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Anna Pavlova was a famous Russian prima ballerina and choreographer. The company she founded in 1911 was the first to tour ballet around the world.
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Anna Pavlova was born on February 12, 1881, in St. Petersburg, Russia. After attending the Imperial Ballet School, she made her company debut in 1899 and quickly became prima ballerina. Her breakthrough performance was in The Dying Swan in 1905, which became her signature role. She joined the Ballet Russe in 1909 and formed her own company in 1911. Contracting double pneumonia while on tour, Pavlova died in 1931.
Ballerina Anna Pavlova was born Anna Matveyevna Pavlovna Pavlova on February 12, 1881—a cold and snowy winter's day—in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her mother, Lyubov Feodorovna was a washerwoman. Her stepfather, Matvey Pavlov, was a reserve soldier. The identity of Anna Pavlova's biological father is unknown, though some speculate that her mother had an affair with a banker named Lazar Poliakoff. As a child, Anna preferred to believe she was a product of an earlier marriage. She told people her mother had once been married to a man named Pavel, who died when Anna was just a toddler. Yet this Pavel remains something of a mystery to historians and biographers.
From early on, Anna's active imagination and love of fantasy drew her to the world of ballet. Looking back on her childhood, Anna Pavlova described her budding passion for ballet accordingly: "I always wanted to dance; from my youngest years...Thus I built castles in the air out of my hopes and dreams."
Although they were poor, Anna and her mother were able to see a performance of The Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg when Anna was 8 years old. Captivated by what she saw, the wide-eyed little girl declared she was resolved to become a ballet dancer. Anna's mother enthusiastically supported her pursuit. Within just two years, Anna was accepted at the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet School, after passing the entry exam with flying colors. The school was directed by famed ballet master Marius Petipa.
At the Imperial Ballet School, Petipa and Anna's teachers, Ekaterina Vazem and Pavel Gerdt, quickly recognized her extraordinary gift. A dedicated and ambitious student, Anna knew a successful ballet career would require a lot more than just talent. Her natural gift for dance, combined with her tireless work ethic, is here summarized in her own words: "No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent, work transforms talent into genius." In 1899 Anna graduated the St. Petersburg Imperial Dance School at the age of 18—gracefully leaping from school to stage in her hard-earned transformation from ballet student to prima ballerina in the making.
Because Anna graduated as a coryphée, she was able to skip right over dancing in a corps de ballet. In other words, she bypassed the usual initiation rite of dancing in large groups, and was permitted to dance in smaller groups right away. Fresh out of dance school, on September 19, 1899, the gifted young ballerina made her company debut, dancing in a group of three in La Fille Mal Gardée.
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