Trefilova, Vera (1875–1943)

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Trefilova, Vera (1875–1943)

Russian ballerina and actress. Born in 1875, perhaps in St. Petersburg, Russia; died in 1943 in Paris, France; parentage and family history unknown; graduated from the St. Petersburg Imperial School of Ballet, 1894; married A.I. Butler (died); married N.V. Soloviev (died); married Valerian Svetlov (a ballet critic and author, died 1934).

Prima ballerina of the Maryinsky Theater, St. Petersburg (1906–10); signature roles included Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and Odette-Odile in Swan Lake; became dramatic stage actress (1915); returned to ballet with Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in Paris (1921).

Vera Trefilova's early history is unknown, but she was born in 1875, presumably in St. Petersburg, because she trained there as a ballerina at the St. Petersburg Imperial School of Ballet. After graduating, she was accepted in the corps de ballet of the Maryinsky Theater of St. Petersburg. The talented dancer was limited to the back row of the corps de ballet for nearly two years because of intrigues and the machinations of other ballerinas. She was about to abandon her career when Pierina Legnani , then the Maryinsky's prima ballerina, promised to help and took an interest in promoting her. Trefilova's strict adherence to classicism, virtuoso technique, and appearance caught the attention of the imperial court, the press and ballet critics, and the popular audience.

Trefilova became a ballerina in 1904, debuting as Princess Aurora in Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty. In 1906, she became the Maryinsky's prima ballerina. She took a leave of absence in 1907 to dance in Paris, where her performances received considerable acclaim. Returning to the Imperial Theater, Trefilova found she was still overwhelmed by backstage intrigue, and she resigned from the company in 1910 after a final appearance on the stage of the Maryinsky in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

Trefilova left the world of dance and the theater completely for about five years. In 1915, she returned to the stage as a dramatic actress at the Imperial Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. With the turmoil of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Trefilova left Russia and opened a ballet studio in Paris. In 1921, the great Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872–1929), the founder of the Ballet Russe who is credited with reawakening interest in classical ballet, asked Trefilova to dance Princess Aurora in a full-length revival of his production of The Sleeping Beauty in London, England. She accepted and alternated nights in the role with ballerinas Lyubov Egorova, Lydia Lopokova , and Olga Spessivtzeva . These performances were the 46-year-old Trefilova's last appearances as a prima ballerina and on any stage.

Trefilova lived the rest of her life in Paris. Her first two marriages, to A.I. Butler and N.V. Soloviev, were cut short by their early deaths. Her third husband, Valerian Svetlov, was the leading Russian ballet critic of the day; among his best-known books was Le Ballet Contemporain, published in both French and Russian in 1911. Trefilova survived him by nine years, dying during the German occupation of Paris in 1943.

Gillian S. Holmes , freelance writer, Hayward, California