Dame Alicia Markova, one of the 20th century’s greatest ballerinas and a co-founder of the English National Ballet, died Thursday at the age of 94.
Markova was working until her health worsened a few months ago, the ballet company said.
Born Lilian Alicia Marks in London, when she was 10 she made her stage debut, billed as “Little Alicia, the child Pavlova.” After training with Serafima Astavieva in London, she joined Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1925 at the age of 14 and adopted the more exotic name of Markova.
She went on to dance with many major companies in Europe and North America, including the Vic-Wells Ballet — forerunner of the Royal Ballet — Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and the Ballet Theater, now the American Ballet Theater.
Critics praised the lightness and precision of Markova’s style; many regarded her interpretation of the title role in “Giselle” as the finest ever seen.
In 1935, with Anton Dolin, Markova founded the Markova-Dolin Ballet, the first of several companies that led to the foundation in 1950 of the Festival Ballet, later renamed the English National Ballet.
Markova was the company’s first prima ballerina and served as its president from 1986 until her death. English National Ballet artistic director Matz Skoog said “all dancers throughout the world will feel a huge sense of loss today.”
“With the passing of Dame Alicia we see the end of an era,” he said. “She was a true giant of the ballet world and the last of her generation.”
After her retirement from dancing Markova served as the director New York’s Metropolitan Opera Ballet from 1963 to 1969 and was a professor at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music from 1971 to 1973.
She was named a dame, the female equivalent of a knight, by Queen Elizabeth II in 1963.