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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dispute Over Ashes Puts Pavlova Back in Spotlight

AMSTERDAM -- Nearly 65 years after her lonely death in a Dutch hotel room, Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova is still leading fans a merry dance.


After a rags-to-riches life marred by greed, exile and deceit, there appears to be little peace in death for the acclaimed dancer who immortalized Saint-Saens's dying swan in 4,000 performances.


The controversy centers on her ashes, which have languished in a white marble urn for more than half a century in the north London suburb of Golders Green, near her British home.


Jean Thomassen, a Dutch painter and Pavlova fanatic, says he has discovered new evidence that Pavlova's dying wish was to "return to her beloved Russia, after the communists have fallen."


He portrays Pavlova as a tragic, exploited figure whose heart remained in Russia. But the absence of a will after her death in The Hague in 1931 has led to a protracted international battle for her ashes which has enmeshed the Russian and British Embassies.


In a new book drawing on what Thomassen says is previously unseen evidence from Dutch archives, the painter claims conclusive evidence that Pavlova's business manager and putative husband Victor Dandre was in fact never married to the ballerina. He depicts Dandre as a money-grabbing parasite who drove the ballerina to perform right to the end and who plundered her British bank accounts while she lay dying.


He recounts evidence from those who knew Pavlova personally of her wish to rest one day in Russia, and he points to her choice of cremation, which is strictly forbidden under the rules of the Russian Orthodox Church, as proof of the ballerina's desire to return to her place of birth.


But Harvey Thomas, a non-executive director of Golders Green crematorium, where Pavlova's ashes rest, said Thomassen's crusade was misguided.


"As far as we can see this 'last wish' of Anna's has never been documented," he said.


He says Pavlova's marital status is irrelevant, since Dandre was legally given power over her estate 65 years ago and at that time expressed the wish that the ashes should stay at Golders Green crematorium indefinitely.


His will authorized trustees to "consent to the removal of the ashes of my wife ... to Russia" if her honor and security could be assured -- a fact Thomassen points to in his argument.


Given that the board of directors at the London crematorium are the only remaining trustees with the power to grant such a request, Thomassen would appear to face an uphill struggle.


"We've already made a decision that this is something that could simply not be considered by the board," the crematorium's Thomas said. "The recent elections in Russia have brought her enemies [the communists] back to power and the security situation there is intolerable."