virginia zucchi

Matylda Krzesińska as a pupil of the Imperial Ballet School

At the age of eleven, after three years with [ballet master] Ivanov, Mathilde joined the transitional class of Ekaterina Vazem, a former ballerina of the Imperial Theaters who taught slightly more complicated steps. Although Vazem was technically strong Mathilde did not feel inspired as she had learnt all these movements long before. Her interest began to wane. The turning point came in 1885, when the Italian ballerina Virginia Zucchi was engaged by the Imperial Theaters after her successes in Berlin, London and Paris. Zucchi´s Italian virtuosity delighted audiences in St Petersburg, who flocked to see her perform, but it was her dramatic gifts and wonderfully expressive arms that inspired Mathilde. At all costs she resolved to emulate Zucchi.

Two years later at the age of fifteen Mathilde joined the class of the Swedish Christian Johansson, chief teacher at the Theater School, who had once partnered the legendary Marie Taglioni. He was described by one pupil as “sturdy, with a powerful chest, grey hair and thick eyebrows, light-blue eyes, a small hooked nose and a short cut moustache and beard”. In the old tradition he always watered the floor from a watering-can to settle the dust before lessons. He was methodical and regular, accompanied classes on his violin, took copious pinches of snuff and had “extraordinary versatility, ingenuity and variety”. With the example of Zucchi and the inventiveness of Johansson, Mathilde attained a mastery technique, a combination of the grace of the French dancers, the strength of the Italians, with Russian spirit. School reports show that her marks for ballet rose to an average of 11 (”very good”) for aptitude, application and progress in the 1888/9 school year. In 1888 she danced in the anniversary gala to celebrate her father´s fiftieth year as a performer in Warsaw and St Petersburg.

Coryne Hall: Imperial Dancer

Portrait of Virginia Zucchi (1884). Georges Clairin (French, 1843-1919).

Zucchi (Italian, 1849– 1930) was known as “the Divine Virginia” for her artistry, expressiveness, and virtuosity. The extraordinary emotional power of her performances gripped the imagination of the public and also other artists. Perhaps her most lasting legacy is the celebrated La Esmeralda pas de six, which Marius Petipa created for her to the music of Riccardo Drigo in 1886.