The great Russian dancer, Violetta Elvin, dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet Company and prima ballerina of The Royal Ballet, died on 27 May at the age of 97.
Elvin had lived in Vico Equense in the Campania region of Italy since 1956 when she retired, marrying Ferdinando Savarese. They had a son, Antonio. The locals knew her as Donna Violetta. The mayor of Vico Equense said,
A woman of inimitable beauty, of distinctive grace, sophisticated style, elegance without equal, politeness and exceptional kindness. An important figure in the ballet world who left her career and the Royal Ballet in London to move to our cherished land. Although humiliated by the Stalinist regime, she was a strong woman who never gave up. We will miss her wonderful smile and her great moral qualities.
Violetta Elvin, née Violetta Vasilievna Prokhorova, was born in Moscow on 3 November 1923 (not in 1924, as is often written). She joined the Bolshoi Ballet on graduation from its school as a soloist in 1942. At the end of the war, following her marriage in Moscow to an Englishman, British architect Harold Elvin, she was permitted to leave Russia and go to England.
She was recruited by Ninette de Valois for the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now known as The Royal Ballet) on its opening at Covent Garden in 1946 where she was billed as Violetta Prokhorova. From 1951 until 1956 she became a principal dancer of the company. She gave London audiences one of the first tastes of Russian style. Distinguished dance critic Arnold Haskill in The Ballet Annual wrote that she danced “with an attack that carried the audience with her. She has a rich talent and very great charm that should carry her far when she becomes more accustomed to our stage”. Life Magazine in 1953 quoted her as being “the world's most beautiful ballerina”.
Elvin created roles in Frederick Ashton's Cinderella (Summer Fairy, 1948), Daphnis and Chloe (Lykanion, 1951), Homage to the Queen (1953), and Birthday Offering (1956), as well as Roland Petit's Ballabile (1950).
Elvin came to La Scala when a Royal Opera House tour visited to Milan in 1954, but she had already guested in Swan Lake and Petroushka with the La Scala company, as well as starring in the dances for the operas La Gioconda and Macbeth with Maria Callas, in 1952. Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes were the first-night cast for Swan Lake, and Violetta Elvin and John Field the second. In 1986, The Times said that Elvin was “the only rival ever to give Fonteyn a run for her money”. She also danced in Homage to the Queen on the same tour.
In 1956 she retired, a distinguished and much-loved ballerina, to marry Savarese, though briefly from 1985 to 1986 she was ballet director at Teatro San Carlo in Naples. She remained for the rest of her life in Palazzo Savarese in Vico Equense, overlooking the Gulf of Naples.
Violetta Elvin: born in Moscow 3 November 1923 – died in Vico Equense 27 May 2021
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
It has been a sad few days Graham. We have to say goodbye to some really wonderful people and an era has all but ended.