June 21, 2000 Prima Ballerina's Collection Comes to the Library of Congress
Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022
The Library of Congress recently added to its significant dance holdings with the acquisition of the collection of Alexandra Danilova (1904-1997), the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo's prima ballerina from 1938 to 1951. The Danilova collection joins the Martha Graham, Serge Diaghilev, and Rudolf Nureyev collections in the Library's Music Division.
Trained at the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia, and lauded for her roles in Gaîte Parisienne, La Boutique fantasque, and Le Beau Danube, Danilova also appeared in Swan Lake, The Firebird, Giselle, Coppélia, and many other notable productions. Lifelong friend and collaborator of famed choreographer George Balanchine, leader of her own world traveling ballet company in the 1950s, and teacher at the School of America Ballet from 1964 to 1989, Danilova was a 1989 recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in recognition of a lifetime of achievement and dedication in the field of ballet.
When Alexandra Danilova was born in 1904, ballet was popular in her native czarist Russia. In turn-of-the-century America, ballets were only rarely staged at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. These rare performances, invariably by European companies, failed to inspire the development of an indigenous ballet culture in America. Beginning in 1916, a series of innovative ballet companies, starting with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, began touring in the United States. These companies built on a repertoire of standard Russian classics such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty. The last of these companies, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, finding itself stranded in America with the onset of World War II, toured more extensively than any of its predecessors. The company appeared to great acclaim in as many as 104 cities in one season. The many ballet schools and companies in America today owe much to the example of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and its outstanding performers, including the "waxen-legged" Danilova.
The Danilova collection contains correspondence from renowned dancers Margot Fonteyn, Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, and Frederic Franklin, and choreographers Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins, and Ruth Page. Also included are programs featuring Danilova performing Giselle at Covent garden in 1949, dancing with her own company in South Africa in the 1950s, appearing in Raymonda in Japan in 1957 for her farewell performance, and choreographing for New York's Metropolitan Opera in the 1960s.
The collection is particularly strong in photographs, including many beautiful prints of Danilova in her most famous roles, appearing with partners such as Frederic Franklin, Leonid Massine, and Igor Youskevitch. Additional photographs capture other dancers, including Alicia Markova, Mia Slavenska, and the "baby ballerinas," the teen-aged virtuosos Irina Baronova, Tamara Tamounova, and Tatiana Riabouchinska. Also included in the collection are numerous newspaper clippings and magazine articles, primarily focusing on Danilova or Balanchine; drafts of lectures she presented in the late 1950s and early 1960s; typescripts of her autobiography; several dance awards and civic citations; video tapes, including one featuring the choreographer Bronislava Nijinska; and dance-related books from Danilova's personal library, many inscribed by the authors.
Danilva's copy of the script for the film, "The Turning Point" is also part of the collection. In this 1977 film about an aging prima ballerina, starring Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, Danilova was cast as Madame Dakharova, a ballet teacher whose life was loosely based upon her own.