A Timeless Ballerina

(Ballet Dancer by the name of Anna Pavlova)

Born as a frail child, experiencing one illness to another, yet surprisingly showed enormous strength and drove herself at an incredibly intense pace, doing 9- 10 performances a week for more than 20 years. That is Anna Pavlova, the most famous ballet dancer of the early 20th century.

She grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia to an exceedingly poor peasant family. At the age of eight, her mother brought little Anna to the Imperial Theater to watch the performance of The Sleeping Beauty. Enchanted by what she saw, she was then convinced that her life will be dedicated as a ballet dancer. It was also at that time where she was rejected at the School of Imperial Ballet because she was too young. When she was 10, she was accepted and was among the few who were chosen out of the 100 applicants.

After 7 years of daunting training under the rigid discipline of the school, Pavlova joined the Imperial Ballet at the age of 17. Her rise to the top was rapid that only for less than 10 years, she became the company’s prime ballet dancer. Technique was not really her influential asset, it was often her acting as much as her dancing that cause spectators to be completely spellbound.

Pavlova forever changed the ideal for ballet dancers. In the 1890’s, ballet dancers at the Marinsky Theater were expected to have a muscular and compact body. She, however, looked so fragile, perfect for romantic roles such as that of Giselle. Her feet were extremely arched, she strengthened her pointe shoe by adding a piece of hard leather on the soles for support. At that time, a lot considered it as cheating, so she retouched all her photos to hide the boxy platform. This modern age, it has become the model for pointe shoes so it will have less pain and easier footworks.

Her best- renowned piece was The Dying Swan choreographed for her by Michel Fokine, one of her fellow pupils in the School of Imperial Ballet. C.W. Beaumont, an English ballet critic who saw her perform in London wrote, “the emotion transferred was so over-powering that it seemed a mockery to applaud when the dance came to an end. Our souls had soared into empyrean with the passing of the swan. Only when the silence was broken could we feel that they had returned to our bodies.”

Few days before her 50th birthday, Pavlova passed away because of pleurisy in The Hague, Netherlands while she was on tour. Her last request was to grasp in her hands her costume from The Dying Swan. In accordance with tradition, on the day she was scheduled to perform, the show still went on but only with a single spotlight encircling an empty stage where the ballet dancer would have been.

Ruth St. Denis, a popular modern ballet dancer said, “Pavlova lived on the threshold of heaven and earth as an interpreter of the ways of God.”


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