Born in South Africa of Italian parents, Margaret Barbieri moved to England to study at the Royal Ballet School before joining the Royal Ballet Touring Company (now Birmingham Royal Ballet) in 1965, becoming a Principal Dancer in 1970. During a highly successful 25-year dancing career, she danced most of the leading roles (Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Coppelia, Romeo & Juliet, La Fille mal Gardee, Taming of the Shrew and The Two Pigeons), although it was her major impact in the title role of Giselle, at the age of 21 that first established her special reputation as a Romantic ballerina. In 1973 she was invited to dance Giselle at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and received high praise from the press and audience alike, a triumph which she repeated in 1974 when she returned to her native South Africa to dance the role in Durban. She replaced an indisposed Natalia Makarova at short notice in the same role for Norwegian National Ballet and made many guest apperances with companies internationally in Giselle, Swan Lake, Coppelia and Cinderella.
Miss Barbieri worked closely with most of the great masters of the 20th Century, including Ashton, MacMillan, de Valois, Cranko, Tudor, Nureyev and van Manen and roles were created on her by Sir Frederick Ashton, Sir Peter Wright, Anthony Tudor, David Bintley, Michael Corder, Ronald Hynd and Joe Layton. Many of her best-known roles were televised, including Swanhilda (Coppelia), Black Queen (Checkmate), The Mother (Bintley's Metamorphosis), Young Girl (Spectre de la Rose) and van Manen's Grosse Fuge. With David Ashmole, she was featured in BBC TV's Ballet Masterclass series, given by Dame Alicia Markova, who later coached her in Pavlova's The Dying Swan and The Dragonfly.
Miss Barbieri retired from the Royal Ballet in 1990 to become Director of the new Classical Graduate Programme at London Studio Centre and Artistic Director of the annual touring company Images of Dance, and she was instrumental in devising the Classical Ballet Course for the BA Honours degree. She has also found time to teach at Birmingham Royal Ballet Company and the English National and Royal Ballet Schools, serving on the Royal Ballet's Board of Governors from 1994 to 2000 and participating as an External Assessor for the Arts Council of England from 1995 to 2001.
Her staging credits include Swan Lake Act II, The Fantasy Garden from Le Corsaire, Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere for Imaged of Dance, Company, Nureyev's production of Raymonda Act III for K Ballet, Japan, Ashton's Facade for Scottish Ballet, K Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, The Two Pigeons for K Ballet, State Ballet Theatre of Georgia and The Sarasota Ballet. During the last four years, she also has staged for The Sarasota ballet Wright's production of Giselle, Ashton's Facade, Les Patineurs and Les Rendezvous, de Valois' The Rakes Progress, and Checkmate, Cranko's Pineapple Poll, Wheeldon's There Where She Loves and The American, Darrell's Othello, Bourne's Boutique, Bintley's Scottish Dances, Layton's The Grand Tour, Fokine's Les Sylphides and Samsova's production of Paquita.
Miss Barbieri has judged at many International Ballet Competitions and during her dancing career performed all over the world. In April 2010 she was awarded Distinction by the University of the Arts, London, for her Post Graduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning.