Friday, 15 July 2011

On my way home tonight, I stopped off at the National Portrait Gallery to see this fascinating exhibition of ballet photographs by Bassano.
There were dancers I recognised... Tamara Karsavina, Lydia Lopokova, Adeline Genée,
And this is Anna Pavlova, looking so elegant - but aren't her feet enormous!
And there was Ninette de Valois, looking very perky in froufrou frills in 1920. I saw her once receiving a standing ovation at the Royal Opera House when she looked very grand and dignified and not at all froufrou.
But I was most attracted by the dancers I'd never of heard of at all.
Like Phyllis Bedells, in her costume as an Ice Cream Girl, who made her debut as the first oyster in Alice in Wonderland.
And beautiful Maud Allan whose career was ruined when it emerged that her brother was a murderer. (No phone-tapping allegations, though.)
There was baby ballerina Elise Craven who curled her hair in ringlets and made her debut, aged 10, in something called Pinkie and the Fairies.
And one of my favourites, Hilda Boot from Nottingham who became Hilda Butsova (but still didn't get her teeth fixed.)
Wonderful photographs and you can see every detail of lace and fripperies. And I do love exhibitions that are exactly the right size for a drop-in visit.

19 comments:

katietreebug said...

Hilda is my great grandma! :)

mary said...

Oh, how wonderful, Katie. That is the kind of comment that makes blogging really rewarding. (And now I am so embarrassed to have been mean about her teeth!) It was a brilliant photograph. Did you go to the exhibition? And have you inherited dancing genes? I'd love to know more!

Anonymous said...

Hilda Butsova was my grandmother, Katie Tree Bug, so we must be related! I'm assuming you are my niece, Katie?

ADSEMI said...

Hilda Butsova was my grandmother, katietreebug, so we must be related! Mary, quite honestly, I don't remember my grandmother having any teeth issues.

mary said...

Adsemi, I'm mortified ... I shall think twice before I make flippant remarks in future! I'm half-expecting Anna Pavlova's descendants to correct me about her big feet!
But what a wonderful bit of family history ... do you know much about grandmother's career?

ADSEMI said...

Mary, I don't know too much about her career. She was born and raised in Nottingham. At some point in her dancing career, she joined the Russian Ballet, changing her name from Hilda Boot to Hilda Butsova. She married my grandfather and settled in NYC, where my father was born. NYC was her home for the rest of her life, but obviously she traveled around the world, dancing in the Russian Ballet. I'm not sure at what point she became Anna Pavlova's understudy. Her toe shoes are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I don't remember her very well, since she died when I was very young (in 1976). I have a few vivid memories, but most of my memories of her are vague. I have a few photographs of her as a grandmother, not a dancer. Most of her photographs as a dancer belong to my father.

mary said...

That's fascinating, Adsemi. She must have been an amazing dancer to understudy Pavlova. Can you just imagine audience expectations ... it must have been terrifying.

ADSEMI said...

Mary, from what I know about my grandmother's career, she was extremely talented. What I remember about her, and from what my father has mentioned in conversations about her, she was a tough and very dedicated woman. I tend to believe that she handled the pressure of living up to Anna Pavlova quite well.

Kristen Henderson said...

I am also a great granddaughter. However, She died before I was born. I did dance in her shoes as a child. Of course I did not realize how cool that was until I was an adult and of course after the shoes were missing. I do have some toe shoes now of hers that I will cherish and several photos. Charlie Chaplin adored her. She was also Pavlovas prima ballerina for her company. Adam! I just figured out that was you! Hahahahaha

mary said...

How wonderful to have danced in her shoes, Kristen.

ADSEMI said...

Hi, Kristen! Yes that was me.

ltwill said...

I have great memories of my grandmother..I always loved spending time at her apt in NYC.. She had lots of cool trinkets from around the world..One of my fondest memories was spending the summer in Bar Harbor Maine with she and my grandfather. She was an instructor at a ballet camp there..

Terence Pepper said...

Hi..only just across this fascinating blog and comments from
Hilda Butsova's descendants as I was partly responsible for the display..
there is a well known postcard published by Fotofolio that allegedly shows Pavlova by James Abbe..have long known its wasnt her but recently discovered from a Pavlova programme
that it really shows Hilda!..the reason for this post..Terence

mary said...

Hello, Terence. I was thrilled when my original post elicited so many comments from Hilda's family and I've so much enjoyed their reminiscences. Now, of course, I've been busy googling for the Abbe photograph that you mention. Could it be the one with the big wicker basket with Pavlova's name on?
Thank you so much for adding to the discussion. I loved your NPG display; was there only a few days ago and enjoyed the Marilyn Monroe pix too. Especially the very early ones, quite fascinating.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, I was thinking about "Madame Bootsie",(Hilda Butsova), today. I wanted to see if I could learn more about her; and I ended up here.What a delight !! I did not know that she was not actually Russian. I met, and was privileged to take a ballet class from her, while a student @ Ballet Repertory in NYC. Thalia Mara & Arthur Mahoney were my usual instructors; and Madame Butsova was guest teaching. It was an honor indeed. I was VERY impressed as a young dancer that she had been an understudy to Pavlova.

mary said...

Thank you for joining the conversation, Anonymous. What a wonderful experience; I'm wondering how long ago that was? And did you really call her Madame Bootsie!
I'm so much enjoying this thread of comments and the stories people have contributed are fascinating.

David Sumray said...

The photograph of Hilda Butsova, mis-attributed as Pavlova, is the one of Hilda with a headdress of feathers. I am really pleased that so many people remember the wonderful Hilda Butsova - she was a superb dancer, with a really good technique, and very much her own woman, but I don't think ever really appreciated by Pavlova and Dandre (the hardest working and most reliable dancers sometimes weren't). She had her own ballets in the Company - e.g. Coppelia and Magic Flute. Here is what Algeranoff (of the Pavlova Company) wrote of her: 'Butsova was a heroine. When I think that on one Friday we rehearsed from ten to six with an hour's break for lunch at an 7pm she danced in The Magic Flute with seven solos, followed by a divertissement in the second half, that the next morning she had to get up with the rest of us to catch the 7am train, that in the afternoon she danced the Bluebird (agagio, variation and coda) along with a divertissement, and in the evening Madame's [i.e. Pavlova] role in Chopiniana, again Bluebird and the Pizzicato divertissement, I can hardly believe it. Her only reward for this was that she was let off the rehearsal on Sunday morning'. Before Algeranoff joined the Company, he wrote of seeing Pavlova in 1921 in London: 'There was a strong welcome from the audience for Butsova, whose strong technique never outweighed the ease and charm with which she danced'.

mary said...

I'm so delighted when somebody chips in with more information, David. I never guessed that my casual visit to the exhibition would spark so much discussion. What stamina she must have had.

David Sumray said...

There is a very interesting interview - audio and transcript - with Hilda Butsova (interviewed by Elizabeth Kendall in 1975) in the New York Public Library's Dance Collection, full of fascinating information about Butsova, Pavlova and Butsova's very interesting and perceptive comments on ballet in the 1970s - American Ballet Theatre being her favourite company. I am so often irritated by books on Pavlova that relegate her dancers to not even a secondary position, but a tertiary one. Pavlova's dancers, apart from her partners, of course, and usually Algeranoff, are so often dismissed as being mediocre - they were anything but mediocre - and that old canard of Pavlova deliberately choosing mediocre dancers in order to shine more brightly still makes its appearance from time-to-time - even though it is such a stupid comment that it beggars belief, because, quite apart from any other consideration, poor dancers would have given the Company a poor reputation, and it didn't have that. And whilst Dandre didn't like anything or anyone to detract from 'Madame', he had a sound business head, and knew that incompetent dancers did nothing for audience satisfaction. Contemporaneous newspaper reports clearly show that the Company dancers were singled out for praise, and had their own popularity and, in some cases, following. It's a great pity that most of the movie footage of the Company, as opposed to Pavlova herself, has largely disappeared. I've enjoyed reading the comments from Hilda's family, and knowing what a happy and fulfilled life she had. She played a very important part in the history of ballet - and for so many years, she really was a keystone of the Pavlova Company.