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Pierina Legnani – the first ballerina ever to be titled prima ballerina assoluta – photographed during her tour of London, 1891. Written on the photo is Signorina Pierina Legnani, Première danseuse assoluta. 15-9-91 – London.

Prima ballerina assoluta is a title awarded to the most notable of female ballet dancers. To be recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta is a rare honour, traditionally reserved only for the most exceptional dancers of their generation. Originally inspired by the Italian ballet masters of the early Romantic ballet, and literally meaning absolute first ballerina, the title was bestowed on a prima ballerina who was considered to be exceptionally talented, above the standard of other leading ballerinas. The title is very rarely used today and recent uses have typically been symbolic, either in recognition of a prestigious international career, or for exceptional service to a particular ballet company. There is no universal procedure for designating who may receive the title, which has led to dispute in the ballet community over who can legitimately claim it. It is usually a ballet company that bestows the title, however some dancers have had the title officially sanctioned by a government or head of state, sometimes for political rather than artistic reasons. Less common is for a dancer to become identified as a prima ballerina assoluta as a result of public and critical opinion.


The first recorded use of the title as a company rank was in 1894, when French ballet master Marius Petipa bestowed it on Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani. He considered her to be the supreme leading ballerina in all of Europe.[citation needed]

The second ballerina to be given the title was Legnani's contemporary Mathilde Kschessinska. Petipa, however, did not agree that she should hold such a title; although an extraordinary ballerina, he felt that she obtained the title primarily via her connections with the Imperial Russian court[who?].

Legnani's heir in the Italian ballet tradition, Attilia Radice trained with Enrico Cecchetti at La Scala in Milan where she became a leading dancer and was later appointed prima ballerina assoluta at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma.[1]

The only Soviet ballerinas to hold the title were Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya.

The Swiss-born American Eva Evdokimova became recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta following guest appearances with the Kirov Ballet in the 1970s, when she was named as such by the company ballet mistress, Natalia Dudinskaya.[2] The title was later recognised by a vote of the Senate of Berlin.[3]

Other dancers awarded the title include Anneli Alhanko from Sweden, Alicia Alonso from Cuba, Alessandra Ferri from Italy,[4] and Alicia Markova and Margot Fonteyn from England.[citation needed]

The only French dancer to hold the title is Yvette Chauviré.[5][6]

Though the U.S. has no process for designation of the title, Rudolf Nureyev referred to the American ballerina Cynthia Gregory of the American Ballet Theatre as the nation's prima ballerina assoluta; however this has never been formally acknowledged.[7] Another not to hold the title is Anna Pavlova, one of the best known ballerinas in history. [citation needed]

In South Africa, the only ballerina granted the title prima ballerina assoluta (1984) was Phyllis Spira (1943–2008).[8]


No Name Nationality Notes
1 Pierina Legnani Italian Appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Mariinsky Ballet at the request of Marius Petipa.[citation needed]
2 Matylda Krzesińska Polish / Russian Appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Mariinsky Ballet, allegedly due to her connections with the Imperial Russian Court. Petipa is known to have attempted to block her promotion.[citation needed]
3 Alicia Markova British No record of the title being officially sanctioned; however, she is credited as a Prima Ballerina Assoluta in numerous sources. She is also credited as such by English National Ballet, of which she was co-founder and by the Royal Ballet of London, of which she was the first Prima Ballerina.[citation needed]
4 Attilia Radice Italian Trained at La Scala under Enrico Cecchetti, she was appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta at Rome Opera House in 1935. Retired in 1957, she held the position of Director of the ballet school at Rome Opera House until 1975.[citation needed]
5 Galina Ulanova Russian The first dancer to be appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta by the Soviet Government, following her transfer to the Bolshoi Ballet.[citation needed]
6 Alicia Alonso Cuban No record of the title being officially sanctioned, however she is credited as a Prima Ballerina Assoluta in numerous sources, including the Cuban National Ballet, of which she is the founder.[citation needed]
7 Maya Plisetskaya Russian Appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Bolshoi Ballet by the Soviet Government, as successor to Galina Ulanova.[citation needed]
8 Eva Evdokimova American Was named Prima Ballerina Assoluta by the ballet mistress of the Kirov Ballet, following guest appearances with the company in the 1970s. The title was later sanctioned by the Senate of Berlin.[citation needed]
9 Margot Fonteyn British Appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Royal Ballet in 1979, as a gift for her 60th birthday. The title was also sanctioned by Queen Elizabeth II as patron of the company.[citation needed]
10 Yvette Chauviré French 20th century.[5]
11 Anneli Alhanko Swedish The title bestowed on her in 1984 by the Soviet Ministry of Culture after her guest appearance at the Bolshoi Ballet.[9] In 1990, she was appointed Dancer of the Court (hovdansare) by the King of Sweden.[10]
12 Phyllis Spira South African The title was bestowed upon her by the president of South Africa in 1984.[citation needed]
13 Alessandra Ferri Italian 1992[11]

See also


  1. ^ Oxford Reference, Attilia Radice (1914-1980).
  2. ^ Rübsam, Henning "Eva, Pina, Merce, and Michael". Juilliard Faculty Forum. Vol. XXV No. 1. September 2009. (archived link, 19 January 2012)
  3. ^ Staff (undated). "Eva Evdokimova" Archived 4 June 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Prix Benois de la Danse. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  4. ^ "Ballet Company". Teatro alla Scala. Ballet Company, citing appointment as prima ballerina assoluta of La Scala in 1992. (archived link, 10 July 2010)
  5. ^ a b Yvette Chauviré – France's Prima Ballerina Assoluta.
  6. ^ Staff (undated). "Yvette Chauviré" (in French). Retrieved 2 September 2013. (archived link, 13 November 2013)
  7. ^ Press release (28 September 2010). "Nevada Ballet Theatre Names Cynthia Gregory Artistic Advisor, Establishes the Cynthia Gregory Center for Coaching". Nevada Ballet Theatre (via Euroinvestor). Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  8. ^ Amanda Botha, Phyllis Spira: A Tribute (Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1988), p. 1.
  9. ^ "Anneli Alhanko: Dansen är värd all smärta". 4 February 2013.
  10. ^ "Anneli Alhanko - Prima Ballerina Assoluta, Dame". Retrieved 30 June 2023.
  11. ^ "The Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala". Retrieved 10 January 2024.