2 3 Throwback Thursday and Olga Spessivtseva | Ballet Webb

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday and Olga Spessivtseva

Throwback Thursday and Olga Spessivtseva
Olga Spessivtseva was born in 1895 in a small Russian village.  When her father died in 1901, she was sent to live at an orphanage, and at age ten she began studying at the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersburg.  She soon joined the company and moved quickly from soloist (1916) to ballerina (1918).
She was known for her virtuosity and for her poignant character portrayals, particularly in the ballet Giselle.  It is said that when she performed it, people wept.   Offstage she was shy and introverted, but when it came to dance, she was a consummate perfectionist.  In order to prepare for the famous mad scene in Giselle, she visited several insane asylums to study the movement patterns and expressions of the patients.
She danced briefly with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, performing the role of Aurora in The Sleeping Princess.  She returned to Russia and danced the role there, but this was the period of the Russian Revolution and life was different and difficult.   Olga wrote the following in her diary:
“Life is hard – like the grey soldiers’ overcoats at the theatre, it defies description. Neither the theatres nor the rehearsal classes were heated. In warm breeches and woollen tops we rehearsed and as soon as we stopped the sweat steamed off as it did on horses. …This year my brother Alexander, twenty one years old, was killed on the streets.”
Soon after, Olga left Russian forever. 
During a performance in 1934 she had a mental breakdown, and became completely unaware of the music or the choreography.   The curtain was lowered and the newspapers said she had suffered a sprained ankle.  In 1939 her patron moved her to New York, because he believed it would be safer for her there with WW II approaching.  In 1943 she had a complete mental breakdown and was admitted to the Hudson River Asylum for the Insane, where she lived for the next 20 years.
She was discharged in 1963 and moved to the Tolstoy Foundation Farm in Rockland County, New York.  There, this real-life Giselle’s life ended age 96.

 From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets:
Dance History Factoid #35:  

“Olga Spessivtseva was a famous Russian ballerina known for her superb technique and for her exquisite portrayal of Giselle.”

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“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”
-          Napoleon Hill

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