Biographies Russian Theatre Ballet Mathilde Kschessinska

Mathilde Kschessinska

Mathilde Kschessinska, prima ballerina assoluta of the Mariinsky Theatre, lover of Tsar Nicholas II, Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich, mother of Prince Vladimir Romanovsky-Krasinky
Born: 1872, Ligovo (St Petersburg Province)
Died: 1971, Paris

Mathilde Kschessinska was born on 31 August 1872 in the resort of Ligovo near St Petersburg. She came from a family of famous Polish ballet dancers who performed at the imperial theatres, including her father Feliks Adam Krzesiński (1823–1905) and her brother Jósef Krzesiński (1868–1942).

Kschessinska was the first ballerina in Russia to master thirty-two fouettés en tournant. With her technical skills and excellent connections inside the imperial family, she soon became the prima ballerina assoluta of the Mariinsky Theatre.

In 1890, Mathilde began a love affair with the future Tsar Nicholas II. Although Nicholas’s parents attempted to end the relationship by sending him on a long voyage round the world in November 1890, they continued to meet after he returned to St Petersburg in August 1891, right up until his engagement to Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt in April 1894.

After Nicholas was married in November 1894, Kschessinska took up with Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, who was responsible for the Russian artillery and the theatrical society. Russians joked that “thanks to the grand duke, we have a wonderful ballet and a terrible artillery.”

Mathilde’s next lover was Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich, despite a seven-year age gap. In 1902, she gave birth to a son called Vladimir, who was given the hereditary title of Prince Romanovsky-Krasinky. His original patronymic was Sergeyevich (“son of Sergei”) as Kschessinska was at that time the common-law wife of Grand Duke Sergei.

Mathilde married Grand Duke Andrei in France in 1921 and converted from Roman Catholicism to Russian Orthodoxy in 1925. At the same time, her son Vladimir’s patronymic was changed to Andreyevich (“son of Andrei”).

In 1929, Kschessinska opened her own ballet school, where she taught such students as Dame Margot Fonteyn and Dame Alicia Markova. She died at the age of ninety-nine in Paris on 6 December 1971.

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