Anna Pavlova: Her Life and Art, by Keith Money. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 425 pp. $55.
In the constellation of superstars who orbited between Europe and America before and after World War I, no personality shone more brightly than Anna Pavlova. The outlines of the Pavlova legend are familiar: her meteoric rise in the Russian Imperial Theater hierarchy, her tours in the West, and her relatively early death in 1931 at the height of her career. Yet Pavlova as a private person has never been known at all.
Keith Money, the author of this huge, new volume on Pavlova, devoted six years to meticulous research and writing. He has made available much new material, including documents translated for the first time from the Russian, and an enormous cache of previously uncollected photographs. He sets Pavlova before us nearly day by day, from her graduation from St. Petersberg's Imperial Ballet School in 1899 to her worldwide tours.
Yet the most human questions remain unanswered: What impetus filled an eight-year-old peasant girl with dreams of dance and a career as a ballerina? What can account for the determination and missionary zeal that made her log over 400,000 miles for the sake of her art? Despite the authority of Money's book and conjectures by the author, the enigma of Pavlova remains.
From age 10, Pavlova's life was spent in the sheltered atmosphere of the ballet school supported by the Czar, which included an entire decade of proscribed training. By the time the new century turned and Pavlova was dancing with the company, the world's social, political, and artistic upheavals could not be ignored - even by the Imperial Theater. When the American dance rebel Isadora Duncan came to Russia in 1904, Pavlova attended her first performance and invited her to dinner. Russian unrest and violence in 1905 were echoed in protests by the dancers over their restricted lives. Pavlova was a leader of the rebellious faction at the theater. In 1907 Pavlova became one of the first of the Russian ballerinas to venture outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow to Riga. In 1908 she traveled to northern Europe at the head of a company of dancers from the Imperial Theaters. From then until 1914, when she made her final trip home to Russia, she traveled between the stage of the Maryinsky Theater and European and American stages, always winning more admirers. Her material rewards were many: At her 10th anniversary benefit in 1909 in Russia, the public subscribed to a gift for Pavlova of a 27-carat diamond solitaire. By 1910, in addition to her salary on tour, she and her partner, Mikhail Mordkin, were paid $500 for each appearance at private soirees. But Pavlova never forgot her responsibility to the dancers in her company. Her name could always guarantee an audience for ballet, and thus she provided work for her compatriots who were stranded in the West when the war broke out.
If mere reading about the Pavlova tours through Europe, the Americas, the Orient, and Australia seems endlessly repetitious, what must those tours have been like? One wonders how many troupes since Pavlova's have visited Saginaw, Mich., or Evansville, Ind. Pavlova not only brought her artistic magic to these towns, but introduced ballet as an art form to audiences who had never heard the word.
For all the statistics and marvelous photographs marshaled in this book, such basic facts as Pavlova's birth date, parentage, and whether or not she was ever married, can't be ascertained. This most public of women, who came to life on stage before an audience as a dragonfly, autumn leaf, or snowflake, remains as mysterious as her symbol, the swan, which passes from plainness into beauty without explanation.