Olga Spessivtzeva, orphaned while still young, studied dance at Russia’s Imperial Ballet school. She quickly rose to become one of the most legendary artists of all time, dancing leading roles with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and the Paris Opera Ballet between 1916 and 1934.
Olga was perhaps best known in the role of Giselle, the peasant girl who, despite her frailty is dangerously consumed by the dance. When betrayed by her lover she is driven into madness and dies, destined to become a willi – the taunted spirits of unmarried maidens – forever. Olga’s portrayal of Giselle’s haunting mad scene was even then, terrifyingly similar to her life off the stage. In 1932 her performances became a landmark in the history of Giselle. Her interpretation was to remain the base on which all subsequent productions were built.
The role of Giselle haunted her – she was frightened and nervous that the audience might laugh at her during the long scenes of madness. It became, at times, almost impossible to reason with her. On several occasions she visited the patients in a mental home to observe and watch them, their movements, their eyes, their gestures…Little did she know that years later she would live in a clouded dream existence, shut away from the world.
Religiously fanatical about her work for one hour before each performance she would perform her gruelling barre exercises The strain of the exercise that, indeed, all dancers do, but not perhaps with such almost hysterical delight, would prove too much for her frail body…
In 1934 Olga left Europe to tour Australia. After a series of extraordinarily successful seasons in Brisbane and Sydney, she was found wandering along a deserted highway, miles from the city of Sydney. This was the first of series of mental breakdowns she suffered and led to the beginning of many desolate years.