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Anna Pavlova

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Anna Pavlova, Photo courtesy of New York Public Library


The greatest ballerina of her time, Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) was born in humble circumstances in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 1899 she became a member of the Imperial Ballet, where her rare gifts quickly attracted attention. Blessed with ethereal lightness, she excelled in lyrical roles such as Nikiya in La Bayadère and the title role of Giselle. She was also unusually expressive, an aspect of her personality that Michel Fokine successfully exploited in The Dying Swan, which became her most famous solo. She made her first foreign tour in 1907 and the first of several whistle-stopping U.S. tours in 1910. Initially supported by a small group of Polish and Russian soloists, her company, founded in 1913, eventually included a number of Americans. In 1915 she joined forces with the Boston Grand Opera Company, giving joint performances of opera and ballet; the following year she filmed The Dumb Girl of Portici in Hollywood and staged an abridged version of The Sleeping Beauty at the New York Hippodrome. She carried the banner of classicism to the far corners of the United States and inspired a generation of young Americans to study ballet.

Pictured right: Anna Pavlova in The Dragonfly, one of many short ballets created to showcase "her lyricism, expressiveness, and unique ability to fully embody the roles she performed," writes Lindsey Grites Weeks. (Photograph from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.)


Read essay by Lindsey Grites Weeks -- Selected resources


Anna Pavlova, ca. 1914Pictured left: Anna Pavlova, ca. 1914, outdoors in Grecian costume. Pavlova was fascinated by many forms of ethnic, folk, and historical dance, which she incorporated into the works she performed on tours. (Photo by Claude Harris. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dance Division.)



Anna Pavlova in the dance prologue to The Dumb Girl of Portici, a 1915 silent feature film starring the dancer in a dramatic role that drew on her intensely expressive movements, and brought her dancing to worldwide audiences.