Prima Ballerina Assolutas - History

History

The first recorded use of the title as an official rank was in 1894, when French ballet master Marius Petipa bestowed it on Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani. He considered her to be the supreme leading ballerina in all of Europe. The second ballerina to be given the title was Legnani's contemporary Mathilde Kschessinska. Petipa, however, did not agree that she should hold such a title; although an extraordinary ballerina, he felt that she obtained the title primarily via her connections with the Imperial Russian court.

The only Soviet ballerinas to hold the title were Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya. The Swiss-born American Eva Evdokimova became recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta following guest appearances with the Kirov Ballet in the 1970s, when she was named as such by the company ballet mistress, Natalia Dudinskaya. The title was later recognised by a vote of the German Senate. Other dancers awarded the title include Anneli Alhanko from Sweden, Alicia Alonso from Cuba, Alessandra Ferri from Italy and Alicia Markova and Margot Fonteyn from England. The only French dancer to hold the title is Yvette Chauviré who was described by Rudolph Nureyev as a "legend". Nureyev also referred to the American ballerina Cynthia Gregory as America's prima ballerina assoluta, however this has never been formally acknowledged. Another not to hold the title is the great Anna Pavlova, probably the best known ballerina in history.

In South Africa, the only ballerina granted the title prima ballerina assoluta (1984) was Phyllis Spira (1943–2008). Since Evdokimova is generally viewed as an international rather than an American dancer and the U.S. has no process for designation of a prima ballerina assoluta, the title for an American ballerina dancing for an American company is frequently considered to have belonged to Cynthia Gregory with American Ballet Theatre. Sylvie Guillem as well as Darcey Bussell at The Royal Ballet, London, are considered by some to belong in the league of assolutas and both were, until their retirement from ballet, principal guests artists of the Royal Ballet, which is an honorary title roughly equivalent to the rank of Prima Ballerina.

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