One of the greatest and best-known ballet dancer
s ever. Born in 1881
(exact dates differ, since Russia still used the Julian calendar
at the time) in a suburb
, the daughter of a washerwoman
, from the first ballet she saw as a child she was determined to be a dancer. It was a few years before she could get into the most prestigious Imperial school in 1891
, and her performance then was not seen as outstanding by every teacher. It was a time when the Italian
style of muscular dancers with great speed
steps was popular, and Pavlova was delicate
in her dance.
She studied intensely and took advantage of her fragility to balance on her tiptoes in outstretched arabesque longer than audiences could believe. (Modified pointe shoes like those current ballet dancers wear helped here, but most pictures of her have been altered, at her insistence, to hide the flattened toes of her shoes and make it look as if she is balancing on the toe of a soft shoe.) The choreography of Mikhail Fokine suited her lyrical style very well, and the Dying Swan solo of Swan Lake was the piece she was best known for. In 1905, she officially was named prima ballerina at the Maryinsky ballet theater, but she was too independent to let one theater limit what she could do.
So staring in 1907, she toured, for a while with the well-known Ballets Russes, but even that was too much of a restriction on her. Eventually she traveled and performed with her own company, calling London home after 1912 and living with a Russian aristocrat, Victor Dandre, who acted as her manager (and was eventually presented as her husband, though they never officially married). Dandre had left Russia after being accused of embezzling government money. Pavlova's tours came to places where classical ballet had never been seen before. The travel was terribly wearing and she sometimes had to perform only her less demanding pieces; she went through up to a dozen pairs of toe shoes a week. Nonetheless, when she contracted pleurisy in 1931 afer a railroad accident, and could have been cured of it by an operation that would have damaged her ribs and kept her from dancing, she refused to have it done. She died of the pleurisy instead, and reportedly her last words were "Get my swan costume ready." The next night her company performed, but the curtains opened to an empty stage where her solo would have been. Dandre wrote a book about Pavlova after her death.
Her ashes were buried in a London cemetery, but her stated wishes had apparently been to have them returned to Russia if they were asked for; her remains were supposed to be reburied in Moscow's Nodovichy Cemetery in 2000 at the request of Moscow's mayor. Her relatives opposed this because she was a native of St. Petersburg and they say she would have preferred to be interred there. Apparently permission for the move was denied by the Russian government at the last minute, and as of March 2001 the ashes remain in London.