Anna Pavlova: Her Life and Career...in Color! June 11 2021
Anna Pavlova is one of the most famous ballerinas in the history of the artform.
Born in Russia, she dazzled audiences around the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with her artistry, grace, and athleticism.
She was also a woman ahead of her time in other ways. Let’s take a closer look at her fascinating story, in color pictures!.
Early Life and Ballet Training
Anna Pavlova was born in Saint Petersburg on February 12, 1881.
She was born prematurely and suffered from poor health throughout her early years of childhood. Despite her weak constitution, she was determined to dance after her mother took her to see The Sleeping Beauty.
Her dreams were nearly dashed at age 9 when she was rejected by the renowned Imperial Ballet School, but she was admitted a year later. She worked incredibly hard to overcome her physical and natural obstacles, including her other-than-ideal body type and weak ankles, which made dancing on pointe exceedingly difficult.
Nonetheless, she distinguished herself from her peers. She worked with legendary teacher Enrico Cecchetti, and upon her graduation from the school at age 18 (in 1899), she was given a coveted place in the Imperial Ballet at the rank of coryphée, which was above entry level.
The Imperial Russian Ballet
Anna Pavlova danced with this company for the first years of her
career, and it was here that she established her virtuosity. She also entered into two very famous partnerships with choreographers, for whom she was something of a muse.
The first was Ballet Master Marius Petipa, who by 1899 was already a legend in his own right. He began his career decades earlier and helped shape the art of ballet. He remains one of the most influential choreographers and pedagogues in the sport’s history.
In some ways, Pavlova unsettled Petipa, as her style of dance deviated from his strict aesthetic and insistence on perfect technique. Nonetheless, she rose through the ranks of the company very quickly, and like so many of her fans at the time (who called themselves Pavlovatzi), he became enchanted with her, even changing some of his famous choreography to better suit her abilities.
The second famous choreographer was Michel Fokine, who was much younger than Petipa (born in 1880) and was changing the face of Russian ballet at the time of Pavlova’s ascendency. He choreographed what would perhaps become Pavlova’s most famous role, that of The Dying Swan from The Carnival of the Animals in 1907. In it, her long limbs and frail appearance evoked strong emotions in audiences, who had already been captivated by Pavlova.
It was Fokine who would play a large role in pulling Pavlova away from the Imperial Ballet to the Ballets Russes.
Meant to be a more modern and innovative ballet company, the Ballets Russes was founded by Sergei Diaghilev. Started in Paris, the company toured throughout Europe and the Americas. Pavlova and her Russian peers who joined her were lucky; after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917, life was thrown into chaos, particularly in Saint Petersburg.
Here she is shown dancing with Laurent Novikoff in 1912.
The Ballets Russes was extremely influential. Diaghilev collaborated not only with young and innovative dancers, but also with composers, choreographers, artists, and designers at the cutting edge of their fields. These people included Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, and Coco Chanel. They also employed an up-and-coming Russian choreographer named George Balanchine, who would go on to become the father of American ballet by founding the New York City Ballet (though his time there did not overlap with Pavlova’s).
At the same time, Pavlova turned down some of the most innovative roles offered to her during her brief tenure with the Ballets Russes, including the title role in the ballet Firebird, composed by Stravinsky. She had firmly established her more romantic, classical style. She remained with them for only one year.
Solo Company and Career
Perhaps it was because she had been exposed to so many avant-garde artists that Anna Pavlova made the revolutionary decision to start her own company and tour the world, or it may have been because she wished to pursue her own creative style independently. Whatever the reason, Pavlova’s decision was especially brave given the expectations of women at the time.
She made her first tour in 1910, which included the United States. She would travel to the United States many times throughout the rest of her career, having an indelible influence on the very new artform in that country. In 1912, she purchased a home in London, and in 1914 she made the controversial decision to permanently leave the Imperial Ballet and her home country. She never returned to Russia. Apparently, she also married her manager, Victor Dandré, in secret in 1914.
While World War I ravaged Europe, Pavlova spent a great deal of
her time in America. She starred in a silent movie and used her paycheck to fund her company. She also toured Latin America in 1917. It was here that she began to learn traditional cultural dances of peoples around the world, which influenced her own style.
After World War I ended in 1918, she toured much of the rest of the world, not only Europe but also Australia, China, Egypt, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Anna Pavlova visiting Egypt
Anna Pavlova can be seen in a short film dancing The Dying Swan (1925) and in a 1916 silent film entitled "The Dumb Girl of Portici", as Fenella. Fenella, a poor Italian girl, falls in love with a Spanish nobleman, but their affair triggers a revolution and national catastrophe.
Sadly though, her life was cut short after she contracted pneumonia when caught in a snowstorm in early 1931. She died on January 23, just days before her 50th birthday. She was scheduled to return to Russia on her tour that year.
The Legacy of Anna Pavlova
Pavlova’s influence on the art of ballet is impossible to overstate. At a time when the world was just beginning to pay attention to this European style of dance, she brought it to corners of the globe where no one dreamed it would be so popular. In addition, she influenced many dancers, choreographers, artists, composers, designers, and creatives in their own work, during her lifetime and long afterward.
Pavlova also changed the look of the ballerina. Prior to her career, the ideal female body type was on the short side, almost compact. Pavlova used her long, lithe limbs to her advantage and created an aesthetic in ballet that endures to this day. Without the fascinating and groundbreaking life of Anna Pavlova, it’s hard to imagine how ballet would look in the 21st century.
MORE ANNA PAVLOVA...in COLOR:
Anna Pavlova was an animal lover, and had a pet swan
Anna Pavlova and Charlie Chaplin
Anna Pavlova in The Dying Swann
Anna Pavlova at home
Anna Pavlova in Pharaohs Daughter
Anna Pavlova with her dogs
Anna Pavlova on tour in Uruguay
Anna Pavlova in Castello di Vigoleno - Italy 1925
Anna Pavlova in costume for Syrian Dance
Anna Pavlova at home
Anna Pavlova and Michael Mordkin
Anna Pavlova - The Dying Swan
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