Anna Pavlova

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Anna Pavlova
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Anna Pavlova, c. 1905.
Анна Павловна (Матвеевна) Павлова
Anna Pavlovna (Matveyevna) Pavlova

(1881-02-12)February 12, 1881
DiedJanuary 23, 1931(1931-01-23) (aged 49)
Years active1899–1931
Parent(s)Lyubov Feodorovna Pavlova
Lazar Polyakov
or Matvey Pavlov

Anna Pavlovna (Matveyevna) Pavlova (Russian: Анна Павловна (Матвеевна) Павлова; February 12 [O.S. January 31] 1881 – January 23, 1931) was a Russian prima ballerina of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. She was a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. Pavlova is most recognized for the creation of the role The Dying Swan and, with her own company, became the first ballerina to tour ballet around the world. She toured South America and India.

Early life[edit]

Anna Pavlovna (Matveyevna) Pavlova was born on February 12, 1881 in Ligovo, Saint Petersburg, Russia to unwed parents. Her mother, Lyubov Feodorovna was a laundress. Her father was banker Lazar Polyakov).[1] Her mother's second husband, Matvey Pavlov, is believed to have adopted her at the age of three, by which she acquired his last name.

Students of the Imperial Ballet School in Marius Petipa's Un conte de fées. A ten-year-old Anna Pavlova participated in this work in her first ever ballet performance. She is photographed here on the left holding the birdcage. St. Petersburg, 1891.

Pavlova's passion for the art of ballet was ignited when her mother took her to a performance of Marius Petipa's original production of The Sleeping Beauty at the Imperial Maryinsky Theater. The lavish spectacle made an impression on Pavlova. When she was nine, her mother took her to audition for the renowned Imperial Ballet School. Because of her youth, and what was considered her "sickly" appearance, she was rejected, but at age 10 in 1891 she was accepted. She appeared for the first time on stage in Marius Petipa's Un conte de fées (A Fairy Tale), which the ballet master staged for the students of the school.

Imperial Ballet School[edit]

Young Pavlova's years of training were difficult. Classical ballet did not come easily to her. Her severely arched feet, thin ankles, and long limbs clashed with the small, compact body favoured for the ballerina of the time. Her fellow students taunted her with such nicknames as The broom and La petite sauvage (The little savage). Undeterred, Pavlova trained to improve her technique. She would practice and practice after learning a step. She said, "No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent, work transforms talent into genius."[2] She took extra lessons from the noted teachers of the day—Christian Johansson, Pavel Gerdt, Nikolai Legat—and from Enrico Cecchetti, considered the greatest ballet virtuoso of the time and founder of the Cecchetti method, a very influential ballet technique used to this day. In 1898, she entered the classe de perfection of Ekaterina Vazem, former Prima ballerina of the Saint Petersburg Imperial Theatres.

During her final year at the Imperial Ballet School, she performed many roles with the principal company. She graduated in 1899 at age 18, chosen to enter the Imperial Ballet a rank ahead of corps de ballet as a coryphée. She made her official début at the Mariinsky Theatre in Pavel Gerdt's Les Dryades prétendues (The False Dryads). Her performance drew praise from the critics, particularly the great critic and historian Nikolai Bezobrazov.


St. Petersburg[edit]

Marius Petipa[edit]

At the height of Petipa's strict academicism, the public was taken aback by Pavlova's style, a combination of a gift that paid little heed to academic rules: she frequently performed with bent knees, bad turnout, misplaced port de bras and incorrectly placed tours. Such a style in many ways harked back to the time of the romantic ballet and the great ballerinas of old.

Pavlova performed in various classical variations, pas de deux and pas de trois in such ballets as La Camargo, Le Roi Candaule, Marcobomba and The Sleeping Beauty. Her enthusiasm often led her astray: once during a performance as the River Thames in Petipa's The Pharaoh's Daughter her energetic double pique turns led her to lose her balance, and she ended up falling into the prompter's box. Her weak ankles led to difficulty while performing as the fairy Candide in Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty, leading the ballerina to revise the fairy's jumps en pointe, much to the surprise of the Ballet Master. She tried desperately to imitate the renowned Pierina Legnani, Prima ballerina assoluta of the Imperial Theaters. Once during class she attempted Legnani's famous fouettés, causing her teacher Pavel Gerdt to fly into a rage. He told her,

... leave acrobatics to others. It is positively more than I can bear to see the pressure such steps put on your delicate muscles and the severe arch of your foot. I beg you to never again try to imitate those who are physically stronger than you. You must realize that your daintiness and fragility are your greatest assets. You should always do the kind of dancing which brings out your own rare qualities instead of trying to win praise by mere acrobatic tricks.

Pavlova rose through the ranks quickly, becoming a favorite of the old maestro Petipa. It was from Petipa himself that Pavlova learned the title role in Paquita, Princess Aspicia in The Pharaoh's Daughter, Queen Nisia in Le Roi Candaule, and Giselle. She was named danseuse in 1902, première danseuse in 1905, and finally prima ballerina in 1906 after a resounding performance in Giselle. Petipa revised many grand pas for her, as well as many supplemental variations. She was much celebrated by the fanatical balletomanes of Tsarist Saint Petersburg, her legions of fans calling themselves the Pavlovatzi.

When the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska was pregnant in 1901, she coached Pavlova in the role of Nikya in La Bayadère. Kschessinska, not wanting to be upstaged, was certain Pavlova would fail in the role, as she was considered technically inferior because of her small ankles and lithe legs. Instead audiences became enchanted with Pavlova and her frail, ethereal look, which fitted the role perfectly, particularly in the scene The Kingdom of the Shades.

Michel Fokine[edit]

Anna Pavlova in the Fokine/Saint-Saëns The Dying Swan, Saint Petersburg, 1905

Pavlova is perhaps most renowned for creating the role of The Dying Swan, a solo choreographed for her by Michel Fokine. The ballet, created in 1905, is danced to Le cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. Pavlova also choreographed several solos herself, one of which is The Dragonfly, a short ballet set to music by Fritz Kreisler. While performing the role, Pavlova wore a gossamer gown with large dragonfly wings fixed to the back.

Pavlova had a rivalry with Tamara Karsavina. According to the film A Portrait of Giselle, Karsavina recalls a wardrobe malfunction. During one performance her shoulder straps fell and she accidentally exposed herself, and Pavlova reduced an embarrassed Karsavina to tears.

Ballets Russes[edit]

In the first years of the Ballets Russes, Pavlova worked briefly for Sergei Diaghilev. Originally she was to dance the lead in Mikhail Fokine's The Firebird, but refused the part, as she could not come to terms with Igor Stravinsky's avant-garde score, and the role was given to Tamara Karsavina. All her life Pavlova preferred the melodious "musique dansante" of the old maestros such as Cesare Pugni and Ludwig Minkus, and cared little for anything else which strayed from the salon-style ballet music of the 19th century.

Photographic postcard of Anna Pavlova as the Princess Aspicia in Alexander Gorsky's version of the Petipa/Pugni The Pharaoh's Daughter for the Bolshoi Theatre. Moscow, 1908

Pavlova's ballet company[edit]

Touring the world[edit]

After the first Paris season of Ballets Russes, Pavlova left it to form her own company. It performed throughout the world, with a repertory consisting primarily of abridgements of Petipa's works, and specially choreographed pieces for herself. Going independent was

"a very enterprising and daring act. She toured on her own... for twenty years until her death. She traveled everywhere in the world that travel was possible, and introduced the ballet to millions who had never seen any form of Western dancing."[3]

Pavlova also performed many ‘ethnic’ dances, some of which she learned from local teachers during her travels. In addition to the dances of her native Russia, she performed Mexican, Japanese, and East Indian dances. Supported by her interest, Uday Shankar, her partner in Krishna Radha (1923), went on to revive the long-neglected art of the dance in his native India. [4] She also toured China.

In 1916 she produced a 50-minute adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty in New York City.[4] Members of her company were largely English girls with Russianized names.[4] One of her dancers, Kathleen Crofton, was reviewed by the ballet writer Cyril Johnson, he said that "her bourrées were like a string of pearls". From 1918-1919 her company toured throughout South America, during which time Pavlova exerted an influence on the young American ballerina Ruth Page.[5] [6] [7]

In 1915, she appeared in the film The Dumb Girl of Portici, in which she played a mute girl betrayed by an aristocrat.[4]


After leaving Russia, Pavlova moved to London, England, settling, in 1912, at the Ivy House on North End Road, Golders Green, north of Hampstead Heath, where she lived for the rest of her life. The house had an ornamental lake where she fed her pet swans, and where now stands a statue of her by the Scots sculptor George Henry Paulin. The house was featured in the film Anna Pavlova. It is now the London Jewish Cultural Centre, but a blue plaque marks it as a site of significant historical interest being Pavlova's home.[8][9] While in London, Pavlova was influential in the development of British ballet, most notably inspiring the career of Alicia Markova. The Gate pub, located on the border of Arkley and Totteridge (London Borough of Barnet), has a story, framed on its walls, describing a visit by Pavlova and her dance company.

There are at least five memorials to Pavlova in London, England: a contemporary sculpture by Tom Merrifield of Pavlova as the Dragonfly in the grounds of Ivy House, a sculpture by Scot George Henry Paulin in the middle of the Ivy House pond, a blue plaque on the front of Ivy House, a statuette sitting with the urn that holds her ashes in Golders Green Crematorium, and the gilded statue atop the Victoria Palace Theatre.[10][11]

When the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, England, opened in 1911, a gilded statue of Pavlova had been installed above the cupola of the theatre. This was taken down for its safety during World War II and was lost. In 2006, a replica of the original statue was restored in its place.[12]

Arnold Genthe, Anna Pavlova, 1915, Library of Congress

The United States[edit]

Between 1912 and 1926, Pavlova made almost annual tours of America, traveling from coast to coast.

"A generation of dancers turned to the art because of her. She roused America as no one had done since Elssler. ... America became Pavlova-conscious and therefore ballet-conscious. Dance and passion, dance and drama were fused."[13]


Pavlova was introduced to audiences in the United States by Max Rabinoff during his time as managing director of the Boston Grand Opera Company from 1914 to 1917 and was featured there with her Russian Ballet Company during that period.[14]

St. Louis

In 1914 Pavlova performed in St. Louis Missouri, after being engaged last minute by Hattie B. Gooding, responsible for a series of worthy musical attractions presented to the St. Louis public during the season of 1913-14. Gooding went to New York to arrange with the musical managers for the attractions offered. Out of a long list she selected those who represent the highest in their own special field, and which she felt sure St. Louisans would enjoy. The list began with Madame Louise Homer prima donna contralto of the Metropolitan Grand Opera Co., followed by Josef Hoffman, pianist, and Anna Pavlova and the Russian ballet. For the last the expenses were $5,500.00 ($136,407 in 2017 dollars) for two nights, and the receipts $7,500.00 ($186,010 in 2017 dollars), netting a clear gain of $2,000.00 ($49,603 in 2017 dollars); her other evenings were proportionately successful financially. The advance sales were greater than any other city in the United States. At the Pavlowa concert, when Gooding engaged, at the last hour, the Russian dancer for two nights, the New York managers became dubious and anxiously rushed four special advance agents to assist her. On seeing the bookings for both nights they quietly slipped back to New York fully convinced of her ability to attract audiences in St. Louis, which had always, heretofore, been called "the worst show town" in the country.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Victor Dandré, her manager and companion, asserted he was her husband in his biography of the dancer in 1932: Anna Pavlova: In Art & Life (Dandre 1932, author's foreword). On death (5 February 1944) he was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes placed below those of Anna.

Victor Dandré wrote of Pavlova's many charity dance performances and charitable efforts to support Russian orphans in post-World War I Paris

...who were in danger of finding themselves literally in the street. They were already suffering terrible privations and it seemed as though there would soon be no means whatever to carry on their education.[16]

Fifteen girls were adopted into a home Pavlova purchased near Paris at Saint-Cloud, overseen by the Comtesse de Guerne and supported by her performances and funds solicited by Pavlova, including many small donations from members of the Camp Fire Girls of America who made her an honorary member.[17]

During her life she had many pets including a Siamese cat, various dogs and many kinds of birds, including swans.[18] Dandré indicated she was a lifelong lover of animals and this is evidenced by photographic portraits she sat for which often included an animal she loved. A formal studio portrait was made of her with Jack, her favorite swan.[18]


Anna Pavlova arriving in The Hague in 1927
The ashes of Anna Pavlova, above those of Victor Dandré, Golders Green Crematorium

While touring in The Hague, Pavlova was told that she had pneumonia and required an operation. She was also told that she would never be able to dance again if she went ahead with it. She refused to have the surgery, saying "If I can't dance then I'd rather be dead." She died of pleurisy, in the bedroom next to the Japanese Salon of the Hotel Des Indes in The Hague, three weeks short of her 50th birthday.

Victor Dandré wrote that Anna Pavlova died a half hour past midnight on Friday, January 23, 1931, with her maid Marguerite Létienne, Dr. Zalevsky and himself at her bedside. Her last words were, "Get my 'Swan' costume ready."[19]

In accordance with old ballet tradition, on the day she was to have next performed, the show went on as scheduled, with a single spotlight circling an empty stage where she would have been. Memorial services were held in the Russian Orthodox Church in London. Anna Pavlova was cremated, and her ashes placed in a columbarium at Golders Green Crematorium, where her urn was adorned with her ballet shoes (which have since been stolen).

Pavlova's ashes have been a source of much controversy, following attempts by Valentina Zhilenkova and Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov to have them flown to Moscow for interment in the Novodevichy Cemetery. These attempts were based on claims that it was Pavlova's dying wish that her ashes be returned to Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union. These claims were later found to be false, as there is no evidence to suggest that this was her wish at all. The only documentary evidence that suggests that such a move would be possible is in the will of Pavlova's husband, who stipulated that if Russian authorities agreed to such a move and treated her remains with proper reverence, then the crematorium caretakers should agree to it. Despite this clause, the will does not contain a formal request or plans for a posthumous journey to Russia.

The most recent attempt to move Pavlova's remains to Russia came in 2001. Golders Green Crematorium had made arrangements for them to be flown to Russia for interment on 14 March 2001, in a ceremony to be attended by various Russian dignitaries. This plan was later abandoned after Russian authorities withdrew permission for the move. It was later revealed that neither Pavlova's family nor the Russian Government had sanctioned the move and that they had agreed the remains should stay in London.[20][21]


Pavlova inspired the choreographer Frederick Ashton when as a boy of 13 he saw her dance in the Municipal Theater in Lima, Peru.

The Pavlova dessert is believed to have been created in honour of the dancer in Wellington during her tour of New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s. The nationality of its creator has been a source of argument between the two nations for many years.

The Jarabe Tapatío, known in English as the 'Mexican Hat Dance', gained popularity outside of Mexico when Pavlova created a staged version in pointe shoes, for which she was showered with hats by her adoring Mexican audiences. Afterward, in 1924, the Jarabe Tapatío was proclaimed Mexico's national dance.

In 1980, Igor Carl Faberge licensed a collection of 8-inch Full Lead Crystal Wine Glasses to commemorate the centenary of Anna's birth. The glasses were crafted in Japan under the supervision of The Franklin Mint. A frosted image of Anna Pavlova appears in the stem of each glass. Originally each set contained 12 glasses.

Pavlova's life was depicted in the 1983 film Anna Pavlova.

Pavlova's dances inspired many artworks of the Irish painter John Lavery. The critic of The Observer wrote on 16 April 1911: 'Mr. Lavery's portrait of the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova, caught in a moment of graceful, weightless movement … Her miraculous, feather-like flight, which seems to defy the law of gravitation'.[22][23]

A McDonnell Douglas MD-11 of the Dutch airline KLM, with the registration PH-KCH carried her name. It was delivered on August 31, 1995.

Anna Pavlova appears as a character in Rosario Ferre's novel Flight of the Swan.

Anna Pavlova appears as a character in the fourth episode of the British series Mr Selfridge, played by real-life ballerina Natalia Kremen.

Pointe shoes[edit]

Her feet were extremely rigid, so she strengthened her pointe shoe by adding a piece of hard wood on the soles for support and curving the box of the shoe. At the time, many considered this "cheating", for a ballerina of the era was taught that she, not her shoes, must hold her weight en pointe. In Pavlova's case this was extremely difficult, as the shape of her feet required her to balance her weight on her little toes. Her solution became, over time, the precursor of the modern pointe shoe, as pointe work became less painful and easier for curved feet. According to Margot Fonteyn's biography, Pavlova did not like the way her invention looked in photographs, so she would remove it or have the photographs altered so that it appeared she was using a normal pointe shoe. She on the other hand, did not wear Grishko's, she wore Russian Pointe.[24]

Choreographic notation[edit]

At the turn-of-the-Twentieth century, the Imperial Ballet began a project that notated much of its repertory in the Stepanov method of choreographic notation. Most of the notated choreographies were recorded while dancers were being taken through rehearsals. After the revolution of 1917, this collection of notation was taken out of Russia by the Imperial Ballet's former régisseur Nicholas Sergeyev, who utilized these documents to stage such works as The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, as well as Marius Petipa's definitive versions of Giselle and of Coppélia for the Paris Opéra Ballet and the Vic-Wells Ballet of London (precursor of the Royal Ballet). The productions of these works formed the foundation from which all subsequent versions would be based to one extent or another. Eventually these notations were acquired by Harvard University, and are now part of the cache of materials relating to the Imperial Ballet known as the Sergeyev Collection that includes not only the notated ballets but rehearsal scores as used by the company at the turn-of-the-twentieth century.

The notations of Giselle and the full-length Paquita were recorded circa 1901-1902 while Marius Petipa himself took Anna Pavlova through rehearsals. Pavlova is also included in some of the other notated choreographies when she participated in performances as a soloist. Several of the violin or piano reductions used as rehearsal scores reflect the variations that Pavlova chose to dance in a particular performance, since at that time classical variations were often performed ad libitum, i.e. at the dancer's choice. One variation in particular was performed by Pavlova in several ballets, being composed by Riccardo Drigo for Pavlova's performance in Petipa's ballet Le Roi candaule that features a solo harp. This variation is still performed in modern times in the Mariinsky Ballet's staging of the Paquita grand pas classique.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Олег Керенский приводит утверждение Владимира Полякова — сына Лазаря Полякова о том, что Анна была побочной дочерью его отца (См.: Oleg Kerensky. Anna Pavlova. N-Y., Dutton Publ., 1973. ISBN 0-525-17658-6)
  2. ^ McDonough, Yona Zeldis (November 3, 2016). "Yes, These Famous Ballerinas Are Jewish". Lilith.
  3. ^ Agnes de Mille, The Book of the Dance (1963), p.149 {quote).
  4. ^ a b c d Au, Susan (2012). Ballet and Modern Dance. London, England: Thames & Hudson world of art. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-500-20411-5.
  5. ^ Ruth Page - Early Architect of the American Ballet a biographical essay by Joellen A. Meglin on
  6. ^ Ruth Page's Obituary in The New York Times 9 April 1991 on
  7. ^ New York Public Library Archives - Ruth Page Collection 1918-70 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts - Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York City, USA on
  8. ^ Blue plaque, Hendon Corporation.
  9. ^ "London Jewish Cultural Centre – Now Booking". London Jewish Cultural Centre. Archived from the original on 6 December 2000. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  10. ^ "Ballerinas & Meringues: Pavlova 2012 @ Ivy House",, accessed January 14, 2013.
  11. ^ "Ten Dancer Statues Of London",, accessed January 14, 2013.
  12. ^ Archived August 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. accessed March 27, 2011
  13. ^ de Mille, The Book of the Dance (1963), p.151 (quote).
  14. ^ "Max Rabinoff Papers". Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  15. ^ Johnson, Anne (1914). Notable women of St. Louis, 1914. St. Louis, Woodward. p. 82. Retrieved 17 August 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  16. ^ Dandre 1932, p. 248.
  17. ^ Dandre 1932, pp. 251—259.
  18. ^ a b Dandre 1932, pp. 329—349.
  19. ^ Dandre 1932, p. 360.
  20. ^ "BBC News, Pavlova's ashes stay in London". BBC News. 2001-03-08. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  21. ^ Amelia Gentleman in Moscow (2001-03-07). "Anger as Pavlova's ashes leave London for Moscow". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  22. ^ National Gallery of Australia, referring to: Lavery, John, Anna Pavlova 1911, Painting oil on canvas, Glasgow Museums: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, presented by Nicol P. Brown in 1924
  23. ^ All Russia, (article translated from Russian), "Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova"
  24. ^ Fonteyn, Margot, Pavlova, Portrait of a Dancer. Viking, 1984.


  • Dandré, Victor (1932). Anna Pavlova: In Art & Life. London: USA Arno Press NYC, reprint (published 1979).

External links[edit]

Archival collections[edit]