Ballet News Reviews | Anna Pavlova, Twentieth Century Ballerina

July 15, 2012


Ballet Books | Anna Pavlova | Twentieth Century Ballerina

anna pavlova

Beautifully put together, the covetable coffee-table book Anna Pavlova, Twentieth Century Ballerina is a treasure.

“It was Anna Pavlova, and no one else, who opened the world to ballet.”

Written by Jane Pritchard (Curator of dance at the V&A) with Caroline Hamilton (dance and costume historian) and with comment from, among others, Hilda Butsova, who danced with Pavlova between 1912-1925 and said “It was Anna Pavlova, and no one else, who opened the world to ballet.” 

A bold opening statement in a book lavishly decorated with photographs, relevant adverts from the time and costume drawings/photographs.  Back in the day, an advert for Franks ballet shoes ran in Vogue.

Everything you could want to know about Pavlova is here.anna pavlovaChapters include Imperial Ballerina, where you’ll discover that the details of Pavlova’s birth remain uncertain as does the identity of her father. There is similar uncertainty regarding whether or not Pavlova was ever married (to Victor Dandré), and the author concludes it unlikely.

Pavlova’s early years

Pavlova’s early years and training at the Imperial Ballet School in 1891 are covered in this chapter along with debut performances including The Fairy Doll (see photograph below) on 7th February 1903, which was presented in the Hermitage Theatre.  Pavlova created the role of the Spanish Doll.

anna pavlova

Ballet Touring

As one of the first dancers from the Imperial Russian Ballet to dance in Western Europe, Pavlova takes her place in history, and her tours, as well as the question mark over whether or not she broke away from Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes are all discussed. Pavlova said “I have always dreamed of spending the second half of my career abroad….” and so it came to be.

Ivy House, London

Her time at Ivy House in London forms another chapter.  Pavlova lived at Ivy House between 1912-1931 because when she visited London to dance, she missed her own garden and had previously been staying in a hotel. Ivy House had a small ballroom which was ideal for a ballet studio, and there are some lovely photographs of Pavlova with her students, as well as some photographs of Pavlova in costume for the Russian Dance.

It is interesting to note that Pavlova’s pre-war years in London showed her the potential of British girls when it came to ballet. Alexander Shiryaev and Enricco Cecchetti both assisted Pavlova in her teaching of these promising students, even though her ‘school’ probably only lasted two seasons as she left for America in October 1913.

Amarilla was the first one-act narrative ballet created for Pavlova and her company, first performed on June 5th 1912, and a chapter of the book is devoted to it. Amarilla is a gypsy, cast off by her aristocratic lover who seduced her pretending to be a simple peasant.  Ring any bells ? There are pages of costume drawings in colour and performance shots.

Twentieth Century Icon

It is probably as a twentieth century icon that Pavlova is best remembered, and this book showcases her charisma which she used to great effect – her image was used to sell everything from make-up to pianos, and you can see many of the adverts and features that appeared in magazines such as The Tatler. There is a beautiful studio portrait showing Pavlova dressed in the height of fashion in 1909, and as a hostess at one of her garden parties.  Her pets, too, get a look-in, as she was often photographed with them.  Pavlova loved red shoes (who doesn’t ?) and you can see photographs of the styles she chose – and she often bulk-bought the styles she liked. Ever heard of Cantilver shoes ? They were featured in The Tatler on 1927 where Pavlova said “even our walk should be free, graceful and strong, and it can be in a shoe that is flexible like a Cantilever.”

There’s plenty of drama when Pavlova returned to Britain in the 1920’s and performed at the Royal Opera House. Here you can see photographs of her dancing Kitri from Don Quixote, Giselle, and Autumn Leaves with Aubrey Hichens and Pierre Vladimirov.

Ballet on Film

Kathleen Crofton said of Pavlova in 1954, “no film could possibly reproduce the fascination of the ever-changing Pavlova, or the thrill of her impact with her audience” and audiences of the time generally agreed. Nevertheless, Pavlova was captured on film, all in black and white with no soundtrack (sound wasn’t introduced until towards the end of Pavlova’s life and she is said to have experimented unsuccessfully with it). Pavlova wanted to film her repertory for two reasons : to record herself and her dancers for education and because she saw the medium of film as an artistic one. The results were largely disappointing but there are some insightful photographs of Pavlova on set with her dressers or playing around with a goat.

Pavlova’s legacy and her iconic association with The Swan brings the book to a close, and there you’ll find a list of Pavlova’s performances in Britain, a bibliography and picture credits.

As her iconic status remains undimmed a century later, this book is a timely reminder of Pavlova’s contribution to ballet.

Pavlova Twentieth Century Ballerina (Hardcover)

List Price: £25.00 GBP
New From: £14.60 GBP In Stock
Used from: £19.04 GBP In Stock

The book is also available via Amazon in the US




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