Anna Pavlovna Pavlova was a Russian prima ballerina hailed to be one of the most famous dancers of all time. She reached the pinnacles of glory during the early 20th century with her slim frame, ethereal looks, and graceful dreamlike dance moves. The fact that Pavlova was not considered traditionally beautiful or that she was not of a physical built optimum for a ballerina never became a hindrance in her pursuit of becoming the most famous dancer of her days. She became fascinated with ballet after watching a performance as a young girl and decided to become a ballerina herself. However, her early training proved to be difficult because of her arched feet and long, thin limbs—technically she was not built to be a ballerina. But the young girl was determined not to let her physical imperfections come in the way of her dreams and trained under the best teachers of ballet to improve her technique. She compensated with her talents what she lacked physically. Through her determination and hard work she eventually became a world class ballerina and even founded her own company. She was one of the earliest artists who toured extensively all over the world to stage her performances.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born to an unwed mother, Lyubov Feodorovna who was a laundress. Her biological father was rumored to be the banker Lazar Polyakov. Her mother later married Matvey Pavlov who adopted the little girl as his own daughter.
Young Anna became fascinated with dancing after watching a performance of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. Inspired, she auditioned for the famous Imperial Ballet School where she was accepted in 1891 at the age of ten.
She had severely arched feet and long, thin limbs which made training difficult. But she was not discouraged and spent long hours practising and improved her technique under the coaching of renowned teachers like Christian Johansson, Enrico Cecchetti and Nikolai Legat.
She graduated from the Imperial Ballet School in 1899 at age of 18.
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Her official debut was at the the Mariinsky Theatre in Pavel Gerdt's Les Dryades pretendues in 1899. Her performance was greatly appreciated by the great critic and historian Nikolai Bezobrazov.
She was a very gifted ballerina and could perform in various classical variations such as pas de deux and pas de trios. Through her hard work and grace she became a favourite of the old maestro Petipa who selected her to play the title role in ‘Paquita’.
She rose through the ranks quickly and became danseuse in 1902 and premiere danseuse in 1905, and was eventually named the prima ballerina in 1906. Her popularity soared and her fans started calling themselves the Pavlovatzi.
She suffered from rigid feet and thus added a piece of hard wood to the sole of her pointe shoe to strengthen it. This was considered cheating during those times though it formed the basis for the creation of the modern pointe shoe.
In 1905, she performed the lead solo in Michael Fokine’s ‘The Dying Swan’ which had music by Camille Saint-Sa�ns. Her frail and supple body allowed her to perform the delicate movements to perfection and this role came to be known as her signature role.
With the passage of time she began choreographing several solos herself. She wore a gossamer gown and large dragonfly wings while performing in the ballet ‘The Dragonfly’ for which she also acted as the choreographer.
She was known to embark on long and grueling tours across the world to perform. Her first tour was in 1907 when she traveled all over Europe along with a group of dancers and performed in Berlin, Copenhagen, Prague among other major cities. The tour was highly successful.
She joined Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe on its tour in 1909. The company frequently visited Australia and the dancers had a deep influence on the future of Australian dance. She toured the United States and the United Kingdom during 1910.
The year 1911 was an important one for the ballerina. She founded her own company which allowed her to retain complete creative control over the performances. Along with her company she tirelessly toured all over the world for the next several years.
She is best known for creating the role of ‘The Dying Swan’ in the ballet of the same name. The ballad follows the last moments of the life of a swan which Pavlova portrayed with her delicate body movements and intense facial expressions. Considered her signature performance, she performed the dance around 4,000 times.
Personal Life & Legacy
She is believed to have married her manager and companion, Victor Dandre. This fact was never confirmed from her side as she kept her personal life a closely guarded secret.
She gave several charity performances to support Russian orphans of war. She adopted 15 girls into a home she had purchased and supported them with her earnings and donations from the Camp Fire Girls of America.
She was a passionate animal lover and had many pets including dogs, cats, birds and swans.
She contracted pneumonia during a tour and was advised to have an operation. However she was informed that she would not be able to dance after the surgery. The dancer chose to die rather than giving up what she loved most. She decided not to have the surgery and died in January 1931.
This famous ballerina completed 37 turns atop a moving elephant while touring China.