2 3 Throwback Thursday and Olga Spessivtseva | Ballet Webb

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Throwback Thursday and Olga Spessivtseva

Throwback Thursday and Olga Spessivtseva

Olga Alexandrovna Spessivtseva was born on July 18, 1895 in Russia. She was said to be one of the best ballerinas of the twentieth century, with technique beyond the level of the day.

Spessivtseva was born into a well-to-do family but her father died when she was a child and she was sent to an orphanage. At age ten she enrolled at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and there she dedicated herself to ballet. She graduated in 1913 and was a soloist by 1916.

After touring with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes she returned to Russia and was promoted to Prima Ballerina. Here she performed the role she is probably best known for: Giselle. She is said to have been the greatest Giselle, even better than Pavlova according to some sources. George Balanchine said she was “a beautiful diamond, cool, distant, and perfect.” 

In 1919 she contracted tuberculosis, the same disease that killed her father. But she survived it and by 1921 she rejoined the Ballet Russes. From there she danced again in Russia, and then with the Paris Opera. When Diaghilev invited her to dance Odette at Covent Garden and promised to revive Giselle for her, she returned to The Ballet Russes. When Diaghilev died, she was devastated.

In 1932 she did dance Giselle again in England for the Camargo Soviet production at the Savoy Theatre. However, Spessivtseva’s perfectionism caused problems in many places. Sometimes her contracts were cancelled. She gave her last performance in Buenos Aires in 1937.

The war in Europe caused her to move to the U.S. where she became an advisor to the newly formed Ballet Theatre (now ABT). Sadly, in 1943 she had a mental breakdown and was committed to a mental institution, where she remained for twenty years. Apparently the staff at the hospital didn’t know who she was and since Spessivtseva’s memory had failed she was unable to tell them. Thus, her colleagues lost track of her and thought she must have died. But Anton Dolin, Dale Fern and Felia Doubrovska eventually found her and had her relocated to the Tolstoy Farm in Valley Cottage, N.Y. She lived there until her death in 1991. She was 96 years old.

From the Big Blue Book of Ballet Secrets
Ballet Secret #:
”Olga Spessivtseva was a Prima Ballerina with technique beyond her time.”

Link of the Day:

Quote of the Day:
“There is a saying in Tibetan, 'Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.'
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

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