Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) was in her time—and is perhaps even now—the most famous dancer in the world. From her early classical training at St. Petersburg's Imperial Ballet School, Pavlova carried on incessant, globe-covering tours, everywhere making new audiences for the ballet.
Anna Pavlova, whose exact origins are as unfixable as the startling images she created on stage, was born on January 31, 1881, in St. Petersburg. She was the daughter of a washerwoman, and reputedly her father was reserve soldier Matvey Pavlov, whom Pavlova never knew. The implication exists, however, of illegitimate and well-born Jewish parentage.
According to Pavlova, she cared to be nothing but 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 extraordinary training-ground for classical dancers offered its students lifelong material protection; the Czar himself was its direct and highly visible benefactor. In return, the school demanded a fervent and almost monastic physical dedication.
The young Pavlova, considered frail—she was often characterized as too thin later in her career—and not conventionally beautiful, was nevertheless exceptionally supple, with beautifully arched insteps. Her talents impressed ballet master Marius Petipa, who was to become her most revered mentor. Pavlova's work with Petipa, as well as such other legendary Maryinsky teachers and choreographers as Christian Johanssen, Pavel Gerdt, and Enrico Cecchetti, provided a classical foundation, steeped in directly-inherited ballet tradition, that was to serve as her never-to-be-forgotten physical and artistic heritage.
Pavlova made her company debut at the Maryinsky on September 19, 1899. Competition from her contemporaries and near-contemporaries was marked, yet Anna Pavlova soon claimed as her own a loyal sector of Maryinsky balletomanes, who recognized in the young dancer an extraordinarily poetic and expressive quality.
Pavlova's first tour in what was to become a lifetime of innumerable performances for strange audiences (it is estimated that Anna Pavlova travelled over 400,000 miles in the pre-air-travel age and was seen by millions) was to Moscow in 1907. In February 1910, Pavlova, partnered by the brawny Moscow dancer Mikhail Mordkin, made her first appearance in America, at the Metropolitan Opera House. This tour was like countless others to come, in that most of the audiences had never before seen classical ballet in other than highly degenerate form. This was true even in cities such as Boston and Baltimore. There was simply no critical vocabulary for what it was that Pavlova did—all agreed exquisitely—on stage; writers were reduced to calling Pavlova's faultless pirouettes "twirls" and the ballets themselves "ocular operas."
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 travelling through Germany en route to London when Germany declared itself at war with her homeland on August 2, 1914. Pavlova was briefly detained; more crucially, her protection from and obligations to the Czar and his Maryinsky Theatre were practically, if not emotionally, at an end.
From this point until her death, Pavlova continued to make grueling, globe-covering tours, always with her own company—international in make-up, volatile, and variable in dance talent—to support. The early war years found her back in America; 1917 took her to South America; 1919 to Bahia and Salvador. A 1920-1921 tour to America represented Pavlova's fifth major tour of the United States in a decade, and in 1923 the company travelled under the aegis of impresario Sol Hurok to Japan, China, India, Burma, and Egypt. South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand were given a glimpse of Pavlova in 1926, and 1927-1928 were dedicated to a British and continental tour.
Although Pavlova's repertoire grew and was influenced by exposure to foreign cultures and by the often shocking innovations in classical technique and choreography being brought to the dance by Isadora Duncan and Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, she remained by temperament and financial imperative a more conservative classicist. She kept several of the great ballet classics, such as Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, in the 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 emissary for her art, often with good humor and always with a kind of missionary 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 22, 1931. She had performed incessantly until her death; her final words were to ask for her Swan costume to be prepared and, finally, "Play that last measure softly."
Anna Pavlova: Her Life and Art (1982) by Keith Money is the most comprehensive and perhaps the most accurate biography of the dancer. John and Roberta Lazzarini's Pavlova (1980) gives a fine account of Pavlova's repertoire. Two books by Pavlova's associates are Victor Dandré's sometimes misleading but essential Anna Pavlova (1932) and Algeranoff's (born Algernon Harcourt Essex) My Years With Pavlova (1957), based on his diaries kept from 1921 to 1930, the years he was a member of Pavlova's company.
Fonteyn, Margot, Dame, Pavlova: portrait of a dancer, New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking, 1984.
Pavlova, a biography, New York: Da Capo Press, 1979, 1956.
Lazzarini, John, Pavlova: repertoire of a legend, New York: Schirmer Books; London: Collier Macmillan, 1980.
Money, Keith, Anna Pavlova, her life and art, New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1982.
Anna Pavlova, New York: Dover Publications, 1974. □
"Anna Pavlova." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/anna-pavlova
"Anna Pavlova." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/anna-pavlova
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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." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pavlova-anna
"Pavlova, Anna." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pavlova-anna