Violetta Elvin, who as a young Soviet ballerina brought her Bolshoi training and remarkable brilliance to Britain’s Royal Ballet, died on May 27 at her home in Vico Equense, on the Sorrento Peninsula in southern Italy. She was 97.
Her death was reported by her son and only immediate survivor, Antonio Savarese.
When Ms Elvin joined the Royal Ballet (then the Sadler’s Wells Ballet) in London in 1945, there was no doubt – because there would be no doubt for the next 20 years – who the leading ballerina of the group was: Margot Fonteyn.
Ninette de Valois, the founder and artistic director of the company, was planning to create an international star and her cast for me. Fonteyn was openly favored. Yet a constellation of emerging ballerinas also became visible in the company, and me. Elvin stood out among them.
In 2008, she was remembered in the British magazine Dancing Times as a ‘glorious and glamorous’ dancer.
In Russia she was a soloist at the Bolshoi Ballet. She moved to London after marrying Harold Elvin, a British writer and artist.
Alex Bisset, a longtime friend of the Elvins, said in a telephone interview that Clement Attlee, the British Prime Minister and a friend of Harold Elvin’s father, “had direct communication with Joseph Stalin” to ask permission for Violetta to marry Harold and the Soviet Union legally with him. The permission was granted.
Violetta Elvin was born on November 3, 1923 in Moscow as Vera Vasilyevna Prokhorova. Her father, Vasily Prokhorov, an inventor, was considered a pioneer of Soviet aviation. Her mother, Irina Grimouzinskaya, was an artist and actor.
Violetta joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 1942 after graduating from the Bolshoi Ballet School. During World War II, she was evacuated with her family to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where she was invited to dance lead roles at the Tashkent Ballet. The Bolshoi Ballet, who had been evacuated to the city of Kuybyshev, asked her to rejoin the company there.
When the group returned to Moscow in 1943, she danced the ballerina role in ‘Swan Lake’ at the Bolshoi Theater. But after being reprimanded for her contact with foreigners, she was transferred to the Stanislavsky Theater Ballet in Moscow.
Violetta had friends who invited her to a reception at the British Embassy in Moscow. There she met Mr. Elvin, who fled to Moscow when the Germans invaded Norway, where he visited. When he asked the British ambassador for work, he was appointed as a night watchman at the embassy.
She was married in 1944 to Mr. Elvin married and moved to London, where Ms. De Valois invited her to join the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Although she was extremely popular among the audiences, and she adapted to the repertoire, she more often entered roles created for others. She spent only 11 years with the Royal Ballet, after which she made guest appearances with other companies.
She and mr. Elvin divorced in 1952. She retired after marrying Fernando Savarese in 1959. He was an Italian lawyer and helped run his family’s hotel in Vico Equense and died in 2007.
Ms Elvin is remembered for her distinctive qualities. In the title role of the 19th-century classic ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, the distinctive piece by Mrs. Fonteyn, she triumphed as a young girl with, in the words of mr. Bisset, ‘a smile that comes deep within another enjoyment of dance. ”
Frederick Ashton, the great choreographer of the Royal Ballet, has few lead roles for me. Elvin created. But he especially choreographed the erotic role of the seductress in “Daphnis and Chloe” for her, and he used her strong technique and natural grandeur in neoclassical showpieces containing four to seven ballerinas simultaneously.
It is striking that she excelled in ‘Ballet Imperial’, one of George Balanchine’s distinctive ballets, but which was new to the Royal. The first cast in London was Mrs. Fonteyn as the lead ballerina, but the fast pace and the lack of visible preparations for steps did not come naturally to her.
Me. Elvin understood a more elaborate way of dancing in the Bolshoi and, as with Balanchine, a more dynamic way of moving with ‘attack’. After the Russian Revolution, Soviet teachers attempted to modernize their ballet technique; on the other hand, it me. de Valois’ company looked back at the textbook style of pre-revolutionary Russian ballet.
When the Sadler’s Wells Ballet moved to the Covent Garden Opera House in 1946, Mrs. Elvin knew how to dominate a big stage, as Alexander Bland wrote in “The Royal Ballet: The First 50 Years” (1981). But the company performed on the smaller stage of the Sadler’s Wells Theater for so long that his dance had traces of ‘constriction’, as he put it.
In a memoir published in 1957, Ms. Valois explains why she me. Appointed Elvin, the first Soviet ballerina to dance with the Royal Ballet. De Valois said she “poured new blood into the company.”