09 July 2013

Anna Pavlova's London home and garden

Although only a teenager after she graduated from the Imperial Ballet School in St Peters­burg in 1899, Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) must have been a skilful ballet dancer. She was soon offered a number of interesting roles with the Imperial Ballet Company and came to be admired by the ballet-going public of that very cult­ivated city. It was in the role of The Dying Swan, a solo choreographed for her by Michel Fokine in 1905, that people most loved. As was The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.

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

Cleopatra premiered in Paris in June 1909, with the title role played by Ida Rubinstein and the other roles were filled by Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Mikhail Fokine and Anna Pavlova. The sets, costumes and choreography were amazing, summoning the lushness which audiences associated with the exotic east. Gold, jewels, triumphant music and glittering processions.

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.

Pavlova looking onto her beloved gardens, Ivy House 
Photo credit:  London Jewish Cultural Centre

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


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, It is impressive how many female artists, such as Pavlova, in history showed executive ability and formed their own touring companies. I am more interested in music than dance, and off the top of my head I can think of Emma Abbott, Emma Juch and also composer Carrie Jacobs-Bond who created a music publishing company.

Student of History said...

After the lecture, I left a note on your last Pavlova article. Loved the topic. Loved her home and garden.

Andrew said...

Wonderful house, taking up quite some land. While it is terribly posed, it is a good photo of her. Such a relief that there was not a direct mention of a dessert.

Hels said...


the question the students asked was basically this: "was Pavlova happy, far away from home and family, running a touring company instead of just dancing?" And I think the answer was yes.

She was a great dancer, but she was also a very fine organiser, and was warmly welcomed in just about every country of the world. Much more so than Diaghilev!

Hels said...

Student of History

We may have been surprised she settled in London and not Paris, but her home and gardens were so serene, it made sense.

Hels said...


she always posed! Pavlova was performing, even when she was in her pjamas and cooking a toasted sandwich for tea.

The reason I chose that photo in particular was because the bay windows were open, airy and allowed her to see out onto the beautiful gardens.

David Sumray said...

The statue you have shown in the photograph is one by Tom Merrifield - Pavlova as 'The Dragonfly'. The Paulin memorial sculpture of 1954 - now minus its original side pieces - is situated on the old swan lake n the garden.

Hels said...


many thanks. I will change the details in the post straight away. By the way, do you have a reference to an image of the Paulin sculpture on the lake?

David Sumray said...

I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond - repairs and renovations to house have taken up/are taking up a lot of time. I can't find a photograph for you, but if you go to the British Pathe website and search 'Pavlova Tribute 1952' you will find a newsreel film of Spanish dancers laying a bouquet of flowers at the statue. Good close-ups of the statue. The little cupids and the fountains at the sides are long gone - don't know what happened to them. The Paulin statue wasn't what was originally designed in 1935/1936 to be erected in Regent's Park as the Pavlova Memorial - that was designed by Carl Milles, and was intended to be a large circular fountain with figures in dance poses with a swan in the centre, with foutains of water cascading in curving arcs (hope that description gives you some idea - have a look at photographs of Milles' 'Orpheus Foutain' at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum in Detroit, which has some similarities in the figures and their placing). The fountain was to have been placed in the centre of the Rose Garden in the Inner Circle Garden. The film 'Immortal Swan' (1936), overseen by Victor Dandre, was intended by him to raise enough money to fund the Regent's Park Memorial, but it didn't. Dandre wrote to a friend that if the memorial wasn't built in his lifetime, then it would never be built. Sadly, he was right.

Hels said...


many thanks. I know the British Pathe website well and will have no trouble finding the tribute.

ButI what is/was the 1936 film Immortal Swan? I am a ballet fan, but I don't remember that film at all.

David Sumray said...

'Immortal Swan' was a film made up of some of the footage of Pavlova dancing, her travels and home movies from Ivy House. It opens with a recreation of 'Chopiniana', danced by former members of the Company, and staged by Algeranoff from Clustine's original choreography for Pavlova. There is then footage of Pavlova and the Company on their travels. The footage of Pavlova dancing are films shot in New York c.1923 at the studio of Lee de Forrest (Phonofilms, but no sound, that was added for the 1936 film); at the Pickford/Fairbanks Studio in 1925, filmed on the set of 'Don Q, Son of Zorro'; at the estate of Sir George Tallis, Melbourne, in 1926; on stage at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne in 1929.

The film was re-edited by Dandre between its premiere in Paris and its premiere in London, and the Giselle footage shot in 1929 was removed.

As it stands - in the British Film Archive (a slightly different version to that held by the New York Public Library, which was put together from the French version), the dances shown are as follows (not necessarily in this order, because I am writing this from memory, as all of my papers/files/notes are in boxes at the moment, with the renovation work):

Chopiniana - recreation.

Invitation to the Dance

(a) - a fragment of the Company dancing, which looks as though it might have been filmed in Australia in 1929;

(b) Pavlova's own variation - filmed for Lee de Forrest (complete).

Californian Poppy -filmed for Lee de Forrest (complete).

La Nuit - filmed for Lee de Forrest (complete).

Don Quixote - Pavlova's two act version, staged for her by Laurent Novikoff. Fragment of the Act II Adagio. Filmed in Melbourne, 1929.

Dionysus - fragment. Filmed for Fairbanks in 1925.

Fairy Doll - Pavlova's entree and her Variation. Filmed for Fairbanks in 1925.

A Variation I shall have to come back to you about, because I can't get to my files at the moment. She's wearing her Columbine costume, and it's a Variation from, originally, Les Millions d'Arlequin, but right now I cannot remember in which of her divertissments it was later used - the actual name, I mean.

Dragonfly - filmed for Lee de Forrest (complete).

Rondino (which was filmed both in slow motion and at regular speed). Fragments. Filmed at Sir George Tallis's estate, Melbourne, in 1926.

The Swan - filmed for Fairbanks in 1925.

Apart from the home movie footage of travels and at home, there is also the Pathe sound footage from 1929/1930, probably 1930, of Pavlova at Ivy House, by the little lake, talking to and feeding her swans, and and then rising and walking back up the steps.

Hels said...


many many thanks. I have seen the 1930 Pathe film of Pavlova at Ivy House, with her lake and her swans. But I will have to chase up the Immortal Swan film. That might involve a little effort on my part :)

David Sumray said...

If you go to jiscmediahub.ac.uk and search 'Pavlova' you will find it there - unless you are a part of a subscribing educational organisation, you won't be able to view it, but you can look at the frames. A number of items from the film are on YouTube - varying quality - including La Nuit, Californian Poppy, Fairy Doll etc. Have a look on BBC i-player for a BBC2 programme that went out on 1 March - Darcey's Ballerina Heroines. Bussell is lightweight, and calls Ivy House, Ivy Lodge - a number of silly errors throughout, and the programme is a cross between bits of the history of ballet and 'my favourite ballerinas'. But it has some very good quality footage of some of the dances Pavlova filmed for Lee De Forrest - obviously restored.

Anonymous said...

Dear David Sumray,

I have an interesting object from Milles, and would really like to contact you to hear more about the intended Memorial statue. If you see this, please contact me on mail@emilclaesson.com

Best regards,

Sharon J C said...

I have been sorting out my papers and trying to eliminate what I don't need. Some of it is very old and I did not really go through it when my mother passed. I have found some photos of Anna Pavlova and some programs that she had kept. However, I found a couple of letters and a program that may or may not be pertinent to Anna Pavlova but I do know for sure they were not my mothers as the letters refer programs in Bombay, India. I think they must have been relevant to Anna Pavlova although I do not see her name in any of them. My mother knew Anna Pavlova personally and I just wonder if these letters and the programme could be of any use to her collection but I do not know who and how to contact the appropriate person perhaps you could let me know.


(email attached)

Hels said...


absolutely... get your memorabilia examined professionally. I suggest:

The Lilian Scott Wood Collection
Royal Ballet School Special Collections
Please contact The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge Museum Richmond Surrey via their website: