For many centuries, Anna Pavlova has been a synonym for classical ballet. She was one of the most famous and beloved dancers of all time. The New York Times defined her as the best dancer of her time. On January 23, 2021, we complete 90 years since her death.
Anna died due to the development of pneumonia, after catching the flu during a tour. After three long days of the medical team trying everything and anything, she passed suddenly. Anna was 49 years old, only eight days from her 50th birthday.
Anna Pavlova was born in Saint Petersburg and had a hard and poor childhood. At 9 she saw her first ballet – Marius Petipa‘s Sleeping Beauty – and that was it for her. She was determined to become a ballerina. She was 10 when she was accepted at the Imperial Ballet’s School and graduated at 18.
Her achievements were not as clear when she first started. She didn’t have the body of the dancers at the time, was thin and with long limbs, and was bullied by the students who called her “broom” and “little savage”.
Determined to be the best of all, she trained all the time. Soon became one of Petipa’s protegées and he learned from him directly many of the classics he created. Many legends are around Anna, one of them being that a jealous Mathilde Kschessinska, who was pregnant and couldn’t dance, taught her the lead role in La Bayadère anticipating her failure. However, Anna was greeted as one of the best ever in the role and became a superstar.
She was also with Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky at the Ballets Russes, but only for a year. She disagreed with Sergei Diaghilev and also, another legend, hated the Igor Stravinsky‘s score for Firebird, a ballet made for her, leaving the production before the premiere. Tamara Karsavina took the role instead.
Anna traveled literally all around the world with her own company, including South America. Her talent and charisma made her an international superstar.
Czar Nicholas II famously said that she was the best swan he’s ever seen. In fact, The Dying Swan was made for her by Michel Fokine and it was her signature piece. She loved swans so much that she had them in her garden in England.
She married Victor d’Andre in 1924 and was based in London, where she also contributed to starting a local ballet school.
While touring in 1931, she caught a cold that became pneumonia. The doctors recommended she have an operation, but then she would no longer dance. “If I don’t dance I’d rather die”, she supposedly replied. Some biographers say her last words were “get my swan costume ready”. Her death prevented her from that one last solo, but then she was already a legend.
Watch Anna dance The Dying Swan