THE GUILLOTINE: No 8: ANNA PAVLOVA
Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last
Sunday 07 March 1999
Naturally, I never saw Pavlova dance. Indeed, given that she died in 1931, there can be very few balletomanes still around who did. Given, too, that although she continued dancing right up to the end, her heyday had been in the teens and early Twenties of the century, there can be next to no one left who was privileged to have witnessed her in her orchidaceous prime. Nor, at least to my knowledge, were any of her performances ever filmed. Even if such footage did exist, though, it would be unlikely to do anything like justice to her genius and charisma - certainly, if the risibly snippety odds and ends of film that we do possess of, say, Bernhardt and Duse are anything to go by.
Does the same, then, apply to Nijinsky? He too, after all, excelled in a medium, the ballet, whose impact is by definition ephemeral. There is a difference, however. As both dancer and choreographer, Nijinsky's name will be for ever linked to a cluster of revolutionary modern ballets, whereas Pavlova remained throughout her career a ballerina of the old, conservative school, commissioning such now forgotten choreographic trivia as Autumn Bacchanale, Californian Poppy, Dragonfly and, most famously, The Dying Swan, whose insignificance she would then transcend by her supernatural grace and beauty.
She was the work of art, not the ballet, which served her less as text than as pretext. And when she died, she left nothing behind her but memories. And, of course, when those who had the memories themselves died, nothing was left at all but the name.
Even that name has already begun to fade. As final corroboration of the fate reserved for Pavlova in the new century, I recall that another, rather younger acquaintance asked me the same question as that which I mention in my first paragraph. When, as before, I answered, "Anna Pavlova", his eyes glazed over. "Don't you even know who she was," I enquired. "Yes ... yes, of course," he said vaguely. "Wasn't she the scientist with the slavering dogs?"
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
Arts & Ents blogs
- 3 Alton Towers crash: Four seriously injured and 16 guests trapped as Smiler ride carriages collide
- 4 Ann Summers survey reveals the UK's favourite sex position
Britain's Got Talent producers apologise for not making Matisse dog double stunt 'clearer'
Britain's Got Talent 2015 final: Jules and Matisse used secret dog double for winning tightrope act
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9: 'The Dance of Dragons' sees Jon Snow return to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Britain's Got Talent final 2015: 90 viewers complain to Ofcom about Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden's 'revealing' dresses
Black Angel: Lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers