Friday, July 29, 2011

Road Trip: A Russian Ballerina's Grave in New York State

Olga Alexandrovna Spessivtseva (18 July 1895 – 16 September 1991) was a Russian ballerina whose brilliant stage career spanned from 1913 to 1939. She danced with the Maryinska company (aka the Kirov), the Ballet Russe, and the Paris Opera Ballet, among others.  There are a couple of s short youtube videos of her dancing Giselle.  Her interpretation of the mad scene is, sadly enough,  particularly fine.

Her life was difficult.  She spent almost 20 years in a mental health institution after WWII before being rescued by friends and colleagues. She spent the rest of her days at Tolstoy Village, a refuge for Russian and Soviet expatriates, in Rockland County. She is buried at a large Russian Orthodox cemetery in Nanuet, New York. A friend of mine, who was a ballerina in her youth, wanted to visit the grave and pay her respects, so off we went. It was not the easiest place to find, to say the least, but find it we did (it's on Smith Road in Nanuet, behind a Russian Orthodox church).

The cemetery is populated by these distinctive Russian Orthodox crosses, and each grave has a lantern. Many also have photos of the deceased, which I always find fascinating.

We knew Olga was buried by a willow tree so eventually that's where we headed. All the grave markers are in Cyrillic, which I can't read, but my friend reminded me that Olga's grave was marked by a photo of her in her most famous role, Giselle.

The gravestone was lovely.  The stone resting on the ground features a ghostly engraving of her Giselle pose.
My friend paid homage with a bouquet worthy of a prima ballerina, a piece of chocolate, and a pair of ballet shoes.
Olga had traveled a long way, from pre-revolutionary Russia to a shady spot in Rockland County, New York.  May she rest in peace.

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