Across the U.S.

In the early 1900’s, ballet was an unknown art form to most Americans, with no theaters dedicated to dance. Pavlova and her company, travelling from town to town by train, would perform in the most unlikely of venues: circus tents, music halls, churches, saloons, school auditoriums, wherever there was a floor to dance on. She crisscrossed the USA four times in 15 years and became known everywhere as “The Incomparable Pavlova.”

The Fairy Doll

Historical Information

Leon Bakst had just redesigned the costumes for “The Fairy Doll” when this photo was taken in Chicago, but it was a performance of the same ballet in Lima, Peru two years later which proved to be a pivotal moment in the history of ballet. In the audience with his mother was a young, fidgety boy of 12, whose name was Frederick Ashton. Years later he would recall that when Pavlova come onto the stage, he “was smitten forever… She injected me with her poison…her precisely schooled classicism combined with a subtle glamour and expressive lyricism…” (Margot Fonteyn, Pavlova: Portrait of a Dancer, See Bibliograpy). Ashton would go on to be Great Britain’s most illustrious choreographer, whose ballets defined a distinctly “English” style and are still performed today.

The Fairy Doll, Re-Imagined

No collection of ballet costumes would be complete without a pink tutu! I’d been working on my project for almost three years before I came across a color sketch drawn by the famous costume designer Leon Bakst and knew I had to make it for my Pavlova Project. This costume was pure joy from beginning to end, from choosing just the right frothy pink laces to recreating the pearly head piece. Beads, ribbons, pearls, yards of pink tulle, and a fairy wand make this one of my favorite costumes in the entire collection! See another costume for the this ballet in the gallery “The Tsar’s Ballerina” (Pavlova in the role of the Spanish doll).


Historical Information

This short, flirtatious solo was a piece choreographed by Pavlova herself to music adapted from a Beethoven theme by Fritz Kreisler. It was first performed in January, 1916, at the private mansion of the wealthy New York City society hostess, Mrs. William Astor. Through the years, it went through many reincarnations of costume changes, name changes, and even changes in musical accompaniment. For early performances, an eye-glass was used as a prop. Later, when visiting South Africa, Pavlova’s adoring public greeted her at the railroad station with ostrich feathers, which she promptly improvised into a fan and used in that evening’s performance. This solo was created by Pavlova in the midst of the company’s financial difficulties with the Boston Opera Company, which Pavlova had unwisely purchased the year before. An endorsement offer from Cutex nail polish came along just in time to keep the company going, for the time being, but that endorsement, along with many others, could not save the opera company.

Rondo/Rondino, Re-imagined

I am guessing on the colors here, which I based on those chosen by the late, great paper doll artist Tom Tierney in his marvelous book on Pavlova and Nijinsky (Dover Press). The very talented Oriole at Adams-Harris Pattern Company helped me figure out the short jacket with long, pointed lapels. Her beautifully designed patterns have been indispensable to me for The Pavlova Project. And the straw bonnet, which I decorated with ribbon, netting, and feathers, was purchased from Peggy Feltrope Studios.

Dragon Fly

Historical Information

A perennial favorite, this short solo piece was envisioned by Pavlova on her last visit to St. Petersburg in 1914 but was not performed until the following year in New York. She herself choreographed the dance to Fritz Kreisler’s Violin Solo “Schon Rosmarin” and also designed the costume. Hills Studio in New York took a series of photographs from which this collage was created by the “cut and paste” method, quite literally, with scissors and glue.The images of Pavlova flying around “went viral” (in 1916 terms) because they suddenly seemed to pop up everywhere—in advertisements, on soap labels, posters and theatre programs, all in the days before Photoshop and Instagram (and stringent copyright laws!)

Dragon Fly, Re-Imagined

We know from critics’ reviews that this costume was purple, lavender, blue and green, the iridescent colors of the dragon fly. I found this beautiful hand dyed silk organza at a quilt show, and cut out a number of triangles, making sure I included all the gorgeous variations of color. I’m sure the edges of the original costume were hand rolled, but I used my serger. When the costume was finished, off I went to Michael’s to get wire and a special iron-on saran film for the wings. But after almost setting my studio afire, I realized it was time to contact the pros. The talented artist at SeelieCourt made for me exactly what I wanted!

California Poppy

Historical Information

Music by Tchaikovsky, “Melody in E Flat.” Choreography and Costume Design by Anna Pavlova. This dance, inspired by Pavlova’s first glimpse from her train of a hillside of California poppies, told the story of the brief lifespan of this wildflower, from pre-dawn to the end of daylight. The costume, designed by Pavlova herself, started out with wrapping the dancer in a soft pink-orange bud that gradually opened into blazing golden petals, and the solo “…ended with the dancer enfolding herself with the upturned petals as the closing darkness of the stage shrouded her from sight.” (Keith Money, Anna Pavlova, see Bibliography)

California Poppy, Re-Imagined

I was already very familiar with this wildflower, having done an illustration of Eschscholzia californica back in my freelance illustration days for Colorado-based seed company, Botanical Interests. And with just two layers of netting, it was a welcome break from the many more complicated tutus I’d been working on. Pavlova wore a blond wig to complement the sun-filled look of her costume, and I imagine her twirling about en pointe, unfolding and then refolding the glowing petals that made up the skirt.


Historical Information

A romantic divertissement, this one act ballet was first performed at the Russian Tea Garden in New York City in 1912. Since there are no photographs of that performance, I’ve used a photograph taken in Berlin in 1924 for the archival image. The story line involves five handsome cavaliers, among them Ivan Clustine and Alexandre Volinine, dressed in 18th century court costume, arriving at a ball where a flirtatious beauty offers each in turn her silken cloak, trimmed with maribou feathers. All five are immediately smitten. She dances with each, but eventually leaves alone. Choreography and costumes were by Pavlova herself, to Tchaikovsky’s “December Waltz’ from The Seasons. This ballet became a popular seasonal offering wherever Pavlova found herself over the Christmas holidays, and it was performed numerous times in wide-ranging locales. A short snippet of this dance can be seen on YouTube. Though the sound is poor and the filming rudimentary, it gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the lovely Pavlova.

Christmas, Re-Imagined

Pavlova’s costume for this ballet is one a just a few still in existence, and it is now housed at the Museum of London. Online photographs gave me excellent reference for recreating both the frilly, rose-bedecked gown and its magnificent feather-trimmed pink cloak. Her cavalier’s costume uses complimentary fabrics and trims, and was designed using the 1924 photograph, with some artistic re-interpretation on my part. Someday I hope to travel to London to see the surviving costume, though it is noted that the silk cloak is too fragile to be removed from its box.

Petite Danse Russe

Historical Information

Music by Anton Dvorak, choreography by Ivan Clustine.

Pavlova took many opportunities to present Russian character dances as she traveled the world, and each was performed in elaborate costume and headdress. Another example appears in the London Gallery. In 1914, working with American impresario Sol Hurok, she performed a new ballet variation wearing a costume which inspired the artwork for this poster. Her name often appears as “Pavlowa” in English and American print, and here the frequent sobriquet of “The Incomparable” is included. But the words “and her ballet Russe” is most likely used by Hurok to confuse American audiences into thinking that she is still somehow connected with Diagliev’s Ballets Russes, which by this time was not the case. In those early days, Americans tended to lump all ballet under the nomenclature “Russian Ballet.” They did not understand nor really care about the intricacies (not to mention the internal politics) of various touring companies, all of whom claimed to be Russian, whether they were or not! But the name “Anna Pavlova” stood above all the confusion, and it is not exaggerating to say that American audiences were obsessed with Pavlova and made sure her name was in the programme before they purchased tickets.

Petite Danse Russe, Re-Imagined

I had a beautiful remnant of printed silk velvet in gold and black, and though the colors don’t quite match those in the poster, I think they give the same feel of opulence. A friend have given me her late mother’s copy of 100 Years of Dance Posters, and this was where I saw this poster for the first time. There are also numerous black and white photographs of Pavlova in the costume. Though the original appears to have been trimmed in dark fur, I chose a gorgeous black and gold ribbon and pearls in a variety of sizes for my embellishments. A delicate vintage gold brooch from another friend decorates the front of the large headdress. You can still buy a reprint of this poster at MediaStorehouse.

Sleeping Beauty

Historical Information

Three giants of ballet created this ballet, whose enduring popularity is a tribute to their brilliance and skill. The music was by PeterTchaikovsky, choreography by Marius Petipa, and costumes by Leon Bakst.

The Sleeping Beauty held special meaning for Anna Pavlova. As a child of eight in St. Petersburg, her mother brought her to the Mariinsky Theater to see the ballet. That night little Anna declared that someday she would dance the role of Princess Aurora on that very stage. “It never entered my mind,” she remembered later, “that there might be easier goals to attain…..”

But attain that goal she did. Only the stage was the Hippedrome in New York, the year was 1916, and the entire evening, which included circus acts, a full opera, and other enterainments, was billed not as “The Sleeping Beauty,” but as “The Big Show.” Fearing Americans wouldn’t sit through an entire evening of ballet, impresario R.H. Bumside placed a very truncated version of the ballet at the end of the evening, when a lot of people had already gone home. Though the performance was favorably received, it was clear that New Yorkers weren’t quite ready for this new dance form. But by the end of the year, gone were the elephants and tigers, leaving the stage for the dancers. Pavlova was becoming a celebrity.

Sleeping Beauty, Re-Imagined

With so many of Anna Pavlova’s costumes, I have had to guess at the colors, but here I was fortunate to have for reference a colored sketch by Leon Bakst, whose costume designs for ballet were the sine qua non in the early 20th century.

This costume was designed in pastel yellow, pink and blue, colors reminiscent of the court of of the ill-fated Marie Antoinette. Lavishly embellished with pearls, beads, lace, braiding, and feathers, it would have delighted audiences of the day, though the dancers would have struggled to perform their more challenging steps. A coloring book from Bellerophon Books, “The Sleeping Beauty Ballet” gave me a good line drawing of what the Prince’s costume might look like.