My first creative writing assignment in high school was to write a mini biography of an inspirational, historical personal hero. Most of the other students in the class chose the more predictable figures - John F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, or Marie Curie. I, of course, never happy with the status quo, wrote about a ballerina. But before you judge... keep in mind that this wasn't an ordinary ballerina, this was the Prima prima ballerina of all time, Anna Pavlova.
If you are interested in ballet, or if you were, as I once was, a girl who dreamed of being a ballerina, you can lose yourself in countless books and blog posts about Anna Pavlova. Critics still comment on her incomparable dancing, which has been called, ethereal, magical, lyrical and soulfully light. You can read about the pain she endured because of her severely arched feet and the difficulties she had with balance because of her frail, thin ankles. She even had to put wood on the soles of her ballet shoes for support because she had such a hard time using her own feet alone for strength. It is believed that the modern toe shoe had its origins in Pavlova's wood solution. But in spite of the pain and limitations of her body, she will forever be remembered as one of the greatest ballerinas of all time. She will perhaps always be most remembered for creating the role of The Dying Swan.
Though she wasn't considered to be a beauty by some, and though she was often taunted by other ballerinas for not having the same classical look or style that was customary for the time, she had a certain inexplicable presence that made her mesmerizing both on stage and in person.
"God gives talent. Work transforms talent into genius."
- Anna Pavlova
“In her art, besides her brilliant technique, there was some kind of bright shining tenderness resembling a leaflet of a white rose. ..When Pavlova showed up on the stage I always wanted to cry with tears, no matter, as she was joyful and charming because, for me, she was the personification of the tragedy of perfection in the arts."
But if Ballet isn't your thing, don't worry. Anna Pavlova wasn't only a ballerina, she was arguably one of the first International Superstars of the 20th century! She was a pioneer of sorts who took ballet on the road in hopes of introducing it to people all around the world. Everywhere she went, she was met with flowers, fanfare and enthusiasm by hundreds of fans.
If her talent and innovative approaches to touring don't impress, you might be taken with this:
The Pavlova dessert is believed to have been created in honor of Anna Pavlova during one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s.
Have you figured out why I'm once again writing about Anna Pavlova, many years after that high school English class? If you browse through the above slide show, you might think I was enchanted by her sublimely simple and/or extraordinarily dramatic vintage ballet costumes. You would be right about that, but the real reason I am still fascinated by Anna Pavlova is that unlike modern day superstars, she didn't have a fashion stylist, a personal shopper or a personal designer. She simply had style. My passion for vintage clothing gives me a new appreciation for Anna Pavlova. From vintage Edwardian tea dresses to beaded flapper dresses, tailored suits, gorgeous hats, and Fortuny gowns, Anna Pavlova was known for her keen fashion sense and style almost as much as she was for her dancing talent.
Even while feeding chickens, playing with her pets, riding a camel or an elephant, or holding her beautiful swans, Anna Pavlova was the epitome of high fashion. She might have had Mr. Selfredge's attention at the department store but her style was uniquely her own.
Like the Duchess of Windsor or Coco herself, Anna Pavlova had a personal style that made you want to look at her. She carried herself with such confidence and exuded an air of quiet sophistication.
It's rare that a person comes along with that "certain something" that just can't be put into words. Anna Pavlova was definitely one of those people. As long as young fashion lovers admire her style and a high school ballerina want-to-be every now and then writes an essay about her life and talent, she might enjoy a sort of immortality that eluded the beautiful swan she made so famous.
Anna Pavlova developed Pneumonia while on tour in The Hague, Netherlands, and was told she needed surgery but the surgery would render her unable to dance again. She refused to have the operation saying, "If I can't dance then I'd rather be dead." She died just short of her 50th birthday in the early morning of January 23, 1931.
“Prepare my swan costume” were reported to be the last words she spoke.
Anna Pavlova's Dying Swan costume
Cloak and dress worn by Anna Pavlova