One evening after classes, students of White Lodge were privileged to watch a private screening of a new film documenting the history of The Dying Swan solo. Entitled “Madam and the Dying Swan” the film is a tribute to Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet Companies and School.
The Dying Swan was choreographed for the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova by Mikhail Fokine to Camille Saint-Saens’ cello solo Le Cygne from Le Carnival des Animaux. The story shows the last moments of a swan’s life and was first presented in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905. Pavlova danced this short ballet many times and in 1913, De Valois notated a version of Pavlova’s Swan at the Palace Theatre, London.
Marguerite Porter, director of Yorkshire Ballet Summer School, was the driving force behind the creation of this documentary and she came to White Lodge in person to present it to us. It focuses on how in 1980, Marguerite learned The Dying Swan solo from de Valois and in turn, taught it to the Royal Ballet Principal Marianela Nuñez, who performs the solo in this new film.
Set against a background of the development of British Ballet, it is possible to follow an unbroken line of choreography dating from the 1900′s to beautiful footage of the solo being danced by one of today’s foremost classical ballet dancers. The piece is incredibly emotive to watch. You actually feel you are witnessing the final fluttering moments and the extinction of life. Each movement carries a meaning and the overall sadness is emphasised by the music.
Massimo Nicolosi composed and performed the soundtrack for the documentary. Made by Candida Brady and Titus Ogilvy, film rights have been purchased and a DVD is soon to be released, I would thoroughly recommend it to any balletomane.
Photo Credits: 1. From the website of composer Massimo Nicolosi 2. Anna Pavlova wearing The Dying Swan tutu 3. Marguerite porter artist profile 4. Tutu and coronet worn by Anna Pavlova in Le Mort du Cygne, Russia, early 20th century. Net, goose feathers, and stone. Photographed at DE Young Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco. on loan from the Bancroft Library. Léon Bakst (designer, Russian, 1866–1924) 5. Marianela Nunez dances The Dying Swan – photograph by Sophie Harris Taylor – ballet news 13/01/2013
On a lighter note, the Oxford English Dictionary may have settled a long-running argument between Australia and New Zealand over who invented the pavlova dessert. The meringue with fruit and cream was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited both countries in 1926 and again in 1929. In its re-launched online edition, the OED says the first recorded pavlova recipe appeared in New Zealand in 1927 in a book called Davis Dainty Dishes, with subsequent recipes for it appearing in publications in 1928 and 1929.
The earliest Australian claim came from 1935 when Bert Sachse, chef of the Esplande Hotel in Perth, Australia, presented a dessert masterpiece to the Hotel Owner, describing it “as light and airy as Pavlova danced.” The first Australian cookbooks to include the dessert were published in the 1940s. As the ballerina Pavlova wasn’t in Australia in 1935 [she died in 1931] it is possible that Sachse’s recipe had been inspired by an earlier version from his New Zealand neighbours.