant smile and perfect proportions, her flawless technique and "miraculous" balance allowed her to stay on pointe for a breathtaking length of time, all the while keeping her crowds enthralled with the emotion she emitted. 

Always well dressed in designer clothes, Fonteyn nonetheless had a fascination with hippies, as told in the biography Margot Fonteyn: A Life by Meredith Daneman, who writes that she "did raise her hem well above her fairly sturdy knees, and was photographed at a nightclub wearing an African-style dress of grass fringing and wooden beads....with a psychedelic dot on her tummy." When someone said he found the hippy culture "scruffy and irksome," Fonteyn replied, "Oh no! I think it's fascinating. I can't take my eyes off those people."  She was also described as a bit of a "party animal" who liked to keep up with Nureyev's curiosity about everything. 

On July 10, 1967, as Daneman tells it, a bearded hippy named Paul Wesley stood outside the stage door after Margot's performance in San Francisco, and invited her to a "freak-out." She took the address and, wearing a white fur coat, brought Nureyev along to what turned out to be a pot party at 42 Belvedere Street in the Haight district.

The party was raided, and police arrested 19 people, including Fonteyn and Nureyev, who were hiding on the roof. The two were jailed for several hours, booked for disorderly conduct and being in a place where marijuana was kept, and released on bail the following morning. Charges were ultimately dropped, but Fonteyn won the admiration of the hippie culture by refusing to talk to the cops, even to give them her age.

Fonteyn leaving the San Francisco police station,
shown in the documentary Margot.
Two days after the raid that made headlines around the world, 700 hippies, "with daisy-chains round their necks, staged a 'love-in' outside the San Francisco Opera House, ringing bells and playing wooden flutes." It took 15 minutes for Nureyev to steer Fonteyn through the crowd. "She may wear ermine," a girl in a rainbow dress said, "but she's one of us now. She played it so cool." 

Fonteyn had practice at playing it cool. She was married in 1955 to Roberto Arias, a Panamanian politician who staged a coup d'√©tat in 1959, during which she was arrested and briefly held in jail on a charge of conspiring to run guns on the couple's fishing boat. Even then, she sweetly declined to talk to reporters as she was deported back to New York City. 

Fonteyn performed until the age of 67, despite barely being able to walk due to arthritis. She died at the age of 71 of ovarian cancer at her cattle ranch in Panama in 1991. Two years later, Nureyev died of AIDS complications at the age of 54. 

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