Obituary of Violetta Elvin | Ballet
In 1945, when Violetta Elvin joined Sadler’s Wells Ballet in London, she opened a new window for dancers from Ninette de Valois’ company. Elvin, who died at the age of 97, was the first Soviet-trained ballerina the company had seen up close, and aspects of her style were quickly adopted by her fellow dancers. Elvin, said Margot Fonteyn, “has influenced our dance long after the 10 years she has been with us”.
At just 22 when she arrived in the UK, Elvin had been marked for a high-flying career with the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, and trained by some of the best teachers, including Elizaveta Gerdt and Mariya Kozhukhova, the latter trained in St. Petersburg. bring to Moscow the methods of Agrippina Vaganova that underpinned all Russian training. Elvin’s talent was such that she began her professional career at the solo level without the usual period in the corps de ballet.
She was endowed with great physical beauty, natural glamor and remarkable beauty. Harbor bras (arm movement). These qualities are embodied in the roles made for her by Frederick Ashton, the summer of the fairies in Cinderella (1948) and the seductress Lykanion in Daphnis and Chloë (1951), and the solo he created for her in Birthday Offering ( 1956), all of which showed off her beautiful arms, supple back and the expansive nature of her dance.
Many observers speculated that after Fonteyn’s retirement, Elvin would become the company’s main ballerina. As one reviewer wrote, she was the only dancer who “could give Fonteyn a run for her money.” But it turned out that Fonteyn continued to dance until she was in her sixties while Elvin left the stage for marriage and motherhood in her thirties.
She was born in Moscow, daughter of Irena Grimouzinskaya, actress and artist, and Vassilie Prokhorov, aviation pioneer. Violetta’s training at the Bolshoi Academy began before her ninth birthday and at the age of 10 she appeared on stage dancing the variation of Love in Don Quixote. After graduating in 1942, she was incorporated into the company as a soloist, but with the Nazi invasion of Russia and the evacuation of Moscow, she moved to Tashkent.
There, the recently graduated Prokhorova danced the main roles in Swan Lake, The Fountain of Bakshiserai and Don Quixote. Her success in this varied and demanding repertoire earned her a summons from Kuybyshev (now Samara), where the Bolshoi had been based during the duration of World War II, and she resumed her rank as a soloist with the company.
In 1943, the ballet returned to Moscow and Prokhorov danced the lead role at Swan Lake on the famous stage of the Bolshoi Theater. Her performance was very well received and she was promised the title role in Raymonda de Petipa, one of the most demanding in the classical repertoire. But the authorities disapproved of her contacts with the foreign community in Moscow and instead of rehearsing the new role, she found herself loaned to the less prestigious Stanislavsky Theater, where she had the consolation of a good working relationship with the choreographer. Vladimir Bourmeister.
It was around this time that she met and fell in love with Harold Elvin, an architect attached to the British Embassy in Moscow. She obtained permission from the Soviet government to marry in 1944 – in part thanks to the intervention of British Prime Minister Clement Attlee – and moved with him to London. She took classes with Vera volkova, who was then teaching at Sadler’s Wells, and it was there that she was seen by De Valois and invited to join the Sadler’s Wells Ballet.
Her first appearance with the company was during the second performance of the momentous production of Sleeping Beauty which opened its first season at the Royal Opera House in 1946. She danced the role of Princess Florine in the virtuoso duo Bluebird and made an immediate impression.
Other roles soon followed and she eventually had to dance all the classic roles as well as many roles created for or created by Fonteyn. One of them was the virtuoso lead role in George Balanchine’s Imperial Ballet, which Fonteyn abandoned after the first round in 1941. Elvin had to dance the role 37 times, more than any of his contemporaries. Her range was considerable, embracing both the mild comedy of the Miller’s Wife in The Tricorn and the drama of the Dark Queen in Checkmate.
Sadly, only a few other roles were made for her, the most notable being the Queen of the Waters in Ashton Homage to the Queen’s Coronation Ballet (1953). She also created lead roles in Roland Petit’s Ballabile (1950) and Andrée Howard’s Veneziana (1953).
In addition to touring with Sadler’s Wells Ballet, Elvin has made numerous guest appearances with companies in Europe and spent extended periods at La Scala in Milan and the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro.
In her final season with the company, Ashton created a nice variation for her in Birthday Offering, and she also gave four performances of the title role in The Firebird, a role she had long coveted but one that Fonteyn had jealously guarded. . Elvin’s last appearance with the Sadler’s Wells Company was as the heroine of Sleeping Beauty. At the end of the performance, De Valois spoke of Elvin’s “poise, grace and all the special qualities that belong to Russian ballet”.
His marriage to Harold ended in divorce in 1952, as did a second, in 1953, with the American impresario Siegbert Weinberger. In 1959, she married Fernando Savarese, a lawyer who also ran her family’s hotel on the Sorrento Peninsula in southern Italy. Elvin happily moved there, giving birth to a son, Antonio (known as Toti), in 1960.
In 1985, she was persuaded to come out of retirement to direct the ballet at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, but found the working conditions difficult and stayed there only one season.
She directed three films, playing the gypsy dancer in an adaptation of Pushkin’s Queen of Spades (1949), the prima ballerina in Melba (1953) and Florence la Riche in Once Upon a Time by Emeric Pressburger (1953). She is also featured in an archival recording, released on DVD in 2011, of Les Sylphides, danced for the BBC in 1953 with Svetlana Beriosova, Alicia Markova and John Field. Elvin argued, however, that the cramped conditions of the television studio give the dancers a bad impression.
Elvin once again appeared on the Covent Garden stage in 1981 along with a number of his colleagues and contemporaries as part of the Royal Ballet’s 50th anniversary celebrations and was greeted with tumultuous applause. She continued to travel extensively, with London and Moscow on her itinerary, and read extensively in three languages.
Fernando died before her; she is survived by Toti.
Violetta Prokhorova Elvin, ballerina, born November 3, 1923; passed away on May 27, 2021