The Vera Volkova Collection

Scope and Content

This collection comprises original documentary and photographic material relating to Vera Volkova's personal life, her early career, and her work as a ballet teacher and artistic adviser in London (c. 1941-50); in Copenhagen, at the Royal Danish Ballet (1951-75); also as a guest teacher in a number of schools and ballet companies around the world (1951-75). Photographic prints depict Volkova at various stages of her life, and teaching in a number of countries including the U.S.S.R, Hungary, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, France, South Africa, Canada, The United States, and England. There are photographs of Volkova’s most celebrated pupils, some inscribed to her personally.

The Collection includes exhibition research and material compiled by her student and later associate, Audrey Harman between c. 1984-86: this comprises scrapbooks, biographical notes on Volkova’s life, and Harman’s extensive notes on Volkova’s classroom exercises, teaching, and lesson plans (1944-1955). These notebooks also contain a few notes on classes taught by Ninette de Valois, Ailne Phillips, Nadine Nicolaeva-Legat, David Lichine, Igor Schwezov [Schwezoff], Tamara Karsavina and Lubov Tchernicheva (Refer also to the Audrey Harman Collection RBS/AH). There is some correspondence between Hugh Finch Williams and Merle Park regarding Williams’ donation of the Vera Volkova Collection to The Royal Ballet School (1984); also between Audrey Harman and David Arkell regarding Volkova’s teaching (1986 and 1995). Also Arkell’s audio-recorded interview with Volkova, marked: St Petersburg-Kharkov return [1967].

Includes an annotated manuscript, in two parts, of Hugh Finch Williams', Vera Volkova: a Biography. It also includes a letter from Finch Williams to Harman thanking her for her comments on his manuscript (20 October 1978).

Material compiled by Finch Williams includes a series of photocopied letters between Volkova and her mother and sister (the original documents are thought to have been destroyed). Also, original letters written by Volkova to Finch Willams (1950-72), and correspondence between Volkova and a number of recipients, including Lucia Chase and the Ballet Theatre Foundation, Peggy [van Praagh], Leonide Massine, Audrey Harman, Natalia Roslavleva and others.

There are a large number of notebooks and loose-leaf sheets, handwritten by Volkova (1949-74). These contain her personal notes on classwork exercises, and are written in a mixture of English, French, Russian and Danish.

The collection also contains newscuttings about The Royal Danish Ballet (predominantly from the 1960s); various notes including 'The Danish Ballet and Its Background'; official letters from the Registration for Employment Order (1941) and the London Metropolian Borough of Wandworth, regarding Civil Defence Duties (1942); a reference letter from the Legat School of Dancing (undated); also extracts from the private memoirs of Peggy Ingrams (née Ayers), containing references to Volkova, during the period 1945 to c. 1955.

Handwritten rehearsal notes on sections of ballet repertoire, including Paquita (undated) and Flames of Paris (1964). A series of excerpts from music scores for a number of ballets and ballet variations, some with annotations in an unidentified hand. These include the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote by Minkus; Casse-Noisette by P. Tchaikovsky (inscribed ‘Goncharov’, published by P. Jurgenson , Moscow); Grande valse brillante and other music by F. Chopin; Raymonda by A. Glazunov; the pas de deux from La Esmeralda; Le Lac des cygnes and The Sleeping Princess by P. Tchaikovsky; Giselle by A. Adam; Arabesque Valsante by M. Levitzki; Coppélia by L. Delibes; also Le Corsaire with additional music by P. Tchaikovsky (Alexander Gorsky revival, the Bolshoi Ballet, 1912).

Administrative / Biographical History

Vera Volkova (1905-1975) [d.o.b. sometimes given as 1904] was a Russian ballet dancer and teacher who became highly influential as the leading authority on the Vaganova system of training outside Russia. She began her studies relatively late, with Maria Ramonova, Nicolas Legat and Agrippina Vaganova at the Akim Volynsky School of Russian Ballet [Russian Choreographic School], Petrograd/Leningrad (1920-25). Details of her early career in Russia remain obscure, but from 1925 she embarked on several tours with various ensembles to China, Japan and South East Asia, before deciding to remain in Shanghai in 1929. Here, she performed in a trio with Serge Toropov and Georgi Goncharov, and she also began to teach. With the support of her companion, the British architect Hugh Finch Williams, she opened a ballet school in Hong Kong in 1932, moving to the UK in 1936, where she and Finch Williams married the following year.

Volkova famously taught at her own studio in West Street, Central London, which became a magnet for many great dancers, including Margot Fonteyn. Volkova joined the teaching staff of The Sadler’s Wells Ballet (1943-50), where her influence on the Company’s seminal production of The Sleeping Beauty (1946) and on Ashton’s neo-Classical masterwork, Symphonic Variations (1946), was significant. In 1950 Volkova become the Director of Ballet at La Scala, Milan; just a year later she was invited to join the artistic staff of The Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, where she remained for twenty eight years, until her death on 5 May 1975. Her pupils in Denmark included Erik Bruhn, Peter Martins and later, Rudolf Nureyev. She was made a Knight of Dannebrog (1956). Bibl. Alexander Meinertz, Vera Volkova – a biography, Dance Books (London, 2007)

Audrey Harman (1926-2005) was a British dancer, teacher and archivist. She was a student of the Sadler's Wells School from 1942, and also studied with Vera Volkova. She joined the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet as a founder-member in 1946, before becoming a Soloist with Mona Inglesby’s International Ballet in 1948. She was a member of London Festival Ballet from 1949 to 1952, and went on to teach ballet at Elmhurst School and The Royal Ballet School (1956-63). Harman later taught at the Essen Folkwang School (1963-4), where Pina Bausch was among her students. She then returned to London and The Royal Ballet School. Here, she taught the Junior Associate students, and was assistant to Leonide Massine, who taught his Theory of Composition Course at the Upper School (1968-76). Harman became the School's Archivist (1979-99), remaining Consultant Archivist until her death in 2005. She was the recipient of a Churchill Foundation Scholarship and undertook extensive research in the archives of the Royal Danish Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet. She wrote an unpublished book on Volkova’s teaching, which she completed in 2005. The manuscript, along with her Fellowship research material, is kept in the Royal Ballet School Collections (Audrey Harman Collection).

Access Information

This collection is open for consultation and can be viewed by appointment only. Please contact White Lodge Museum via our website at The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge Museum

Acquisition Information

Multiple provenance: source material a gift of Hugh Finch Williams, c. 1984; Alexander Meinertz, 4 April 2011, and exhibition material compiled by Audrey Harman, c. 1984-6.

Custodial History

The majority of the collection was donated by Hugh Finch Williams (c. 1984); further material was given by Alexander Meinertz (4 April 2011).

Part of the collection was compiled by Audrey Harman (c. 1984-6), prior to the exhibition Vera Volkova 1904-75: A Tribute curated by Harman and displayed in the Royal Opera House Foyer during The Royal Ballet School Performance (July 1986).