Pavlova as Columbine
This watercolor sketch by K. Somov was painted in 1909 and is clearly labeled as a costume design specifically for Pavlova in the role of Columbine, in the age-old tale of Harlequin, Pierrot, and Columbine. (See another costume, “Harlequinade” in “The Tsar’s Ballerina” Gallery). I was puzzled that I couldn’t find a single photograph of Pavlova wearing this costume. I now believe that it was never made.
Somov was a Russian artist and costume designer in the circle of the famous impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who in 1909 was forming his groundbreaking dance company, the Ballets Russes. Pavlova danced for Diaghilev in Paris very briefly and was probably scheduled for later in this role. But after just one volatile season, the uncompromising ballerina and the unyielding impresario broke ties, and Pavlova went on to form her own company. Diaghilev was giving top billing to his male dancers, and Pavlova was never very good at sharing the spotlight with others! She would later dance other iterations of the Harlequin cycle, but never in this costume.
Note: This triad of characters—originating in medieval day—is also the source of today’s DC Comics Harley Quinn. What is old is new again!
As long as there have been theaters and costume shops, there have been times when money, materials and time were scarce and opening night was just around the corner. A time-honored way to solve all these problems at once was to paint a design on rough muslin, imitating the intricate piecing and embellishing of a more laborious creation. Some of the costumes still in existence from the Ballets’ Russes are done in just this way. And much later, in 1946, when the Sadler Wells Ballet reintroduced “Sleeping Beauty” to a war-weary and devastated London, its costume shop did the same thing. I wanted to try this for my reimagined Columbine costume. I drew out all the pieces (sixteen in the lined bodice alone) from a sturdy cotton poplin, and with fabric paint and a small filbert brush painted each piece individually before sewing the whole thing together. Though the process was time-consuming, it certainly was a lot quicker than piecing hundreds of tiny fabric triangles together. I hope that when the stage lights come up and they bounce across my Pavlova in her iridescent colors, the audience will forgive me my little economies of money and time!
Pavlova Attends Knight Exhibit
Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) was one of Britain’s most accomplished and popular figurative painters. The circus, the theatre, and the ballet were favorite subjects for her prodigious body of work in oils, watercolors, dry point and etching. Pavlova was often a model and muse. In 1920, the famous dancer attended an exhibition of Knight’s work at the Leicester Galleries in London. Ever the fashion plate, she was dressed in a cream silk suit, matching hat, and an ermine and mink shawl. She is photographed looking at Knight’s painting “Taking a Bow,” where she and her partner Alexander Volinine are subjects. Pavlova is acknowledging the audience not with the usual restrained curtsy, but with a traditional Russian bow, leaning far forward from the waist with arms flung out. The vivid colors of this delightful painting capture all the exuberance and drama of the performance.
Pavlova attends Knight Exhibit, Re-Imagined
As she has done so often, my friend Marina of All For Doll found the perfect piece of fur for me, complete with black-tipped “tails.” Marina is originally from Siberia, and she shares my passion for Russian ballet. I am indebted to her for many wonderful props and beautiful furs that she finds in her resale shop excursions. The suit is made from a piece of cream-colored silk from Elfriede’s Fine Fabrics. What makes it particularly special is that comes from a bolt of Japanese silk from 1945, brought into the shop by a US Army veteran who obtained it while serving in Occupied Japan after World War II. I was fortunate to get a yard of this historic fabric—as beautiful as the day it was rolled onto the bolt — and I’ve used it here and in other outfits. I love when there is a story within a story in the Pavlova Project!
The hat is a one-quarter scale adaptation from a people-sized pattern called “Eleanor” from Elsewhen sewing patterns. The elegant armchair was issued by the Tonner Doll Company.
Two Portraits of Pavlova, 1924
Savely Sorine, like his better-known contemporary, John Singer Sargent, was a portrait painter of beautiful women: royalty, wealthy society ladies, literary figures, and beauties of theatre and dance. He created these two paintings of Pavlova, both in private collections. MOMA has one of his many drawings of the dancer, this one of her celebrity-status foot. Sorine was already a successful painter when he fled to Paris in the wake of the Russian Revolution, and eventually he made his way to New York City. It is not clear where and when Pavlova sat for these two portraits, but they were probably painted in the early to mid-1920s.The white costume is from the ballet Giselle, and captures the artistry of Pavlova. But the other portrait, where she wears fashionable street clothes, is particularly revealing because we get to see her relaxed, without her heavy stage makeup, and not in the overly-theatrical poses of the time. She gazes out at us as she leans against a wall, arms folded, her famously expressive hands beautifully rendered, and a facial expression of ever-so-slight amusement—or is she planning some mischief?
Two Portraits by Sorine, Re-Imagined
I’ve chosen Tonner’s slightly amused-looking “Kit” sculpt, which I feel works well for Sorine’s portraits. I bought two identical dolls on Ebay before I even began the costumes. I wanted to capture the look and feel of the original paintings as well as I could. For the Giselle costume, I made a romantic length ballet skirt with four layers of tulle overlaid with silk organza. The bodice is silk dupioni, piped and overlaid with the same organza, with sheer sleeves. The original costume was designed by Russian artist Alexander Benois and his design has come down to our own day nearly unchanged.
For Pavlova in her brown suit, my friend Marina at All For Doll provided me with the pattern for the silk-lined coat and found the fur trim for me. Underneath the coat is a collared “flapper” style dress made of cream colored silk, adapted from a pattern by Magalie Houle Dawson of MHD Designs Miniature gold picture frames were made to my specifications by Jim Coates, who has a shop on Ebay. This diorama is one of my favorites in the whole Pavlova Project collection.
This lively pas de deux, with music by Paul Lincke and choreography by Ivan Clustine, delighted audiences from its premier in 1913. It remained in Pavlova’s repertoire until her death in 1931.
There were many versions of this dance, and as many costumes, but this lemony silk Directoire dress, designed by famed fashion artist Erte (Romain de Tirtoff, Russian, 1892-1990) was an audience favorite. Her partner wears black satin tails and a bright cumberbund accessorized by lace collar and cuffs.
American artist and dance historian Troy Kinney was best known for his works portraying dance performers, among them Ruth St. Denis, Sophie Pflanz, and of course, Anna Pavlova. He traveled the world to study various dance styles, and with his wife published two books on dance which are still respected works today.
Gavotte Pavlova, Re-Imagined
Though Erte’s original gouache painting for this costume shows the dress in blue and red, it was eventually made up in bright yellow silk and either black or magenta lining (descriptions vary). I used a brillilant silk charmeuse lined with magenta china silk and trimmed with gold sequins, braid, and ribbons. Gold heels and a huge brimmed bonnet complete the costume. Volinin’s tuxedo is in my favorite silk/cotton blend from Elfriede’s, lined in the same magenta. Vintage lace accessorizes both costumes. I am once again indebted to Joe Kowalksi for the pattern for the man’s tuxedo.
“Frenzied, reckless abandon, divine intoxication,” this pas de deux between Pavlova and the beefy Mordkin was a sensation when it opened in New York’s Palace Theater in 1910. With music by Alexander Glazunov and choreography by Marius Petipa, it quickly became an audience favorite, its populariy surpassed only by Pavlova’s famous Swan.
That year, the brilliant young sculptor Malvina Hoffman—later referred to as “America’s Rodin”— saw Pavlova and Mordkin perform Bacchanale, and their electrifying movements were burned into her memory. For the next four years she worked on arranging a meeting with the famous dancers, and in 1914 she had her opportunity. With sketchbook in hand, Hoffman attended several performances, and then had Pavlova and Mordkin come to her studio. There, as the dancers posed against a green backdrop, she created hundreds of drawings and photographs — works of art in their own right — that would eventually become one of her most famous works: Bacchanale Frieze. This was a long, continuous series of bas reliefs which in breathless detail captured twenty five key movements from the dance, as though the dancers were momentarily frozen and then moved to the next sequence, over and over again. Working first in clay, then casting in plaster and eventually bronze, the images were remarkable for capturing movement, narrative and music in a very unlikely medium. It is worthwhile to take a moment to look at this incredible work of art in Didi Hoffman’s website and blog. Didi Hoffman, is married to the great-nephew of the famous sculptor, and her website gives us a rare glimpse into the extraordinary collaboration and genuine friendship between these two historically significant women.
For some reason I have a lot of trouble with Greek and Roman tunics and togas. They should be easy: a rectangle with slits on the sides for the arms and an opening at the top for the head. But I struggle with this, and I can’t ever seem to get the drape, length, and folds just right.
These costumes were made with a gauzy dotted Swiss fabric which should drape better than it does. They were hand beaded with Swarovski crystals. The same crystals, in varying sizes, were also used to make the bejeweled grapes that both dancers wear in their hair. Red silk ribbon completes the look. Making these costumes was a long, tedious affair, but I’ve tried, successfully I hope, to capture some of the vivacity of the original ballet.
In 1922 ballet critic Valerian Svetloff commissioned several well-known artists to illustrate his chef-d’oeuvre, a limited-edition book he was writing about his muse, Anna Pavlova. Svetloff was convinced that she was the greatest ballerina who had ever lived. I have a 1974 Dover Publications re-issue of this book (the originals now fetch prices upwards of 1200 euros). Among the artists whose works appear are Leon Bakst, John Lavery, Georges Barbier and Konstantin Korovin, all of whom are mentioned elsewhere on this website. Less well-known is Aime Stevens, a painter of beautiful women, in the style of John Singer Sargent, who contributed two delightful Illustrations of Pavlova in her costume for “Syrian Dance.”
This short one-act ballet was part of a series of separate pieces loosely grouped together as “Oriental Fantasies.” Music was by Camille Saint-Saens and choreography by Mikhail Fokine, who had also partnered for Pavlova’s poignant signature role, “The Dying Swan.” This piece, in contrast, was exotic and seductive. It tells the story of the attempted seduction of a beautiful young slave girl at the bazaar. In the words of Pavlova’s music director, Walford Hyden, “Pavlova was completely transformed…her voluptuous poses and…undulating, sensuous Eastern expressions were as un-European as could be.”
Syrian Dance, Re-Imagined
I rarely know the original colors of the costumes I am re-creating, but this time I had two beautiful paintings by Stevens. To get the right color for the draping fabric and sleeves, I hand-dyed a piece of white silk netting, then added gorgeous beaded edging from my favorite shop, Elfriede’s Fine Fabrics. A red silk bodice, green epaulettes, and tiny rosette trim are all attached to the voluminous purple netting, all worn over gold trousers. Silk tassles from WomanShopsWorld — one of Etsy’s most delicious shops — and a purple cylindrical hat, complete the costume.
This Christmas card, sent by Pavlova to friends in 1923, was created by artist Eveline Von Maydell (1890-1962), who studied art in St. Petersburg before emigrating to the USA in 1922. There were large groups of Russian émigrés in Paris, London, and New York, who were referred to as “White Russians.” They were minor aristocrats, artists, intellectuals, writers, and others who had fled, often for their lives, from the Bolshevik regime in the newly formed Soviet Union. Quite often they gave themselves gratuitous titles. Pavlova, an émigré herself, would have known “The Baroness” through her contacts in the émigré community in New York. The card is a print of a black paper silhouette of Pavlova with a small dog sitting on its hind legs. The dog is quite possibly Pavlova’s beloved Boston terrier, Poppy, of whom we have many photographs.
It is hand-inscribed and signed in ink with the following caption: “With my warmest Christmas and New Year greeting, Anna Pavlova, New York, 1923.” There were perhaps hundreds of these cards sent by Pavlova, but this is one of the very few that has survived.
Christmas Card, Re-Imagined
I was very excited to find this image online, and I knew I wanted to re-create it for The Pavlova Project. The tutu is made with two different gauges of netting: a fine one for the first three layers and a larger gauge for the top layer. The little dog is needle felted. His head is too big (I’m still perfecting my needle felting skills) and his silver ruff matches the tiara on Pavlova’s head.