DISCOVERING THE PAST
HOUSE ON THE SHORE OF SWAN LAKE
In January 2001 the world will mark the 120th anniversary of Anna
Pavlova’s birth and 70 years since her death.
The London Cremation Co., which owns the Golders Green Crematorium where the ashes of the
renowned Russian ballerina now lie, announced that the remains of Anna Pavlova would be
returned to Moscow and buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in 2001.
A few years ago I went to Golders Green – the north-west London suburb, –
looking for Anna Pavlova’s house. An approximate address was given to me – somewhere
not far from the Golders Green Crematorium.
Two years earlier our ship called at the Brazilian port Belem, at the estuary of the Amazon River, and I had a chance to come to the city’s opera house. A rose-coloured building was under reconstruction and in scaffolding. But the theatre’s manager, Dilamida Nadar, let me in when she heard that I was interested if Fyodor Shalapin, a great singer from my Russia, who had performed in the Belem opera house.
– No, he had not. But a great number of famous musicians, singers and actors gave performances on our stage.
With these words she took me to the foyer and showed me a marble plaque with the names of Tito Skipa (an Italian tenor), Yasha Haifiz (a violinist from the USA), and the Russian singers Tamara Tumanova and Nina Vershinina. A separate marble plaque read: “Anna Pavlova danced in the theatre in March 1918”.
– She gave a brilliant example of Russian classical ballet and was adored by the excited Latin American audience for her performances of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Saint-Saens’s Dying Swan.
– The eminent dancer never returned to her motherland and died in exile. But you Russians must know her life story better, said the signora.
Such thoughts flashed through my mind when I was walking along the quiet, short street Keats Grove in Golders Green. My luck held.
I stopped in front of a two-storeyed brick house twined round with ivy – a typical English mansion of the beginning of the 20th century. A middle-aged gentleman was standing at the door looking rather suspiciously at this stranger. Having noticed a street-map and a photo-camera in my hands, he smiled.
– Can I help you?
– Anna Pavlova lived in this house, did she not? Am I mistaken?
Mr. Richard Wills, the house-keeper, introduced himself, and showed me to a memorial round plaque on one wall. It read: “Anna Pavlova lived here 1912–1931”.
He explained that currently a drama school occupied the house and that all the students were on vacation.
Then we entered the mansion. Inside there was a spacious hall with a large mirror with a crack on its lower edge.
– Here the iron-willed dancer rehearsed long hours for her performances in Covent Garden, explained Richard Wills.
The back entrance of the house overlooked the garden with its short, cut grass. At the end of the garden there was a round pond – Anna Pavlova’s own Swan Lake – with a white marble sculpture of the ballerina as a swan.
Her “dressing room” – a green pergola also survived. Sometimes the ballerina danced in the garden entertaining her friends and quests.
Richard Wills himself was very interested in the career of the renowned ballerina and read much about her life. He shared his knowledge.
At the age of ten she was admitted to the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. In 1899 she she joined the Mariinsky ballet Troupe and soon became prima ballerina of the theatre. She travelled abroad much, and her international fame was established in London when she danced, with Vadim Nijinsky for Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet company.
Later she organised her own ballet company and went on a tour to Europe and America. After Russia’s revolution in 1917 she never returned home becoming a refugee. Anna suddenly died in a small hotel-room in the Hague in January 1931; she was fifty years old.
The helpful Englishman also told me a story of Golders Green. The name is probably derived from that of its former landholder. By the middle of the 18th century the forest land had been cleared and the plains of Golders Green were cut into farms. The land was relatively cheap, and the London Cremation Company purchased a side for the Golders Green Crematorium for Ј6000, which was opened in 1902. Since then over a quarter of a million cremations have taken place there.
Those who have been cremated there include: Sir Henry Irving, a famous actor and producer (1905); Anna Pavlova (1931); Rudyard Kipling, a famous writer (1936); Sigmund Freud, a philosopher (1930); the British Prime Ministers Arthur Neville Chamberlain (1940), and Stanley Baldwin (1947); Bernard Shaw, a famous British writer and playwright (1950); Sir Alexander Flemming, a microbiologist (1953); and a great many other renowned people.
It so happened that Anna Pavlova’s house was in the neighbourhood of the Crematorium and her ashes have reposed in a marble urn at the Golders Green Crematorium.
Mr. Wills said that Anna Pavlova’s death certificate bears the words “and domiciled in Russia next to her London address”. It means she always considered herself a citizen of her motherland.
A long dispute and negotiations have been carried on for the dancer’s remains to be moved back to Russia for their final resting place. Maybe it will happen some day.
The name of the talented dancer is forever tied with the history of Russian ballet, and a lot of people who adore ballet are interested in her life.
A feature film, devoted to Anna Pavlova, was made in 1984. As fate willed, our passenger ship Baltika (I was the chief purser on the vessel) participated in shooting a scene at Tilbury (Passenger Landing Stage of the Port of London Authority) where Anna Pavlova came to meet her friend and impresario Victor Dandre, arriving by ship from Russia.
Fortunately, little has changed in the appearance of Tilbury Landing Stage since Pavlova’s time – the same narrow bridge connecting the berth with the shore, the same wooden covering of the pier on which we saw an old fashioned cab, a carriage, and actors wearing clothes of the beginning of the 20th century.
The film producer, Emil Latiani, asked us to produce a dense black smoke from the ship’s funnel. But this meant air pollution and the ship might be severely fined for that.
The ship’s master Arkady Rumyantsev sent me to negotiate this problem with the London Port Authority.
A grey-haired gentleman who was in charge of the Tilbury Landing Stage listened attentively to our request and replied:
– If smoke is needed for a film about the Russian ballet legend – many produce it many times – so can you.
And we made three takes of dense black puffs of smoke. It looked like a salute in honour of the great dancer.
As the saying goes: Art is long, life is short. But those who devoted themselves entirely to it are never to be forgotten.
By Yevgeniy Kunitsin