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Stage & Screen: The Star Quality of Vanderbilt's Performing Arts Collections: Ballet

Anna Pavlova

 James Abbe, [Anna Pavlova], c. 1924, Francis Robinson Collection, Vanderbilt University Special Collections

Anna Pavlova, Russian ballerina (1881-1931), Pavlova The Incomparable, was one of the finest classical ballet dancers in history. Her classical style influenced later generations of ballerinas. She even inspired a dessert, the Pavlova, a meringue cake. On her deathbed, she asked to hold her costume from The Dying Swan, her most famous role.

James Abbe (1883-1973), American photographer, worked in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Russia. As a photojournalist, he produced the first photographic cover for the Saturday Evening Post. He also worked as a still photographer for the Hollywood studios. His photographs established the reputations of celebrities. He loved the ballet and frequently photographed Anna Pavlova.

Anna Pavlova Life Mask

Life Mask of Anna Pavlova, c.1924  by Malvina Cornell Hoffman (1885-1966), an American sculptor.

Hoffman studied with Auguste Rodin in Paris, perfecting her technique. She met Pavlova in 1914 and they became good friends, lasting to Pavlova's death.
Hoffman took ballet lessons to better understand the movements of ballet. Hoffman also did a noted series of portraits of some of the well-known people of her era including several of Anna Pavlova. Hoffman was a member of the National Academy of Design and the National Sculpture Society.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Ballet Companies-History
Ballet Dancers

Dance History
Pavlova, Anna, 1881-1931

Ballet Programs

Visual artists often worked with ballet companies designing programs, costumes, and stage and set designs.


Marc Chagall (Russian, 1887‑1985) who designed the program cover for The Ballet Theatre Coast to Coast Tour 1945-1946.


Marcel Vertès (Hungarian-French, 1895-1961), who designed the cover of the Ballet Theatre Annual and "his conception of the ballet's bid for public approbation" for the 1949-1950 season. 


Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954), who designed the program cover for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo season 1939-1940.

Margot Fonteyn

Margot Fonteyn, Time, Boris Chaliapin, November 14, 1949, Francis Robinson Collection Special Collections

Ballerina Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) poses For Sleeping Beauty, an Awakened Audience on the cover of Time. Margot Fonteyn's portrayal of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty is considered the definitive interpretation of the role. Touring with England's Sadler's Wells Ballet Company and performing at the Metropolitan Opera House, Margot Fonteyn performed "astonishly close to perfection." Her ballet performance at the Met was an all-time box office record. In 1955, she performed in NBC's production of The Sleeping Beauty, the first color telecast of a ballet.

She became a Dame of the Order of the British Empire in 1956. Fonteyn was known for her beautiful technique, musicality, and range of performance roles. Choreographer George Balanchine said of Fonteyn, "In history there will be a Pavlova, a Karsavina, a Spessivtzeva--and there will be a Fonteyn."

Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev

Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)  in rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet with the Royal Ballet.

In many of Fonteyn's most famous roles, she partnered with the youthful Rudolf Nureyev, famous Russian ballet dancer and choreographer. They first performed together in Giselle in 1962 (Fonteyn was 42 and Nureyev was 24), a partnership that lasted until her retirement in 1979. They were ballet "rock-stars" and fans appreciated each performance with bouquets and many curtain calls. Nureyev said that when he danced with Fonteyn, they danced with "one body, one soul."

Library Resources