Anna Pavlova was in her time—and is perhaps even now—the most famous dancer in the world. Pavlova carried on long, globe-covering tours, creating new ballet audiences everywhere.
Anna Pavlova was born on January 31, 1881, in St. Petersburg, Russia, the daughter of Lyubov Feodorovna, a washerwoman. Her father's identity is not known. When Anna was very small, her mother married reserve soldier Matvey Pavlov, who died when Anna was two years old. She and her mother were very poor, and they spent the summers with Anna's grandmother. According to Pavlova, she wanted to be a dancer from the age of eight, when she attended a performance of The Sleeping Beauty at the Maryinsky Theatre. Two years later she was accepted as a student at St. Petersburg's Imperial Ballet School. This school for classical dancers offered its students lifelong material protection; the czar (the ruler of Russia) Alexander III (1845–1894) was its main supporter. In return, the school demanded complete physical dedication.
Although the young Pavlova was considered frail and not exactly beautiful, she was nevertheless very supple (able to bend and twist with ease and grace). Her talents impressed ballet master Marius Petipa, who was to become her favorite teacher. Pavlova also learned from other famous Maryinsky teachers and choreographers (those who create and arrange dance performances) such as Christian Johanssen, Pavel Gerdt, and Enrico Cecchetti, who provided her with a classical foundation based on ballet tradition. Pavlova made her company debut at the Maryinsky in September 1899. Competition among dancers was intense, but Anna Pavlova soon attracted attention with the poetic and expressive quality of her performances.
Busy touring schedule
Pavlova's first of many tours (it is estimated that she traveled over four hundred thousand miles in the days before air travel and was seen by millions) was to Moscow, Russia, in 1907. In February 1910 Pavlova, performing with the brawny Moscow dancer Mikhail Mordkin (1880–1944), made her first appearance in America, at the Metropolitan Opera House. Most of the American audiences had never before seen classical ballet, and critics did not know how to describe what Pavlova did on stage, although all agreed that it was wonderful.
Although these early tours were undertaken with the czar's consent, Pavlova's final trip to Russia occurred in the summer of 1914. She was traveling through Germany on her way to London, England, when Germany declared itself at war with her homeland in August 1914. Pavlova's protection from and obligations to the czar and his Maryinsky Theatre had come to an end.
From this point until her death, Pavlova continued to make long, exhausting tours, always with her own company—whose members came from different countries and were not always as talented as her—to support. She returned to America several times; she went to South America in 1917; in 1919 she visited Bahia and Salvador. A 1920–21 American tour represented Pavlova's fifth major tour of the United States in ten years, and in 1923 the company traveled to Japan, China, India, Burma, and Egypt. South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand were given a glimpse of Pavlova in 1926, and the years 1927 and 1928 were dedicated to a European tour.
Kept performing the classics
Although Pavlova's performances changed and were influenced by exposure to foreign cultures and new methods of dancing, she remained a somewhat conservative (not trying many new things) performer. Her company continued to perform several of the great ballet classics, such as Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty; her own popular signature pieces were the Bacchanale, a duet created by her former fellow-student Mikhail Fokine, and her eerily beautiful The Swan.
Pavlova's ability to accept her role as spokesperson for her art, often with good humor and always with devotion and poise, brought vast audiences to her and eventually to the ballet itself. She was willing to perform in different venues, from the most famous theaters of Europe to London's music halls or even New York's gigantic Hippodrome. Pavlova's private days were spent at Ivy House in London, where she kept a large collection of birds and animals, including a pair of pet swans. Her companion, manager, and perhaps husband (Pavlova gave different accounts of the exact nature of their relationship) was Victor Dandré, a fellow native of St. Petersburg.
Pavlova died in The Hague, Netherlands, on January 22, 1931. She had performed constantly until her death; her final words were to ask for her Swan costume to be prepared and, finally, "Play that last measure softly."
For More Information
Allman, Barbara. Dance of the Swan: A Story About Anna Pavlova. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2001.
Fonteyn, Margot, Dame. Pavlova: Portrait of a Dancer. New York: Viking, 1984.
Lazzarina, Roberto and John. Pavlova: Repertoire of a Legend. New York: Schirmer Books, 1980.
Levine, Ellen. Anna Pavlova, Genius of the Dance. New York: Scholastic, 1995.
Money, Keith. Anna Pavlova: Her Life and Art. New York: Knopf, 1982.
PAVLOVA, ANNA (1881–1931), Russian dancer.
When Anna Pavlova first appeared in London in 1910, The Daily Express described her performance as an extraordinary success. Others agreed. Pavlova was considered one of the greatest dancers that London had ever seen. Although she also had detractors—critics in Berlin and Vienna, for example, objected to her thinness and fragile appearance—sixty years later, her biographer could still describe her as the best-known dancer of all time.
For all her fame, mystery surrounds Pavlova's origins. She was born on 12 February (31 January, old style), probably in 1881, because she entered the Imperial Ballet School in 1891 (ten being the usual age for admission). Her mother, a laundress, had married Matvei Pavlov, a peasant reserve soldier who died when Anna was two, but Pavlova rejected all association with him. Rumors of her illegitimacy circulated throughout her career.
Born two months prematurely, Pavlova was a sickly child. Her first teacher at the Imperial Ballet School, Yekaterina Vazem (1848–1937), feared the fragile girl could never handle a stage career, but Pavlova exhibited great determination. With the help of Pavel Gerdt (1844–1917), who recognized her lyrical gift, and Enrico Cecchetti (1850–1928), who strengthened her jumps and turns, Pavlova entered the Maryinsky Theater as a coryphée (one step above the usual entry point) in 1899. There she attracted the attention of the ballet master Marius Petipa (1818–1910). In 1902 Petipa cast her as Nikiya in La Bayadère, a ballerina role. In 1903 he gave her the title role in Giselle, a portrayal for which she became famous. Within an unusually short time—seven years—she achieved the formal rank of ballerina.
In this period, Pavlova often danced with the emerging choreographer Michel Fokine (1880–1942), who became a close friend and created the role for which she is best known, The Dying Swan, to music by Camille Saint-Saëns, in 1907. Like Fokine, Pavlova joined other dancers in protest against the theater management during the Revolution of 1905; and like Fokine, she began to find her artistic opportunities restricted when the protest ended. In 1908 she made her first foreign tour. She briefly participated in the Saisons Russes organized by Sergei Diaghilev (1872–1929) in Paris in 1909, but—in part because Pavlova disliked sharing the spotlight and in part because she received a lucrative offer to perform with her own troupe in London—she refused to return for a second season. In 1911 Victor Dandré, Pavlova's business manager and self-proclaimed husband, although there is little evidence that they ever married, was accused of diverting St. Petersburg city funds to support Pavlova. Dandré fled abroad rather than stand trial. In 1912 he and Pavlova bought Ivy House, in northwest London, where they lived until she died. Pavlova performed intermittently in Russia until 1914, but the outbreak of World War I brought her permanently to the West.
Pavlova enjoyed great success in Britain and in the United States, which she visited regularly from 1910 on—the first European ballerina to tour North America since Fanny Elssler in the early 1840s. Her troupe brought classical ballet to Central and South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, East and Southeast Asia, Egypt, and India. By some estimates, her touring company traveled 350,000 miles between 1910 and 1931. They gave ten performances a week in gymnasiums, music halls, warehouses, even bullfighting arenas, as well as theaters, on stages of varying quality and sometimes outdoors. For the first decade, Pavlova herself appeared twice daily, assisted by one other ballerina. Her stamina and work ethic were legendary. So was her temperament: tantrums, refusals to perform, and sudden dismissals alternated with lavish parties and unexpected generosity.
Although numerous photographs and several short films survive of Pavlova dancing, few of these convey the traits for which she was known. Critics praised her unusual expressiveness, ability to sustain balance on pointe, airy jumps, and rapid turns. Her ballets showcased these qualities. She rarely staged full-length works, instead favoring short pieces depicting butterflies, dragonflies, flowers, or leaves. Only those choreographed by Fokine are still performed today. Her main impact on Western dance was through her audiences: the choreographer Frederick Ashton (1904–1988), among others, began to study dance because of Pavlova. Her students and performers did much to promote classical ballet in Britain.
Pavlova gave her last performance near her London home on 13 December 1930. A few weeks later, while on tour, she contracted pleurisy, perhaps exacerbated by overwork. She died in The Hague, Netherlands, on 23 January 1931, two weeks before her fiftieth birthday. That night, in tribute, the orchestra played Saint-Saëns's music while the stage stood empty.
See alsoDiaghilev, Sergei.
Benois, Alexandre. Reminiscences of the Russian Ballet. Translated by Mary Britnieva. London, 1941. Reprint, New York, 1977.
Fonteyn, Margot. Pavlova: Portrait of a Dancer. New York, 1984.
Kerensky, Oleg. Anna Pavlova. New York, 1973.
Krasovskaya, Vera. Anna Pavlova: Stranitsy zhizni russkoi tantsovshchitsy. Leningrad, 1964. Reprint, Moscow, 1999.
Roslavleva, Natalia. Era of the Russian Ballet. London, 1966. Reprint, New York, 1979.
Svetloff, Valerian. Anna Pavlova. Translated by A. Grey. New York, 1974. Includes Pavlova's memoirs, Pages of My Life.
Carolyn J. Pouncy
Pavlova, Anna Matveyevna
PAVLOVA, ANNA MATVEYEVNA
(1881–1931), the most famous of Russian ballerinas.
Anna Matveyevna Pavlova (patronymic later changed to Pavlovna) began her career in the St. Petersburg Imperial Theaters in 1898, which ended amidst her usual flurry of performing in 1930, only weeks before her death. Pavlova's rise to the rank of ballerina in the Imperial Theaters (by 1906) was rapid, though her artistic breakthrough came the following year, when she appeared in several short works choreographed by Michel Fokine. Two of these works (Les Sylphides and Le Pavillon d'Armide ) would join the roster of Serge Diagilev's Ballets Russes (as would their star performers, Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky). Both the ballets and dancers achieved unprecedented fame in that company's Paris season of 1909. Pavlova debuted another Fokine composition in St. Petersburg in 1908, a solo that would become her signature work and that remains strongly identified with her: The Swan, to music of Camille Saint-Saëns. Popularly known as the dying swan, this evanescent figure suited Pavlova's physical type and stage temperament. Pavlova excelled in ethereal, romantic roles such as
"Giselle," and would later create for herself a multitude of roles in which she portrayed butterflies, roses, snowflakes, dragonflies, poppies, leaves, and various other delicate creatures. After achieving international stardom with Diagilev's Ballets Russes, Pavlova struck out on her own, first negotiating an enviable contract with the Imperial Theaters, and subsequently abandoning the Russian stage to settle in London. In twenty years of touring the globe, Pavlova came to personify the peripatetic Russian ballerina, the touring star whose only home was the stage.
See also: ballet; nijinksy, vaslav fomich
Money, Keith. (1982). Pavlova: Her Art and Life. New York: Knopf.