Anna Pavlova springs to life once more in her only performance on film

Thanks to the Library of Congress, audiences can see clear footage of Anna Pavlova on film.

Last year the library restored and reissued The Dumb Girl of Portici, a silent movie filmed in the United States and released in 1916, in which Pavlova played the role of the mute dancer, Fenella.

New York audiences were lucky to see a screening last year but it’s unlikely that a cinema elsewhere will show the full movie in its restored version in the near future.

However five minutes of the film can now be seen on YouTube on a couple of channels.

Thanks to Alan Dun, an avid watcher of vintage ballet films, I was able to find the film on the YouTube channel of the writer and composer, Antonio Kowatsch.

The film was based on an opera by Daniel Aube, titled La muette de Portici or, in some versions, Masaniello.

The opera was first performed in Paris in 1828.

According to Pavlova’s de facto husband, Victor Dandre, she didn’t want to appear in the film, but, as he explains in his book, Anna Pavlova in Art & Life, the offer came at the right time when the ballerina and her company had just completed two seasons in the United States and were worried about returning by sea to Europe during World War I, “fearing to take upon herself responsibility for the lives of others, as submarines were a very real danger”.

Dandre wrote that Pavlova felt “inexperienced and helpless” during the filming.

When she saw the footage she was unhappy with the way she looked – her makeup, her movements, which looked too “pronounced, too rapid and too jerky.

“Eventually other artists playing important parts, seeing her distress, and out of their affection for her, came to her aid. They taught her what was required for cinema work”.

It’s hard to imagine, though, that Pavlova was not getting enough advice from the film’s director, Lois Weber, who has been praised as the “most successful of all the women directors in the first quarter of the 20th century and, at the time, was placed alongside the likes of D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille”.

Dandre maintains that Pavlova wasn’t happy with the final result.

It was her last and only feature film.

As the first minutes of the video show Pavlova floating around in fake clouds you have to wait to around five minutes to see snippets of her performance as Fenella including the beautiful final moments in close up.

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Anna Pavlova in The Dumb Girl of Portici, 1916

Anna Pavlova in The Dumb Girl of Portici, 1916

Anna Pavlova in The Dumb Girl of Portici, 1916

Anna Pavlova in The Dumb Girl of Portici, 1916