Anna Pavlova


Photographer unidentified, Anna Pavlova, 1926, Black and white original negative, Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: 1/2-089575-F

Anna Pavlova

In the above photo, taken by an unknown photographer, Anna Pavlova, ballet dancer extraordinaire, demonstrates a sense of humour while maintaining her characteristic elegance on her 1926 New Zealand tour.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1881, Anna Pavlova saw her first ballet performance at the age of eight. Her mother had taken her to The Sleeping Beauty and she was captivated – she was going to be a dancer.

Pavlova's mother was poor, and her father had died when she was young, but Pavlova's innate talent saw her accepted into the Mariinsky Theatre's Imperial School of Ballet in 1891, when she was 10 years old. She graduated to the Imperial Theatre School in 1889, and was made prima ballerina in 1906. By this time she has already mastered Giselle, a part which became one of her signature pieces.

In 1907, along with a small group of fellow dancers, she ventured on her first European tour visiting Riga, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Prague. Delighted with touring, she toured again the next year.

In 1909 Pavlova briefly returned to dancing with a company, performing in Paris and London with the Ballet Russes, led by Sergey Diaghilev. Pavlova had discovered her true love, however, and left the company in favour of independent touring.

She formed her own company in 1911, with which she toured the world for the next 20 years of her life. Her company at first comprised eight dancers from St. Petersburg, but later grew to include English dancers as well. While the Ballets Russes were turning to new and innovative performances, Anna Pavlova was dedicated to classical ballet.

Her company was successful in its performances but it was Pavlova's solos, including Autumn Leaves, Christmas, Gavotte, The Dragonfly and Californian Poppy, that captured her audience. Pavlova's most famous solo was The Dying Swan, which Michel Fokine choreographed for her in 1905.

Watch Anna Pavlova's performance of The Dying Swan on

Pavlova was not limited by her focus on classical ballet, and she added many ethnic dances to her repertoire as she discovered them on her travels. She performed Polish and Mexican dances, and Oriental Impressions was the result her study of Japanese and Indian dancing. In India she danced with Uday Shankar, one of India's greatest dancers.

She continued to tour the world, including New Zealand in 1926, until her death in 1931. After a train accident on her way back to The Hague to perform, she contracted pneumonia – she had stayed out in the cold in only silk pyjamas. On her deathbed she made a final request: "Prepare my swan costume."

From the age of eight until she died, ballet was her life. She inspired generations of dancers and is still known today for her elegance, discipline, and graceful and poetic movements.

Read about Anna Pavlova's Australian tours at the National Library of Australia website

Anna Pavlova biography at the Encyclopaedia Brittanica website

See this image in our collections

Permission of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa must be obtained before any reuse of this image

Find Out More

Find out more
Collection Photographic Archive