16 June 2012 at 11.30am | Comment on this article
One of the great ballerinas of the 20th century, Anna Pavlova, is to be celebrated with a intimate performance event and exhibition at the Royal Opera House.
Pavlova danced her way to fame with the Imperial Russian Ballet and Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and was a favourite of legendary choreographer Marius Petipa. The role she is perhaps most famous for is that of the The Dying Swan, which she danced to acclaim around the world - becoming the first ballerina to tour the globe. A hugely influential figure in dance and a key figure in the development of British ballet, Pavlova inspired Frederick Ashton. The choreographer saw her dance when he was a boy in Lima, Peru. He later described how “seeing her at that stage was the end of me. She injected me with her poison and from the end of that evening I wanted to dance.”
Watch ghostly footage of Pavlova dancing the role circa 1905:
In 1912 Pavlova moved to England, living at Ivy House in Golders Green, London - now London Jewish Cultural Centre. It was here that she lived out the rest of her life when not on tour. Fascinated with birds, the house had a lake complete with a bevy of swans - perfect for indulging the dancer's hobby of birdwatching. Photographs from the time show her with Jack, her favourite of the group.
Pavlova toured the world throughout the first few decades of the 20th century. Her Music Director Theodore Stier estimated that between 1910 and 1925 they travelled over 300,000 miles and gave over 3,600 performances. She brought her company to the Royal Opera House on four occasions during the 1920s with photographs from her 1923 season on display at the Collections exhibition.
Her final performance in England was in 1930 at Golders Green Hippodrome, only yards away from Ivy House. She died in 1931 while on tour in the Netherlands, holding her Dying Swan costume in her arms. Refusing surgery, she told doctors "If I can't dance then I'd rather be dead.". In accordance with tradition, on the day she was to have next performed, the show went on, with a spotlight circling the empty stage where she would have danced.
As well as the gala event and ongoing exhibition at the Royal Opera House, Anna Pavlova's life is the subject of an exhibition this summer at Ivy House.