Vera Trefilova (1875-1943)

Many of the dancers who performed with the Ballets Russes did not become household names, but I have always said that every dancer who has appeared on a stage has in some way shaped the dance we enjoy today. It is hard to say why some names are remembered and others are lost in the archives. Perhaps it helps if you were involved in some scandal, or you died in a bizarre way!

Vera Trefilova, a sparkling prima ballerina at the Maryinsky in 1906, could dash off 32 fouettés with ease. She shone especially as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, but resigned in 1910 because of rival ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska's jealous intrigues. In 1917 Trefilova opened a school in Paris.

In 1921 Diaghilev invited her to dance Princess Aurora in the London performances of Sleeping Princess. The night before the opening she threatened to kill herself unless he released her from her contract, saying she was too old and the spark of her youth was gone. Diaghilev ignored her and the next night, looking as if she was 16, triumphed in the role of Aurora. She alternated the role with Olga Spessivtseva. Arnold Haskell wrote, "It was Trefilova who moved me, and whom I shall always identify with the role."

(First published September 1995)

Next: Anthony Tudor (1908-1987)