Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

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The Legendary Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)

Serge Diaghilev brought Anna Pavlova to Paris.  Diaghilev signed her for his first Paris performance May 19, 1909. Diaghilev thought her appearance would help to ensure his success. Her time with the Ballets Russes was brief, as she left the company because of Diaghilev's preference for the male dancers.  In 1910 Pavlova formed her own company, with eight dancers from St. Petersburg. As she toured the world she enlarged the company with English dancers. In 1913 she toured America, and for the next fifteen years, countless other countries--a total of 300,000. miles and 4,000 performances. 


She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on February 12, 1881 and entered the Imperial Ballet Academy at the age of ten.  Upon her graduation in 1902 she joined the Maryinsky Theatre as second soloist and was promoted to first soloist the following year. With Cecchetti's help she was promoted to ballerina in 1905, and prima ballerina in 1906, he was her favorite teacher, and mentor until her death.  Mikhail Fokine choreographed "The Dying Swan" for her with music from Saint-Saen's "Carnival of the Animals." It became her signature solo.   Although she remained a member of the Maryinsky Theatre until 1913, she was rarely seen on stage in Russia.  Pavlova's repertoire grew and was influenced by exposure to foreign cultures and by the innovations in classical technique and choreography being brought to the dance by Isadora Duncan and Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.  Anna however, remained a more conservative classicist. She kept several her ballet classics, such as Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, in her company's repertoire; her own popular signature pieces were the Bacchanale, a duet attributed to Pavlova's former fellow-student Mikhail Fokine, and her eerily beautiful The Swan.

It was Pavlova's ability to accept her role as ambassador for her art, often with a kind of  zeal and self-discipline, that brought vast audiences to her and eventually to the ballet itself. She was willing to let her art find its own level of appreciation, whether in the most discriminating theaters of Europe or, when the economic stresses of maintaining an ungainly touring company dictated, in London's music halls or even New York's gigantic home to vaudeville, the Hippodrome.

Pavlova's rare private days were spent at Ivy House in Hampstead, London, where she kept a menagerie of exotic birds and animals - including a pair of pet swans that were undoubtedly a source of imagery for Pavlova's famous onstage version. Her companion, manager, and perhaps husband (Pavlova was contradictory concerning the exact nature of their relationship) was Victor Dandré, a fellow exile from St. Petersburg.  Pavlova died of pleurisy in The Hague on January 23, 1931.

Dying Wish - Dying Swan

On her death bed, Anna made the request: "Prepare my swan costume." The next evening when the company performed and it came time for "The Dying Swan," the curtain opened on an empty stage.


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