In 1905 Mikail Folkine choreographed a small piece for Anna Pavlova which was to become her trademark: The Dying Swan. It has been passed down as a show piece for generations of ballerinas, each one adding her own layer to the original. It is still considered to be one of the major test pieces before any dancer can be truly considered a Prima ballerina assoluta.
Back in 1959 the incredible impresario Sol Hurok brought the Bolshoi Ballet to North America. It was the first major cultural crack in the Iron Curtain. They came to Toronto which in those days didn't have a major theatre so performances took place in Maple Leaf Gardens - the home hockey rink of the Toronto Team. The Gardens was the site of many cultural events at the time - the Metropolitan Opera played there every spring, the Royal Ballet danced there and I saw Maria Callas in concert there. A stage was erected at one end of the arena, baffling hung and seating installed on the rink surface. I could never afford the seats on the floor so my vantage point was always from high up in the Grey section where binoculars were a must. That spring of 1959 I trained them on the dancers from Moscow for two performances and saw (?) the great Galina Ulanova as Giselle one evening and the incomparable Maya Plisetskaya in Swan Lake the next afternoon. I saw Plisetskaya on only one other occasion several years later when Toronto finally had a theatre and the Bolshoi brought a mixed programme to the stage. She was dancing that signature piece and there was no question that she was a Prima Ballerina Assoluta!
Another dance company that also dropped in - well more like crashed in - for the occasional visit was the Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo - the Trocs. This group of drag dancers has been taking the piss out of classical dance for years. And as anyone knows you can't properly take the piss out of something unless you are a master of it - and these guys are all fine classically trained dancers.
Each of their Primi Ballerini has performed their own unique version of the Fokine-Pavlova classic. My first experience was seeing the remarkable Ida Nevasayneva swan to her death to great acclaim. Here one of their more recent dancers, Maya Thickenthighya, has put her own spin on the demise of the Cygnus ballerinus. And believe it or not I've seen curtain calls exactly like that - but they were serious!
While searching for information on the Dying Swan I came across this article in the Independent. Dame Nanette de Valois had spent her early years as a dancer with Pavlova and it appears notated her performances. It follows the passing on of a dance from one generation of dancer to another.
27 settembre - San Vincenzo de'Paoli