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Mathilde Kschessinska, first Russian prima ballerina assoluta

Great Russian women

Mathilde Kschessinska

Mathilde Kschessinska (1872-1971), known as "Her Serene Highness Princess Romanova-Krasinskaya" could have become the last Russian empress, however the Emperor Nicholas II who she was knpwn to have a love affair with, married the princess Alix of Hesse.

Though she is perhaps best known for her affair with the future tsar Nicholas II, Mathilde Kschessinska was actually the first Russian prima ballerina assoluta. She earned the title - the highest possible rank for a ballerina - in 1896, at the age of 24. Mathilde Kschessinska was a dancer of brilliant technique, dramatic gifts and great personal charm and beauty. She was the first Russian Aurora and the first Russian dancer to perform the 32 fouettés in Swan Lake, the amazing feat, first perfomed by, Pierina Legnani in 1893

Mathilde was born on 19 August 1872 in Ligovo, 9 miles west of St Petersburg, the thirteenth child of Julia and Felix Kschessinsky, both of Polish origin and dancers of the Imperial Ballet. In 1890 Mathilde entered the Imperial Ballet School. She graduated ten years later, Kschessinskaya made her début in a pas de deux from La Fille Mal Gardée during a graduation performance in 1890 attended by Emperor Alexander III and the rest of the Imperial family, including the future Nicholas II.

It was usual for the Grand Dukes (close relatives of the Tsar) to take a ballerina for a mistress. With her single minded obsession with the Romanovs, and Nicholas in particular, Mathilde also wrote in her diary at that time, "He will be mine". And he was.

She rose rapidly through the ranks of the Imperial Ballet, dancing in the first performances of the now famous "The Sleeping Beauty", and proving immensely popular with the St Petersburg audiences. She was most famous as a demi-caractere dancer and her favorite role was "Esmeralda" in the ballet of the same name

Mathilde Kschessinska's name continued to be put through the mud with many scandals and rumors, especially when she formed a menage a trios with Sergei Mikhailovich and his cousin Andrei Vladimirovich (who she married in Paris in 1921), two Grand Dukes of the Romanov family.

Kschessinska had many aristocratic connections, which helped her to accumulate a fortune in valuable property in the Russian capital. In fact, her connections were such that she had Lenin, the first head of Soviet Russia, address a revolutionary crowd from the elegant balcony of her house after he returned from Finland in 1917.

When the Russian Revolution had subsided, Mathilde Kschessinska moved to the French Rivera, and later in 1921, to the French capital. There she married Grand Duke Andrey Vladimirovich Romanov, one of the tsar's cousins, and in the same year had a son with him, which they called Prince Vladmir Romanovsky-Krasinsky.

Eight years later she opened up her very own ballet school, and there she had the opportunity to teach Dame Margot Fonteyn, the only ballerina in England to attain to the title of Prime ballerina assolute, Andre Eglevsky, Dame Alicia Markova an English Prima ballerina and Tamara Toumanova. Kschessinska performed for one last time at a charity event in Covent Gardens at the age of 64. She then published her autobiography, in 1960, called Dancing in St. Petersburg: The Memoirs of Kschessinska. Twelve years later, a few months before her 100th birthday she died.

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