Sergei Diaghilev and Beyond: Les Ballets Russes

Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) > Introduction

The first superstar that Sergei Diaghilev brought to Paris in 1909 to dance in his triumphal ballet seasons was Anna Pavlova. She was born in St. Petersburg on February 12, 1881, and entered the Imperial Ballet Academy at the age of ten.  Her early teachers were Nicholas and Sergei Legat, Pavel Gerdt, and Enrico Cecchetti.

Pavlova’s unusual appearance, the delicacy of her style, and poetic way of moving attracted much attention even as a student.  In 1902, after graduating from the academy she joined the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and became the prima ballerina in 1906. 

She performed with many distinguished dancers – Mikhail Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Mikhail Mordkin, and others.  She inspired Mikhail Fokine to choreograph the “Chopiniana (Les Sylphides)” for her and create an unforgettable miniature “The Dying Swan”. It became Pavlova’s signature solo, which she included in her repertoire for the rest of her life.

Diaghilev signed her for the first performances of the Russian ballet season of 1909.  Her presence in Paris was one of the foundations of his success, but Pavlova left the company after only one season. In 1910, Pavlova formed her own company and from then on restlessly toured the world.  She was the first to introduce Russian ballet to America (1910).  Her ballet performances in New York were the first to get sold-out houses.

Pavlova unexpectedly died of double pneumonia in The Hague at the age of 50.  She was the greatest dancer of the 20th century and inspired several generations of followers.

Anna Pavlova continues to dance for us through her photographs, which are exhibited in this case.  Also presented are clippings, postcards, and playbills from her American tours.  There is an original drawing by Mstislav Dobujinsky apparently made in 1936 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Pavlova’s death. 

All exhibit items in this case are from three collections: Mstislav Dobujinsky Papers (Bakhmeteff Archive), Max Rabinoff Papers and Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum Collection (Rare Book and Manuscript Library).

Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Butler Library, 6th Fl. East / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-5153 /