Friday, 11 January 2019

Anna's Ashes; Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), Golders Green Crematorium

She may have been born in St Petersburg and died in the Hague but the great Russian prima ballerina was a local, living at Ivy House on North End Road, NW11 from 1912 until her premature death in 1931. Her final resting place at the Golders Green Crematorium is a stately 10 minute hearse drive away from her former residence. The niche that holds her urn, flanked by kitsch porcelain figurines of a ballerina and a swan, once also held a pair of her pink pointe ballet shoes but these were stolen by an opportunist thief visiting the columbarium. The position of the figurines in photographs appears immoveable so they may have been glued in place since the disappearance of the ballet shoes.  The urn lies in a double niche divided into two by a shelf. The urn below Anna’s belongs to her husband/accompanist/manager Victor DandrĂ©. A clause in his will almost led to their eternal separation when Anna’s remains were about to be repatriated to Russia.
Anna was on tour on the continent in the winter of 1930 when she caught a cold leaving a train in only her pajamas and dressing gown in the middle of a bitterly cold December night to investigate the cause of a delay. The cold turned first to flu, then pneumonia and pleurisy. The New York Times of January 23 1931 announced her death:
THE HAGUE, Friday, Jan. 23 -- Mme. Anna Pavlova, the greatest dancer of her time, died of pleurisy at the Hotel des Indes here at 12:30 this morning. The end came despite every effort of two Dutch physicians and her own Russian doctor, Professor Valerski, to save her.
Yesterday an operation was performed to withdraw water from one of her lungs. At 10 o'clock last night her condition was extremely serious and as a last resort it was decided to administer Pasteur vaccine. It came too late, however, for she was already sinking and she died soon after midnight.
Ill for Three Day: Mme. Pavlova, who died after a three-day illness with influenza and pleurisy, was 45 years old and lacked only eight days of being 46, as her birthday was Jan. 31. The dancer fell ill on Tuesday after she had come here on tour from Paris and at first it was believed that she merely was suffering from grip as the result of a slight cold contracted in Paris. Later the combination of pleurisy and influenza developed, which was complicated by a weakness of the heart. With the dancer at the end was her husband and accompanist, Victor d'Andre, whom she married in 1924.     
Anna and her pet swan Jack at Ivy House - 1920's.
60 years later, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, calls began for the return of the ballerina’s ashes to Russia. The initial calls came from a Dutch couple Jean Thomassen and Ine Veen who started an international action to require the crematorium to send Pavlova’s remains back to Russia to be interred in the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow in the company of a large number of cultural luminaries including Chekov, Bulgakov, Bely, Prokofiev, Eisenstein and Gogol. When the Thomassen’s wearied of the battle their place was taken by Valentina Zhilenkova and her Anna Pavlova Foundation of Mercy, Yury Luzhkov the Mayor of Moscow and the Committee for Russian and Slavonic Art backed by the Russian Ministry of Culture. Although Pavlova had never expressed any desire for her mortal remains to be sent back to the motherland her husband’s will contained a clause which stipulated that her remains were to stay at Golders Green and could only returned to Russia if a formal request were made and the Russian authorities agreed to treat her remains with proper reverence. Although the crematorium was reluctant to lose one of its major stars relentless lobbying for a decade by the Russians finally led to a change of heart in 2000.  Earl Grey, chairman of the London Cremation Company, told journalists, “we consulted with all the necessary authorities and it has now been agreed that this is an appropriate time for the ashes to be transferred to the guardianship of the Anna Pavlova Foundation of Mercy in Moscow."
A date of March 2001 was set for the transfer and plans were put into place. A tomb was made ready in the  Novodevichye Cemetery, air freight arrangements made, and VIP’s, including the stars of the Bolshoi Ballet and senior politicians, were invited to a ceremony to welcome back Anna and Victor on 14 March. But even in Russia itself the plan was not unopposed. Anna’s niece Valentina Trifonova told reporters that the surviving members of the family could not "understand why her remains are being disturbed, or who stands to benefit from the ashes going to Moscow." The Russian culture minister, Mikhail Shvydkoy, whose ministry had previously supported the plan now suddenly had "grave doubts about the organisations which have initiated the burial of this great ballerina's remains. It is better not to touch people's ashes unless their express desire otherwise has been registered," he said, “"The people who have prompted this campaign refer to her last wishes but cannot produce any evidence that this is what she wanted. Moreover her husband, Victor Dandre, made no plans for a posthumous journey to Russia. Therefore the legitimacy of such a burial is dubious in the extreme." The cultural establishment of St Petersburg also strongly objected to the plan; Leonid Nadirov, the director of the ballet school from which Pavlova graduated in 1899, wrote to President Putin appealing to him to put a stop to the burial. Just a few days before the ceremony was due to take place the Moscow authorities suddenly announced that they had withdrawn permission for Anna’s ashes to be returned to Russia. She remains, with Victor, at Golders Green.  

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