The Tsar’s Ballerina

Upon graduating from the Imperial Ballet School, graduates were expected to perform at the Mariinsky Theater for 10 years, moving seamlessly from classroom to stage following the traditional progression from coryphee through numerous structured levels to prima ballerina assoluta, a rank rarely achieved. Pavlova graduated in 1899, and for the next 10 years rose meteorically through the ranks. But a World War, and an internal revolution, would change everything.

Spanish Doll

Historical Information

This entirely new production of an old Viennese ballet, “The Fairy Doll” was a full-length ballet created for the Mariinsky Theater by Sergei and Nicolai Legat, who were classmates and great friends of Pavlova’s. Music was by Meyer, Drigo, and Rubenstein, and the up and coming artist Leon Bakst designed the sumptuous costumes. First performed at the tiny Hermitage Theater exclusively for the Imperial Family, the ballet made its public debut at the Mariinsky on February 16, 2003. Just as in another ballet, “Raymonda,” Mathilde Kschessinska—prima ballerina and former mistress of the Tsar—danced the lead role. Pavlova was given a small part as the Spanish Doll. Requiring the use of a fan and castanets as well as tricky pointe work, Pavlova danced her part so well that she nearly stole the show. Kschessinska was not amused, but to her credit, at the curtain call, handed a rose from her bouquet to the young dancer in acknowledgement.

Spanish Doll, Re-Imagined

This re-imagined version of one of Bakst’s most elaborate ballet costumes quite possibly took as long to construct as the original! Two-inch strips of delicate Swiss batiste were first edged with grey lace, then made into four layers of ruffles which were sewn to a gathered batiste skirt. Red velvet ribbon used for trim and bows was embellished with individually hand-sewn silver sequins. Finally, an underskirt with three hoops sewn in provide the required support, with white trimmed bloomers peeking out from underneath. These bloomers would have been a necessity for the original costume, where the risk of a hoop rising higher than the calves would have been a serious “wardrobe malfunction.” The silk bodice is trimmed with more lace, silver filigree, ribbons and sequins. An ornate headpiece with a tiny pillbox hat completes the look.

The Panaderos from “Raymonda

Historical Information

At the Mariinksy in 1906, Pavlova appeared in Act Two of Glazunov’s classical ballet “Raymonda”, choreographed by Marius Petipa, St. Petersburg’s reigning ballet master. Pavlova appeared in a small role in the panaderos, a fiery Spanish dance akin to flamenco. Mathilde Kschessinska, former mistress to the Tsar, played the leading role in the ballet. But it was Pavlova’s performance in this one solo that ignited the audience and prompted an encore. With her slim, dark looks, Pavlova was often cast in “exotic” roles, whereas the heroine would be chosen from the Mariinsky’s plumper, fairer ballerinas. Later, with her own company, Pavlova would dance the part of Raymonda herself, but seldom with the kind of response this panaderos would invariably elicit from the crowd.

Panaderos, Re-Imagined

Looking at the extensive beadwork on this re-imagined costume will always bring to mind precious hours sitting by my mother’s bedside with a bit of handwork to keep my fingers occupied. A wide gold lace edges the skirt, which is made from a pre-beaded gold upholstery sample. Sunburst and crescent shapes are hand-appliqued in a red and gold silk paisley print, and outlined with Swarovski crystals, tiny seed beads, pearls, ribbons, and sequins. The gold millinery netting of the over-jacket was found online from a British source and is decorated with the same embellishments. A jeweler at Bird and Petal, an Etsy shop that is no longer around, made the beautiful choker to my specifications.

At the time I was working on this, I had guessed that the original costume was red and gold, based on other ballet costumes depicting a Spanish theme. But just last year I came across a description in John and Roberta Lazzarini’s book “Pavlova” (see Bibliography) that describes it as blue and silver! Such are the misadventures of the researcher/artist! But I don’t think at this point I will make another one.


Historical Information

Choreographed by Michel Fokine to music by Frederic Chopin, this romantic-styled ballet featured Pavlova in three of its tableaux: a Nocturne, the Mazurka, and a Waltz. One critic enthusiastically proclaimed that she “barely touched the floor with her toes…leaving a melodious trace behind her.” Indeed, it was Pavlova’s performance that led choreographers and audiences alike to renewed interest in the music of Chopin.

In 1909, Fokine incorporated “Chopiniana” into a new one-act ballet, “Les Sylphides” for Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes: Performed in Paris on June 2, 1909, during Pavlova’s sole season with Diaghilev, it was the first time that Parisians had seen her dance. She was an instant sensation: “A feu sacré burns in her,” a Paris paper solemnly reported the next day.

Chopiniana, Re-Imagined

This was one of my first costumes, the original being a design by famous costumier Leon Bakst. Working from a black and white photograph, I was still trying to figure out the mechanics of the tutu: its four layers of voluminous gathered tulle attached to ruffled pants; an overskirt of delicate Swiss batiste; and a separate lined bodice and cummerbund. And all those roses! I think I made about 400 of them out of 1/4″ white silk ribbon, adding green loops and a blue bead to each one before attaching them to the skirt. Much to my chagrin, I later discovered that this was always one of Pavlova’s favorite costumes because of its hundreds of pink roses! No matter how carefully I research a costume, I invariably find additional information long after its completion! My thanks to Joe Kowalski of Sister Mary Joseph’s Doll Bazaar for his help in figuring out the peasant-styled over-blouse.

The Mad Scene from “Giselle”

Historical Information

The ballet “Giselle,” with music by Adolphe Adam, was first performed in 1841, and would have been familiar to St. Petersburg audiences. But it was considered old-fashioned and had grown out-of-favor. The reworking of the choreography by Imperial Ballet Master Marius Petipa, and the casting of Anna Pavlova in the lead role, would re-establish “Giselle’s” popularity and firmy establish it as one of the greatest Romantic ballets of all time. It is still performed by every major ballet company in the world.

Pavlova premiered in the lead role of Giselle at the Mariinsky Theater in 1903. She was just 22 years old. Her interpretation of the mad scene in Act I garnered immediate attention from both critics and audience alike, who recognized that here was something new and exceptional. An unbelievable fragility along with uncensored, raw emotion were somehow both wrapped up together in one slim wisp of a girl. At this time, ballerinas were fair, stocky, and acrobatic. To see this slight, dark, almost other-worldly sprite with “the poignancy of things frail and ephemeral,” transform herself instantaneously from a joyous maiden to a betrayed lover spiraling into madness, established Pavlova’s ownership of this role throughout her career. It was the role of Giselle, and particularly this scene where she goes mad, that set the course for Anna Pavlova’s meteoric rise to super-stardom.

The Mad Scene from “Giselle,” Re-Imagined

This was one of my earliest costumes, and I had spent a lot of time perfecting the sixteen piece bodice and figuring out the construction of the separate tutu (skirt), with it’s layers of gathered tulle attached to the pants and basque (see my blog for more details). The bodice is partially covered by a gathered lace overlay, which was a common feature for this era. Bosoms needed lots of covering, and skirts needed to be long! The multilayered tutu has a lace-edged silk organza overskirt, and, on top of that a ribbon-trimmed peplum. This would have been a heavy, bulky costume to dance in. For the slight Pavlova, nicknamed “broomstick” by her friends, to appear to float effortlessly across the stage in such an outfit, was a feat of magic that was underpinned by years of training, strength-building, and solid classical technique.


Historical Information

Music by Leon Delibes, choreography by Arthur Saint-Leon, costumes by Aleksandr Schervachidze.

This delightful comic ballet debuted in Vienna in 1870 and is still a favorite today. A love triangle is complicated by dolls who come to life, in a story by E.F. Hoffman, who also wrote The Nutcracker. Pavlova had appeared in small roles in this ballet as early as 1901, but on tour in New York in 1910—still as a member of the Imperial Ballet– she played the lead role of Swanhilda, partnered by Mikhail Mordkin as Franz. Despite the ballet starting at 11PM after a lengthy opera, and a third of the audience already having gone home, it was a marvelous success. Critics raved that Pavlova danced with “Grace, a sensuous charm, and a decided sense of humor.” Mordkin, alas, is noted merely as “having assisted.”

There is some disagreement amongst ballet historians that this photograph of Pavlova really is from “Coppelia.” I’ve gone with the majority opinion that this was indeed the costume Pavlova wore for her role as Swanhilda.

Pavlova as Swanhilda in “Coppelia,” Re-Imagined

I used the sewing pattern for this tutu and bodice that I had created for “Giselle,” which appears elsewhere in this same gallery. Having worked out all the “bugs” in that earlier costume, I could go ahead and have a lot of fun with this one. Layers of black tulle are overlaid with scalloped black organdy, and the peplum in creamy silk is decorated with cream lace, black trim and large gathered rosettes. The headpiece was the most fun: taking my cue from the fanciful original, I used ribbons, poofy roses, and netting to put the finishing touches on the flirty costume.

The Legend of Azyiade

Historical Information

In 1910, still under the employ of Czar Nicholas’ Imperial Theater, Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Mordkin joined fellow company members in a visit to New York City. For many Americans, this was their first viewing of this odd art form called “Ballet,” and no one was sure just how it would be received.

For sure, there was much confusion and misunderstanding—it was preceeded that evening by opera and a circus act — but audiences quickly recognized the beauty and talent of the famous duo, Pavlova and Mordkin, who told their story not in words or song but in dance.

This one act ballet was in the exotic “Oriental” style so popular in the early 1900’s. The near and far East were beginning to open up to Europeans, and the ancient Egyptian tombs were being discovered. The music, by Rimsky-Korsakov, was derived from his four-part ballet, “Scherezhade,” which is still performed today. Costumes were by Russian designer Alexander Golovin. The story is of a barbaric chieftain (Mordkin) and his beautiful slave girl Azyiade (Pavlova), a familiar theme for the times, and one that often ended in tragedy for the lovers. But this one has a happier ending: Azyiade — still wearing her glittery harem pants — escapes when her captor falls into a drunken stupor. One can only hope she had time to pack some more suitable clothes!

The Legend of Azyiade, Re-Imagined

An exquisite chiffon from Elfriede’s Fine Fabrics was the basis for the entire look of these magnificent costumes. You can read about my creation of these two costumes on my blog post “Fabrics & Embellishments: The Legend of Azyiade.” I imagine Pavlova and Mordkin backstage, preparing to dance this ballet for an uncomprehending audience, and thoroughly winning them over with their dazzling performance!

Sewing Ribbons at Home

Historical Information

By 1908 Anna Pavlova was an established star at the Imperial Theater. She had moved into a large and airy apartment in a fashionable neighborhood in St. Petersburg.This was probably paid for in part by her many male admirers, among them Viktor D’Andre, whose role in her life, though certainly intimate, was a subject of much speculation. They lived and traveled together after she left Russia, but there is no evidence they ever married, and it is clear that Pavlova made the big decisions when it came to her ballet company.

This rather carefully staged publicity photograph is meant to validate Pavlova’s claim that she actually lived a quiet and even unremarkable private life. She is quoted as saying: “People imagine we lead a frivolous life; the fact is, we cannot. We have to choose between frivolity and our art. The two are incompatible.” She added that evenings at home were spent on such mundane activities as reading a book, doing needlework, or sewing ribbons onto her ballet slippers, as in this photo. At her feet is one of her numerous beloved dogs. This was a happy time in Pavlova’s life. She adored her luxurious apartment and was surrounded by admirers. But I think winds of revolution were already in the air. Just a year later she would begin touring outside of Russia, and within five years she would leave her beloved homeland forever.

Sewing Ribbons at Home, Re-Imagined

My good friend Marina at All For Doll on Ebay created this marvelous chair for my re-imagined Pavlova, and she even made me the pillows, a pink tutu draped over the chair, and this little felted dog! I wanted to create a scene of quiet domesticity, far away from the lights and noise of the theater, a place of retreat for Pavlova, where she could be with her dogs and engage in simple activities.

Le Pavillon d’Armide

Historical Information

Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijiinsky were unquestionably the two most famous ballet dancers to emerge from St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet School; indeed, some may argue that they still are the undisputed giants of ballet. Though they knew each other from class, they danced together just a few times before their paths took different directions. Nijiinsky began his tragically short public career with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, while Pavlova—never very good at sharing the stage–formed her own company that would go on to tour the world. This image (hand-tinted for a Le Theatre cover, May, 1909) is one of a series taken at the Fischer Studios in 1907. It is the only time the two megastars were known to be photographed together. Therefore, though Le Pavillon d’Armide itself has fallen out of most company repetoires, it has been saved from obscurity by the tremendous historical significance of these photographs.

Le Pavillon d’Armide, Re-Imagined

These costumes were among the very first that I made. The idea of the Pavlova Project wasn’t even fully formed in my mind: I was still trying to figure out just what creative direction to pursue after I closed my freelance illustration studio. It had been a major source of income, and my daily focus for almost 20 years. But while my dog-sitting business was thriving, I was facing numerous challenges as a traditional artist. Computer-generated art was becoming more and more the norm in the commercial world, and I was miserable working on the computer. I think the fact that these costumes were in color made them an attractive experiment for me. And, as they say, One thing leads to another…and another…and another!”

La Polonaise from Harlequinade

Historical Information

Music by Drigo
Choreography by Petipa

On the tiny stage in The Hermitage Theatre–linked by a bridge to the Winter Palace — performances were given exclusively for the Tsar’s family and select members of court. The nervous, newly graduated Pavlova probably could have reached out and touched the Imperial family as she danced five sequences of this ballet with her schoolmate, Michel Fokine. Choreography was by Marius Petipa, Premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theaters, and one of the most influential figures in ballet history. Pavlova wears an elaborate, many-layered costume, in the courtly Louis Quatorze style which audiences expected. Peplums, epaulettes, and wide sleeves and skirts were all layered over whalebone corsets and heavy woolen stockings. These heavy costumes challenged even the most sturdy dancers; the fragile Pavlova must have been almost overwhelmed. Her partner is equally weighed down with huge cuffs, collars, waistcoats and a heavy lined cape.

La Polonaise from Harlequinade, Re-Imagined

These two costumes are among the most complex I have done for this entire project. Many different fabrics and trims were used in their construction, from filmy chiffons to heavy satins. I am once again indebted to Joe Kowalski and Tamara Casey for providing the basic patterns from which I adapted my own designs for these very complicated costumes.

Daughter of the Pharaoh

Historical Information

An early role for Pavlova, she showed her adaptability as a dancer by performing two different choreographed versions of this ballet—one by Gorsky, the other by Petipa — within days of each other. These photographs are from the Moscow performance, with Gorsky’s choreography, but less than a week later she was dancing the same role in Petipa’s version. Pavlova’s skills at improvisation, along with her intuitive musicality, would serve her well throughout her career. The gilded, fanciful costumes, designed by Konstatin Korovin, were hardly authentic Egyptian styles, but they would have glittered on the stage and delighted audiences.

Daughter of the Pharaoh, Re-Imagined

These two costumes were fun to make, using a lovely reversible suede cloth along with the usual layers of tulle, taffeta, and silk. Embellishments are from my favorite bead source, Nomad Beads in Boulder, CO.