Anna Pavlova in her stunning Kokoshnik for her Russian Dance.
Its curious how one question dominates for a period. In the past week several visitors have said ‘we can’t find anything on Anna Pavlova and surely she was a great Russian ballerina with the Ballets Russes’. I have pointed out that we do have Pavlova represented on the 1909 poster for the Théâtre du Châtelet in the lovely Chopiniana sketch by Valentin Serov but I am afraid that is it. Pavlova only danced with Diaghilev’s Company for the second half of the 1909 season as Ta-Hor in Cléopâtre, in the title role of Le Pavilion d’Armide, and in Les Sylphides . She then appeared during the second London season at Covent Garden in the autumn of 1911 when she added the ‘Bluebird’ pas de deux, then called L’Oiseau d’Or, Columbine in Le Carnaval and, most significantly, the title role in Giselle to her Ballets Russes repertoire. It is interesting to note that when Diaghilev commissioned The Firebird for the 1910 Paris season it was intended as a vehicle for Pavlova but she rejected the opportunity to create the title role which fell to Tamara Karsavina. Pavlova established her own company which toured even more extensively that Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
Russian Red Cross postcard showing Serov’s portrat of Pavlova in Chopiniana, later used on the poster for Diaghilev’s 1909 season
During the season at the BFI Southbank in September-October we screened Margaret Dale’s 1970 Omnibus: Anna Pavlova (1881 – 1931) in which Dame Marie Rambert emphasised the difference between Pavlova and Diaghilev: ‘Pavlova excited in people the desire to dance while Diaghilev inspired in people a love of ballet and a love of choreography’. In the programme Ronald Eyre discussed Pavlova’s preference for light and often trite dances such as The Fairy Doll describing them as ‘little acts of aggression’ snubbing the C20th, Diaghilev, Stravinsky and all that was modern. It is nevertheless intriguing to realise that ballets danced by Pavlova are more frequently performed today than those commissioned by Diaghilev.
Anna Pavlova as Giselle wearing the Act I costume Léon Bakst designed for her. This is very different from the costume Alexandre Benois designed for Diaghilev’s company.