'The Dying Swan' flew high
“Pavlova and her Ballet Russe surpassed all expectations,” said the Mail Tribune’s theater columnist, “particularly the expectations of those who knew the limitations of the Armory.”
Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, in the midst of her annual whistle-stop tour of America, had finally brought her company to Medford for a one-night performance.
Usually, as she passed through Southern Oregon between performances in Portland and San Francisco, Anna was sleeping in a railroad car. This year, however, local theater impresario George Hunt and his partners, Ed and George Andrews of the nationally famous Andrews Opera Company, had succeeded in “bringing one of the really big artistic attractions that play only the largest cities in the country, to Medford.”
Anna arrived at 3:30 in the afternoon, Jan. 12, 1924, following an evening performance in Portland. She was exactly one month away from her 43rd birthday, and the Tribune columnist took note of her condition in a somewhat offhanded way.
“Off the stage Pavlova looks like a decidedly frail and not particularly youthful woman. On the stage she is flaming youth. It is nothing short of miraculous. One wonders if such physical mastery, such consummate technique, can laugh at the years indefinitely.”
Medford’s Armory wasn’t the local partner’s first choice for a Pavlova performance, but the Page, Medford’s state of the art theatrical house, was already booked. It had been a fortunate problem to have for the boys, because a fire destroyed the Page Theater just two weeks before Anna’s arrival.
Modifications to the Armory included adding professional lighting and drop curtains, once used in the Page Theater as decorations. Anna’s personal electrician arrived two days early to supervise the local power company’s installation of high power wiring that could adequately support Anna’s newly acquired professional lighting system. “Entire scenes are instantly changed, apparently in their form, by the alterations of shades and color, in full view of the audience.”
Our theater columnist seemed a bit cynical, always able to include a little bad with every good.
“The Armory,” he or she said, “did not fully answer the demands of such a production, and some in the record-breaking audience could not see as well as they might, but all in all the performance in itself was nothing short of a musical and artistic triumph.”
The Pavlova troupe of over 100 people, including an orchestra, arrived in two Pullman cars, two baggage cars and a dining car. Theirs was the entire second section of the train.
The performance was more than just Anna’s dancing. She was accompanied by 50 Russian dancers, including 10 “almost the equal of the incomparable Pavlova herself.” Three of their collaborations caught the eye of a reporter. “She gave Bacchanale, a wild dance, vivid and intense. Also Amarilla, a Gypsy ballet.”
But it was the performance of her signature dance, “The Dying Swan,” that brought the crowd to its feet in raucous cheers and applause.
“Yes,” said our columnist, “it was a great evening. The only regret is we can’t have more of them.”
In the following weeks Hunt and the Andrews brothers brought the talent of Paderewski, “the world’s greatest living pianist,” and Harry Houdini, “The World’s Greatest Magician,” to the Armory.
After the evening performance most of the company slept aboard the train, while Anna and a few others found hotels. Early the next morning, Anna and the Pavlova troupe left for San Francisco.
Anna Pavlova was gone forever.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.