Anna Volkova: a life well lived, from Moscow to a sheep farm in New South Wales

There are transitions and then there are major life changes.

Anna Volkova, who died in Sydney last weekend aged 96, took the latter path when she married the Australian farmer, Jim Barnes, abandoning her life as a dancer to retreat to a sheep and cattle farm on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.

As Mrs Barnes, the Russian dancer became the matriarch of Suffolk Vale, a property northeast of Sydney, that employed five jackeroos as well as household staff, and where she raised her two sons over a period of 16 years.

The dance world is mourning the death of Volkova whose life before marriage was a series of continuous transitions from her birthplace in Moscow, in 1917, to Paris, where she began her training as a dancer, then to London where she first danced with Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes, on two tours with that company to Australia, another to South America, and then in Cuba, and finally to Rio de Janeiro where she danced at the Copacobana casino.

Dancing for de Basil’s company from 1933, Volkova made her name dancing the Waltz in Les Sylphides, as the Golden Cockerel in Le Coq d’or, Papillon in Le Carnaval and Frivolity in Les Presages.

In April 1946, she married Major Jim Barnes in Sydney. They had met on board a ship when she was returning to Europe after the Ballets Russes tour to Australia in 1938.

She later said: “I gave up ballet completely. I lived in the country. We used to come to Sydney, but ballet was put aside while I was rearing the two children…Lots of sheep and horses and things. Nothing to do with toe shoes”.

A couple of years ago I gave Anna a print of the photograph (left) taken by Spencer Shier in 1938. We last met at an opening night of an Australian Ballet season in Sydney. She told me she tried to attend every dress rehearsal and opening night of the company during its Sydney seasons.

She inspired so many of us during her long life. I only wish I had seen her dance.

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