Book on Anna Pavlova, Tendu TV’s Essential Dance Film series, Media Maven: Ashani Mfuko
Anna Pavlova: Twentieth Century Ballerina
By Jane Pritchard, with Caroline Hamilton. Booth-Clibborn Editions, London. 2012. 208 pages, 150 illustrations. $40.
The most stunning ballet history book to come along in years, this tribute to a 20th-century icon will give hours of pleasure. Known for her charismatic, ethereal dancing, Pavlova stirred the imagination of viewers of all classes. She was a superstar, much like, say, Michael Jordan, with companies that sold everything from shoes to pianos to mouthwash vying for her endorsements.
The book focuses on the period between 1912 and 1931, when she lived at Ivy House in London. She taught, rehearsed, and relaxed by the pond with her pet swans Jack and Clara. The photos with her young students in tunics have the naturalness of the tableaux of Isadora Duncan, whom she admired.
We see not only photos that are familiar from Keith Money’s 1982 book on Pavlova (still the most comprehensive source) redigitized for a rich, velvety quality, but also photos rarely seen before; for instance Pavlova on a New York City rooftop. She had an uncanny ability to pose languidly for the camera, always with an accessory: if not an animal, then flowers or a cane.
Beyond the iconic figure, one learns interesting historical facts: Although she received good training from the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg (now the Vaganova Ballet Academy), she sought out private lessons from Enrico Cecchetti. She toured Europe in 1908, a year before Diaghilev brought the Ballets Russes to Paris. She hooked British audiences on ballet by introducing it in variety shows and gradually adding ballet-only matinees.
A chapter on her legacy recounts how her touring group went on without her after she died of pleurisy (some said exhaustion) in 1931. The Saint-Saëns music would play for The Dying Swan—the Fokine solo she made famous—and a spotlight would follow the path she had tread so many times. More lasting, however, was the influence of teachers who had danced with her. Of these, both Pierre Vladimiroff and Muriel Stuart taught at the School of American Ballet (and this writer took their classes).
The many sumptuous photos in the book attest to the vast number of roles and venues Pavlova inhabited. In conclusion, Pritchard reminds us that she gave the art of ballet more international visibility than ever before. We are indebted to her. —Wendy Perron
Ashani Mfuko, the energetic host of the TV series Inside NYC Dance, credits many of her on-air qualities to her dance background. “As a dancer, you’re very aware of your posture, the people around you, and your presence in space,” says Mfuko, who teaches jazz at the Joffrey Ballet School. “You have to make sure that you’re standing in the right place, you have to know your cues, and you have to project confidence. When working on camera, you have to be just as vibrant and charismatic.”
Mfuko’s show, a half-hour of interviews with dance artists spliced with rehearsal and performance footage, airs every Friday night on the Manhattan News Network. Now in its second season, Inside NYC Dance runs through August 23. Each new episode (which alternate with reruns from the show’s first season) is posted at www.youtube.com/InsideNYCDance within 24 hours. It’s also made available on iTunes, Blip.tv, and Roku.
In addition to performers like Misty Copeland and companies like Dance Theatre of Harlem, Inside Dance TV has hosted Dance Magazine’s own advice columnist Dr. Linda Hamilton and has produced segments on topics like NYC apartments and dance marketing. When asked about her favorite guests, Mfuko names Carmen de Lavallade (“I was starstruck!”), Christian Holder (“Wonderful!”), and Gelsey Kirkland (“A force to be reckoned with!”). Dream future guests include Baryshnikov, Debbie Allen, Wendy Whelan, and Milton Myers.
TenduTV’s second season of Essential Dance Film, a collection of movement-based short films curated by the digital network, is currently releasing its second series on YouTube. New films are posted every Tuesday at www.youtube.com/show/essentialdancefilm and will eventually be available at www.hulu.com/essential-dance-film. The 20 films in this season include the poignant Quarantine (2007), about the Dutch slave trade, choreographed and performed by Kyle Abraham with Marcel Stomp, and the hilarious finding-dance-in-the-mundane Sofa (2012), choreographed and directed by former Royal Ballet dancer Jonathan Watkins. —K. P.
Photos: Fredy Mfuko, Courtesy Mission 101 Media; Courtesy TenduTV