The Ballerina And the Romanov Grand Dukes

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Mathilda-Marie Feliksovna Kschessinskaya born 31 August 1872
Ligovo, Petergof, Russian Empire.

Like all her Polish family, to whom she was known as Matylda Krzesińska, Mathilde performed at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre of Saint Petersburg with the renowned Imperial Ballet. Kschessinskaya made her début in a pas de deux from La Fille Mal Gardée during a graduation performance in 1890 attended by Emperor Alexander III and the rest of the Imperial family, including the future Nicholas II. At the post-performance supper, Tsar Alexander sought out the young Kschessinskaya and told her to “Be the glory and adornment of our ballet.”

Kschessinskaya had been involved with the future Nicholas II, from 1890, when he was a grand duke and she was just seventeen, having met him in the presence of his family after her graduation performance. The relationship continued for three years, until Nicholas married Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt—the future Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna—in 1894, shortly after the death of his father, Tsar Alexander.

Scandals and rumours around her name developed and persisted as she engaged in a sexual relationship with two Grand Dukes of the Romanov family: Sergei Mikhailovich and his cousin Andrei Vladimirovich. In 1902, she gave birth to a son, Vladimir (known as “Vova”; 30 June 1902 – 23 April 1974); he was later titled H.S.H. Prince Romanovsky-Krasinsky, but said that he never knew for sure who his father was.

After the Russian Revolution, Kschessinska moved first to the French Riviera and then to Paris, where she married, in 1921, one of the tsar’s cousins, Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich of Russia, the possible father of her son Vova. Although Kschessinska’s life in Paris was modest compared with the lavish life she had enjoyed in Russia, she lived on happily for over 50 years. In 1925 Mathilde converted from Catholicism to Russian Orthodoxy and took the name Maria. In 1929, she opened her own ballet school, where she taught such students as Dame Margot Fonteyn, Dame Alicia Markova, André Eglevsky, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Tamara Toumanova and Maurice Béjart. She performed for the last time at the age of 64, for a charity event with The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.

In 1960, she published an autobiography entitled Souvenirs de la Kschessinska (published in English as Dancing in St. Petersburg: The Memoirs of Kschessinska). In later years, she suffered financial difficulties but remained indomitable. She died in Paris, eight months short of her 100th birthday.

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