Russian ballerina Olga Spessivtseva
Russian ballerina Olga Spessivtseva was born on 6 July 1895 in Rostov-on-Don. Her father was a provincial theater actor. The family, except Olga, had four children. When Olga Spessivtseva was six years old, her father died of tuberculosis. Mother Ustinja Markovna, unable to feed everyone, was forced to give the children to orphan shelter. There Olga took first dance lessons. Later she was taken to the St. Petersburg Theatre School. In St. Petersburg Theater School Olga studied at ballet class of Kulichevskaya. After graduating from college in 1913, she was immediately taken to the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet, making her debut at the Mariinsky Theater in the ballet “Raymonda”.
Seeing an unconditional gift of a young ballerina, Fokin invited her to work with him in America. However, by this time, she met with the literary and dance critic modernist AL Volynsky, who soon became her civilian husband. Volynsky was a supporter of classical ballet and swept aside innovation and reform. Olga Spesivtseva under his influence had refused to cooperate with Fokine. But a year later she toured with “Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet” in the United States. She became a partner of Nijinsky in “La Sulfide” and “Phantom of the Roses.” The fame of this ballet duo crossed all boundaries.
Since 1918, she had been a leading dancer, and since 1920 the prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theater. She was the wife of the Soviet KGB officer Boris Kaplun, who helped her to emigrate with her mother in 1923 to France, where during the years 1924-1932 appeared in the Parisian “Grand Opera”. While working in Paris, she found time to tour. On tour in 1927 in Italy, she danced “The Firebird,” “Swan Lake”, “Aurora’s Wedding.” The same year, George Balanchine staged for her the ballet “The Cat” to the music of Henri Gore. Back at the Grand Opera House, Olga Spesivtseva took part in the ballet “The Tragedy of Salome” to music by F. Schmitt and H. Guero. Her French partners were Russian artists Vaslav Nijinsky and Serge Lifar, and hiding behind a pseudonym Anton Dolin Russian English artist Sidney Francis Patrick Healy Chippendall Cay (Healey-Kay). Many years later Lifar and Dolin wrote books of memoirs about her tragic fate. There, she married again to the Russian-French dancer and teacher Boris Knyazev.
Spessivtseva had experienced periods of depression as early as 1934, showing signs of mental illness in Sydney and needing hospitalization. In 1937 she left the stage due to a nervous breakdown. She suffered another nervous breakdown in 1943, for which she was hospitalized. In 1943, the signs of the disease appeared particularly hard, she’s a lost memory. Ballerina had to stop ballet career. 20 years of life (from 1943 to 1963) she spent in a mental hospital, the memory gradually recovered and outstanding ballerina recovered. But she never returned back to the stage. She had nowhere to go, nothing and no one in a foreign country. In 1963 with the help of her friends Anton Dolin, Felia Doubrovska and Dale Fern, she was discharged and settled in a guest house on the Tolstoy Farm, a Russian community run by the Tolstoy Foundation in New York’s Rockland County. Recovered, she lived there in peaceful retirement for nearly three decades, dying at the age of 96, on 16 September 1991. She was buried at the Russian cemetery in Novo-Diveevo.