Pavlova became a Russian ballerina who was reaching her peak at a time when Russia was producing the best dancers, choreographers, costume designers, artists, composers, writers and every other creative profession in the world. But it was a conservative world. In 1906 Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) organised the Exhibition of Russian Art at the Pétit Palais in Paris, possibly one of the first major exhibitions of Russian art in western Europe. Its enormous success created a passion in Paris for all things Russian, and encouraged Diaghilev to bring more Russian cultural products to France.
Everything they touched turned to gold. Diaghilev was sufficiently impressed by Igor Stravinsky to commission the composer to create a full-length ballet score, The Firebird. Stravinsky became famous following the success of The Firebird's premiere in Paris in June 1910. In the first years of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev revolutionised ballet. In addition to Stravinsky, Diaghilev worked with composers Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Sergei Prokofiev; dancers and choreographers eg Vaslav Nijinsky, Mikhail Fokine, Leonide Massine, Alicia Markova and George Balanchine. Finally there were the costumers and set designers like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alexandre Benois and my personal favourite, Leon Bakst.
Ivy House, North London
Photo credit: London Jewish Cultural Centre
But within one year of her Paris role in Cleopatra, Pavlova left the Ballets Russes. This was because she felt dismayed by Diaghilev's crystal clear preference for males. In bed and on stage. So Pavlova formed her own company in 1910, taking some dancers from the original St Petersburg group. And as she toured the world, particularly in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Prague and Berlin, she found more talented dancers.
From 1909 on, the Ballets Russes company never returned home to Russia. They constantly travelled, but remained firmly based in Paris. Pavlova, on the other hand, remained a member of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg until 1913. She visited her mother a few times.
Pavlova’s British debut was in the Palace Theatre in 1910. For this first London season Pavlova stayed at the Hyde Park Hotel, but needing green space of her own, she rented a small house in Golders Green. It was therefore inevitable that after leaving Russia permanently, Pavlova decided to move to London, not Paris. She settled in 1912 at the Ivy House in Golders Green in north London, where she based herself for the rest of her life.
statue by Tom Merrifield - Pavlova as The Dragonfly
in the garden behind Ivy House
Photo credit: London Jewish Cultural Centre
Pavlova had her furniture and artwork shipped from St Petersburg because her permanent home had to be an elegant retreat from the endless months of railway stations and crowds. Pavlova was the artistic hub of the Pavlova Company, but her house and gardens became her Eden.
The house had an ornamental lake where she fed her pet swans, and since it was Pavlova’s favourite spot, it is where the Scottish artist Harry Paulin later created a sculpture of her in 1954. I would love a photo of this piece.
She also loved her aviary of exotic birds.
Pavlova was not professionally isolated at Ivy House. She converted the large balconied hall into a studio and taught top quality students there. Her influence was probably greatest on the brilliant Alicia Markova (1910-2004) who became the first British-born dancer to be principal dancer of Ballets Russes. As the artistic hub of the Pavlova Company, it was in this house that prospective members were auditioned, rehearsals taken, tours finalised, costumes made and sets stored in the cellars under the house.
Nor was she isolated socially. She invited just the people she was closest to, to share their company in the lovely gardens. Italian ballet master-pedagogue Enrico Cecchetti 1850–1928, who devised and perfected the Cecchetti method of ballet training, loved the gardens.
At the 1911 re-opening of the Victoria Palace Theatre in Victoria Street, a gilded statue of Anna Pavlova was installed above the cupola of the theatre. The dome is still topped with that statue (or a copy of the original) today. Ivy House in Golders Green is now the London Jewish Cultural Centre, complete with a blue heritage plaque on the front.
I have discussed Pavlova's contribution to Australian and New Zealand ballet and cuisine in an early post.
Timing is everything! In early July 2013 the Russian Seasons was held in the London Coliseum, starring Mikhail Fokine ballets and Stravinsky’s music. The programme included Le Spectre De La Rose, an enchanting story of a girl who dreamed of dancing with a rose. The Firebird, which was based on a Russian folk tale, told the tale of a mythical character who protected a prince. Cleopatra-Ida Rubinstein was a production that recounted the story of the creation of Fokine's ballet, Cleopatra. This performance was planned as a tribute to the fabulous actress-dancer Ida Rubinstein of the pre-WW1 era. A repeat of Russian Seasons will be held, again in the London Coliseum, in mid July 2013.
And more! The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra understood that Stravinsky was influenced profoundly by his Russian musical heritage and by the musical world around him. And in turn, the music Stravinsky created for Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet company in the three years prior to WW1 was among the most influential of the C20th. Particularly influential was Rite of Spring, first performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris in 1913.
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Russian Festival in mid-August 2013, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Rite of Spring, will enjoy performances with fine soloists, lectures and exhibitions. Russian music fans should prepare for a week of engagement with Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.
Rite of Spring,
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London