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Prima ballerina assoluta is a title awarded to the most notable of female ballet dancers. To be recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta is a rare honour, traditionally reserved only for the most exceptional dancers of their generation. Originally inspired by the Italian ballet masters of the early Romantic ballet, and literally meaning absolute first ballerina, the title was bestowed on a prima ballerina who was considered to be exceptionally talented, above the standard of other leading ballerinas. The title is very rarely used today and recent uses have typically been symbolic, either in recognition of a prestigious international career, or for exceptional service to a particular ballet company. There is no universal procedure for designating who may receive the title, which has led to dispute in the ballet community over who can legitimately claim it. It is usually a ballet company that bestows the title, however some dancers have had the title officially sanctioned by a government or head of state, sometimes for political rather than artistic reasons. Less common is for a dancer to become identified as a prima ballerina assoluta as a result of public and critical opinion.
The first recorded use of the title as a company rank was in 1894, when French ballet master Marius Petipa bestowed it on Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani. He considered her to be the supreme leading ballerina in all of Europe.
The second ballerina to be given the title was Legnani's contemporary Mathilde Kschessinska. Petipa, however, did not agree that she should hold such a title; although an extraordinary ballerina, he felt that she obtained the title primarily via her connections with the Imperial Russian court[who?].
The only Soviet ballerinas to hold the title were Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya and Natalia Makarova, who defected to the West in 1970. The Swiss-born American Eva Evdokimova became recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta following guest appearances with the Kirov Ballet in the 1970s, when she was named as such by the company ballet mistress, Natalia Dudinskaya. The title was later recognised by a vote of the Senate of Berlin.
Though the U.S. has no process for designation of the title, Nureyev referred to the American ballerina Cynthia Gregory of the American Ballet Theatre as the nation's prima ballerina assoluta; however this has never been formally acknowledged. Another not to hold the title is the great Anna Pavlova, probably the best known ballerina in history.
Sylvie Guillem as well as Darcey Bussell at The Royal Ballet, London, are considered by some to belong in the league of assolute and both were, until their retirement from ballet, principal guests artists of The Royal Ballet, which is an honorary title roughly equivalent to the rank of prima ballerina.
|1||Pierina Legnani||Italy||Appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Mariinsky Ballet at the request of Marius Petipa|
|2||Mathilde Kschessinska||Russia||Appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Mariinsky Ballet, allegedly due to her connections with the Imperial Russian Court. Petipa is known to have attempted to block her promotion.|
|3||Alicia Markova||United Kingdom||No record of the title being officially sanctioned; however, she is credited as a Prima Ballerina Assoluta in numerous sources. She is also credited as such by English National Ballet, of which she was co-founder and by the Royal Ballet of London, of which she was the first Prima Ballerina.|
|4||Galina Ulanova||Soviet Union||The first dancer to be appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta by the Soviet Government, following her transfer to the Bolshoi Ballet|
|6||Alicia Alonso||Cuba||No record of the title being officially sanctioned, however she is credited as a Prima Ballerina Assoluta in numerous sources, including the Cuban National Ballet, of which she is the founder.|
|7||Maya Plisetskaya||Soviet Union||Appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Bolshoi Ballet by the Soviet Government, as successor to Galina Ulanova|
|8||Eva Evdokimova||Bulgaria||Was named Prima Ballerina Assoluta by the ballet mistress of the Kirov Ballet, following guest appearances with the company in the 1970s. The title was later sanctioned by the Senate of Berlin.|
|9||Margot Fonteyn||United Kingdom||Appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Royal Ballet in 1979, as a gift for her 60th birthday. The title was also sanctioned by Queen Elizabeth II as patron of the company.|
|11||Phyllis Spira||South Africa||The title was bestowed upon her by the president of South Africa in 1984.|
|13||Natalia Makarova||Soviet Union||The title of Prima Ballerina Assoluta was given to her by Janet Sassoon, who had the chance to work with her at the American Ballet Theatre.|
- Rübsam, Henning "Eva, Pina, Merce, and Michael". Juilliard Faculty Forum. Vol. XXV No. 1. September 2009. (archived link, 19 January 2012)
- Staff (undated). "Eva Evdokimova". Prix Benois de la Danse. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
- "Ballet Company". Teatro alla Scala. Ballet Company, citing appointment as prima ballerina assoluta of La Scala in 1992. (archived link, 10 July 2010)
- Yvette Chauviré – France's Prima Ballerina Assoluta. Amazon.com.
- Staff (undated). "Yvette Chauviré" (in French). etoiledelopera.e-monsite.com. Retrieved 2 September 2013. (archived link, 13 November 2013)
- Press release (28 September 2010). "Nevada Ballet Theatre Names Cynthia Gregory Artistic Advisor, Establishes the Cynthia Gregory Center for Coaching". Nevada Ballet Theatre (via Euroinvestor). Retrieved 2 September 2013.