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Mathilde Kschessinskaya (1872-1971) was the greatest Russian ballerina of the classical period,of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty at the end of the nineteenth century, before the innovation styles of the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev.
Mathilde was born on 19 August, 1972 in Ligovo, 9 miles west of St. Petersburg, Russia as the 13-th child of Julia and Felix Kschessinsky, both of Polish origin and dancers of the Imperial Ballet. Her family nickname was Mala or Malechka, diminutives that became familiar in the highest circles in the land. Mathilde followed siblings Julie andJoseph, entered and graduated the Imperial Ballet School.
Kschessinskaya’s rise to fame took five years to accomplish. She joined the Maryinsky Theatre in 1890, became ballerina in 1892, prima ballerina in 1893, and in 1895 was appointed prima ballerina assoluta after Italian Legnani.
She amazed the audiences with her 32 fouettes while the native ballerinas struggled to discover her secret. Kschessinskaya learned that by spotting her head, she could keep her balance and finally, conquer the fouettes. It is said that she fixed her eyes on the medals decorating the chest of a baron who occupied the same seat every night and never missed a performance.
Prima Ballerina Assoluta Kschessinskaya was also very beautiful and the lover of two princes of the Romanov blood royal, and it was rumored that she was attached to Tsar Nicholas II. But what is undoubted is that she was very much attached to his uncle Grand Duke Sergei, and later (from 1900) Grand Duke Andrei, a second cousin to the Tsar. She lived with Sergei for many years, though she had a child by Andrei in 1906, and eventually in 1921 married him and went into exile in the West with him.
All her life Kschessinskaya lived in France, opened a school in 1929. When she was 64, she performed for a charity event at London’s Covent Garden Opera House. Many of her students went on to become the great dancers of a new generation.
I never read her books “Dancing in Petersburg. The Memoirs of Kschessinska (Da Capo Series in dance), 1977, Da Capo Press. Neither I did “Vospominanii (Ballet Russes)” by Matilda Feliksovna Kschessinskaia, 1992,Izdo.”Artist”, rezhisser, teatr.
My knowledge of Mathilde’s life was from visits to the Leningrad Museum of the Theatrical and Musical Arts. It is as follows: Mala lived all her life by the laws of beauty, believed in it and died for it. Great Russian Prima Ballertina enjoyed her talent of dancing, enjoyed love and life itself. Her lovers came and went but she kept on enjoying the life.
I did not read her books because I hate gossips and braggery. Mathilde was rich. The way how she made her wealth is not my concern. The definition of poor or rich is irrelevant to me. I consider her being always beautiful and rich by her heart for constant passion for life.
In December 1971, a few months before her 100-th anniversary, Mathilde, now Princess Romanovsky-Krassinsky, passed away in her sleep. Earlier she had written her own poignantly brave obituary with the simple words “My life was beautiful.” She was laid to rest next to her beloved Andre in the Russian Church in Paris. Mathilde Kschessinskaya, Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Imperial ballet had taken her final curtain.
Rest in peace, Sleeping Beauty, Mala, Malechka, Mathilde, Beautiful as Sparkling Champagne.
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