London

As early as 1910, Pavlova was questioning her association with the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. She understood its artistic limitations and social constraints, and Russia was marching inexorably toward war and revolution. In 1912 she bought Ivy House in London, and from that time on, considered England her “spiritual home,” to which she would always return from her worldwide tours.

La Fille Mal Gardee

Historical Information

An early 18th century ballet reworked for the Imperial Ballet by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to music by Johann Wilhelh Hertel. This delightful, perennially popular three-act ballet stayed in Pavlova’s repertoire for her entire career. At 46 she was still able to bring to life the same flirty and frivolous young peasant girl Lise who had entertained audiences 20 years earlier. Frederick Ashton, legendary English choreographer who was inspired to a career in ballet after having seen Pavlova dance in Lima, Peru when he was a boy, would go on to create his own version of Fille for the Royal Opera House Ballet in London, where it is still performed today. One of Ashton’s most popular ballets, in his quintessentially English pastoral style it features a favorite scene with dancing chickens.

La Fille Mal Gardee, Re-Imagined

There are photos of Pavlova wearing a number of different costumes for this ballet, which she danced throughout her career. I thought it would be fun to recreate the first costume she wore, and the last. I had to guess at the colors, but lavender and blue seem to be popular colors for modern performances so I chose them. I was able to find two identical dolls on Ebay, and bought the same wig for each of them from my favorite supplier of wigs and shoes, Marcia Friend at Facets Boutique. Dancing side by side, in costumes spanning two decades, my Pavlova’s remain eternally young!

Note: These photographs were taken before the dolls were mounted upon their wooden bases, hence the pointe shoes with large bows and dangling ribbons (a real danger to a dancer!) The shoes need to be removed and then repositioned before the dolls are secured in place permanently, at which time the ends of the ribbons are shortened and tucked safely into the shoe.


Russian Dance

Historical Information

One of Pavlova’s earliest performances in London was on a hot July day in 1909, at a private party at the home of Lord and Lady Londesborough. Guests of honor were Great Britain’s King George and Queen Alexandra, the grandparents of today’s Queen Elizabeth II. Pavlova danced a pas de deux with Mikhail Mordkin to Tchaikovsky’s “Danse Russe,” followed by a solo variation to Alabiev’s “Nightingale.” The heavy traditional costumes were designed by Russia’s premier illustrator, Ivan Bilibin who was practically a national institution himself for his illustrations of Alexander Pushkin’s fairy tales. The King and Queen were so enchanted with Pavlova’s solo that they demanded an encore. Nearly faint with heat and exhaustion, the ballerina could hardly refuse! One of just a few of Pavlova’s costumes that have survived, the original is housed in the Museum of London.

“Russian Dance”, Re-Imagined

This costume, one of my most intricate, was almost six months in the making. The coat and circular collar, in the style of the traditional Russian sarafan, was sewn from a cream-colored silk, then hand appliqued with floral motifs and borders from a cotton fabric I found online at Equilter whose headquarters are here in Boulder. The appliques were outlined with gold paint to reduce frayed edges, and then the entire coat was beaded with pearls, Swarovski crystals, and glass seed beads. Completing the outfit is the elaborate headdress called a kokoshnik, encrusted with pearls, beads, silk ribbons, and a small scrap of gilded lace. Much of time I worked on this costume I was sitting with my dear mother, who passed away a year later. She taught me how to sew when I was seven years old, and I think of her every time I look at this costume. I am grateful she was able to see it completed. Whoever was the recipient of her sofa after we cleared out her apartment is probably still finding tiny seed beads caught in the cushions!


Valse Caprice

Historical Information

Pavlova first danced in “Valse Caprice” at the Palace Theater in London while still in the employ of the Imperial Ballet. Her partner was the handsome and charismatic Mikhail Mordkin, music was by Arturo Rubinstein, and choreography by Nicolas Legat. This pas de deux, with its backbends, lightening runs, and dramatic lifts, had a contemporary energy that delighted audiences. Versions of it remained in the Bolshoi Ballet’s repertoire well into the 1950’s, as a quintessentially Russian style of dance.

The contrast between Pavlova’s wispy, cloudlike grace and Mordkin’s undeniable masculinity brought the British audience “to that point of murmured admiration …very rarely heard in England.” Pavlova’s costume, in the style of her contemporary Isadora Duncan, was generally admired, but one critic did take issue with Mordkin’s “silly little knickers.” Note: In Imperial Russia, male dancers were required to wear “shorts” over their tights when performing. When Nijinski famously danced on stage without them, he was promptly fired.

Valse Caprice, Re-Imagined

The costumes I chose to recreate are early versions; later on the costumes would become less “earthy” and more elegant. I like the simplicity of Pavlova’s Grecian style tunic, decorated with a scattering of rosebuds. Mordkin is dutifully wearing his shorts over a pair of black tights, and his green silk shirt echoes the uncomplicated lines of Pavlova’s tunic. Costumes like these were a real break from the ornate, heavy baroque styles that Russian audiences were used to (see Sleeping Beauty, Harlequinade, and Le Pavillon d’Armide).


Le Papillon

Historical Information

For this short piece, music was selected variously from Delibes, Minkus, and Rimsky-Korsokov. Pavlova was her own choreographer, and the costume was originally designed by Leon Bakst. Danced in just forty seconds of unrelieved motion en pointe, this brilliant pas de bourre electrified audiences as Pavlova fluttered and hovered across the stage– a green, gold and orange blur. Her music director, Walford Hyden, later wrote: “Although the dance lasted for such short time, she was more exhausted by it than by any other in her repertoire…every nerve in her body quivered as she danced…” (Walford Hyden, Pavlova, The Genius of Dance, Little Brown & Co., Boston, 1931)

Le Papillon, Re-Imagined

Bakst’s painting of this costume in yellow and blue is one of his most famous, but it is very different from the black and white photos of Pavlova wearing the actual costume. I’d also come across an image of a hand-colored card of the type that was placed in packages of cigarettes, and that gave me additional information about what the costume really looked like. And Hyden’s written description rounded out my vision. My butterfly has layers of orange, gold, and green tulle, with wings of dark orange silk highlighted with golden veins. The shirred straps, bodice, and basque were made in layers, and fitted directly onto the mannequin as the final step. Though I was able to sew on snaps, in real life ballerinas are occasionally sewn into their costumes at the last minute, and after the performance have to wait for someone in the costume shop to unpick the stitches. Barbara Karinska who was Balanchine’s main costume designer, was always notoriously late in getting costumes to the theatre, and often employed this eleventh hour tactic, much to the perturbation of the dancers standing in the wings in their underwear.


Au Bal

Historical Information

Music from a mazurka from Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky,

This comic divertissement, to a mazurka from The Sleeping Beauty, was debuted during Pavlova’s last season at the Royal Opera House. Choreography was by Boris Romanov and costumes by Leon Zack.

Like Rondo and Christmas, it portrayed Pavlova as a coquette, inviting then refusing the attention of handsome cavaliers. This was a role she seemed to enjoy on and off the stage, with, among others, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Selfridge, and Alexandre Jacovleff as purported real life “suitors.” This costume is one of a handful of Pavlova’s original costumes that have survived, perhaps because it was worn so late in her career and the ballet performed so infrequently.

“Au Bal”, Re-Imagined

Though I’ve seen photographs of this actual costume, none of them have been in color. However, one source describes it as blue and silver, and, already having a gorgeous silver metallic lace in my fabric stash, I decided to go with the same color scheme. It was fun making this costume, and especially embellishing it. I used silver sequins and laces; crystal, navy blue, and cerulean blue beads; and some gorgeous large sparkly baubles I found online. A silver blonde Marie Antoinette style wig from Facets Boutique, decorated with jewels, ribbons, and a flourish of white ostrich feathers, provided the perfect finishing touch.


Autumn Leaves: Pavlova’s Final Performance

Historical Information

A one act ballet to music by Frederick Chopin, choreography and costumes by Anna Pavlova. This soulful story about a delicate Chrysanthemum (Pavlova), lovingly nurtured by a poet, who is then savagely torn from his arms and broken by the North Wind,“…always struck a chord with viewers, no doubt because Pavlova, as choreographer, invested so much of herself in the work…” (Jane Pritchard, Anna Pavlova, Twentieth Century Ballerina, Booth-Clibbons Editions, 2012 ). Premiered in South America in 1919, the piece remained in the repertoire for the remainder of Pavlova’s life. This photo shows her partnered with Aubrey Hitchens as the North Wind in a performance in Argentina in 1928. Two years later, on December 13, 1930, the ballet was performed in London at The Golders Green Hippodrome. In the audience were two young people who would be become the future giants of English ballet, Alicia Markova and Frederick Ashton. It was Pavlova’s final performance. She died six weeks later. No one in that Golders Green audience could have imagined this would be the last time anyone would ever see Anna Pavlova dance.

Autumn Leaves, Re-Imagined

This is a somber ballet, and for me a it was a somber experience making the costumes, knowing that this was the last ballet that Anna Pavlova ever danced. The blurry black and white photos made it difficult to see just what the costumes looked like. it seemed appropriate to make the North Wind in frosty blues and grays, and I assumed Pavlova’s costume for Chrysanthemum would have been in autumnal colors. I made a simple olive green silk dress, and then embellished it with heavily beaded “petals” of yellow, gold, green and orange. As she sits exhausted at the feet of the pitiless wind, her petals are all in disarray. She is defeated.

There is a very odd postscript to this story. Three years after I made these costumes, I was working on another costume for another ballet “Un Conte de Fees” (A Fairy Tale), which you can see in the Childhood In Russia Gallery on this website. This was Anna’s first ballet as a newly arrived 10-year-old student at the Imperial School of Ballet. As I worked on the costume, I suddenly realized I was using the very same fabrics that I’d used for “Autumn Leaves.” So unknowingly had I done this, that I put down my needle and thread, and my busy fingers became still. I thought about Anna Pavlova’s life, and all that I was trying to do to tell her story. I thought about that which feels like a straight line but is really a circle. Beginnings and ends really do end up rejoining each other. So too is Classical Ballet, that most structured yet entirely transitory of all forms of dance. In constant motion, yet always returning to where they began, ballet dancers will forever find ways to delight us anew.

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A DANCER & HER DRESSMAKER