She seemed to be a fairy, a creature made of light and air, not of this earth. When she appeared at the Maryinsky Theater, at the age of eighteen, the great ballet master, Marius Pepita, could not believe his own eyes. In his entire long career, he had never seen a ballerina perform quite like Anna Pavlova.
An overnight success, she went with the ballet to many countries in Europe, and then, in 1909, joined Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and went to Paris with him. She was as great a sensation there as Vaslav Nijinsky. How could the two greatest ballet dancers of all time be at the same place and the same time? How could such a coincidence happen? It seems impossible – and yet it did.
She did not return to Russia, particularly since the war prevented everyone from going back and forth. But she did not stay with Diaghilev, either. This ethereal creature had a mind of her own and she would not have anyone manage her career and dictate to her where and when she would dance. She became a true nomad, and traveled all over the world, appearing before royalty and modest dance halls with the same dedication to her art; she always danced as if possessed by a power higher than herself. Royalty saluted her. At the dance halls and second rate theaters, in company of jugglers and animal trainers, the audience gasped at the dark, exotic, delicate creature who seemed to make time stop as she danced. Her name was recognized internationally, in every continent. She made the dance look so easy, as if it cost no effort at all. The audience did not know that her muscles hurt so much that she had herself wrapped with tight bandages when she was not dancing. She never stopped hurting, but she would not stop dancing, either.
In 1931, at almost fifty, Pavlova was rather old for a ballerina; most dancers at that time stopped performing in their forties. But her power and magic did not diminish by age. She was expected in Brussels, at a royal performance the Queen was planning to attend. A few days before the performance, the theater manager received the shocking news that Pavlova died suddenly on her way, at The Hague.
The performance was not cancelled, and the Queen attended. When the time for Pavlova’s solo came, the orchestra played the music of her famous “Dying Swan” and a single, pure white ray of spotlight moved over the dark stage, following where Pavlova would have been moving as she danced. The Queen rose to her feet, and so did the rest of the audience, and their eyes followed the white light until the end of the piece. An other-worldly, eerie tribute, most fitting for the magical dancer.
These links connect to two dances by Anna Pavlova. We are so lucky they have survived.