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Mathilda Kshessinska

(1872—1971)


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(b Ligova, 31 Aug. 1872; d Paris, 6 Dec. 1971)

Russian dancer and teacher. Daughter of the popular Polish character dancer Felix Krzesinski she studied at the Imperial Theatre School, St Petersburg with Ivanov, Johansson, and Cecchetti, graduating into the Mariinsky Theatre in 1890. She was appointed ballerina in 1892, prima ballerina in 1893, and prima ballerina assoluta in 1895 (the only ballerina other than Legnani to have been officially granted the title). Her meteoric rise was partly fuelled by her brilliant virtuosity—she was the first Russian ballerina to execute 32 fouettées—and also by her lively glamour. She danced the great Petipa ballerina roles, created roles in his Le Réveil de Flore (1894) and Les Saisons (1900), as well as creating Kitri in Gorsky's 1902 production of Don Quixote. Her career also owed much to her close links with the Royal family. She was mistress of the Tsarevich Nikolai (later Tsar Nikolai II), and then of the Grand Duke Andrei whom she married in 1921, and she wielded huge social influence. After 1904 she reduced her performances at the Mariinsky to those of guest ballerina and also performed at Paris Opera (1909) and with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (1911–12). She left Russia for the Cote d'Azur in 1920 and in 1929 opened a school in Paris where her pupils included Eglevsky, Riabouchinska, Chauviré, and Fonteyn. Her last stage appearance was at a charity gala in London in 1936. She was author of Souvenirs de la Kschessinska (Paris, 1970); English version Dancing in St Petersburg (London, 1970).

Subjects: Dance.


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