Prima ballerina assoluta is a rank or title given to the most notable of female ballet dancers.
To be recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta is a very rare honour, reserved only for the most exceptional prime ballerine, usually those who have achieved international acclaim.
The title of primer danseur noble is the same rank given to the males in ballet who have achieved such success.
The term prima ballerina assoluta was originally inspired by the Italian ballet masters of the early Romantic ballet and was bestowed on a ballerina who was considered to be exceptionally talented and above the standard of other leading ballerinas.
The title is very rarely used today and recent uses have typically been symbolic, in recognition of a notable career and as a result, it is commonly viewed as an honour rather than an active rank.
The first recorded use of the title as an official 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.
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.
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. The title was later recognised by a vote of the Senate of Berlin.
Other dancers awarded the title include Anneli Alhanko from Sweden, Alicia Alonso from Cuba, Alessandra Ferri from Italy and Alicia Markova and Margot Fonteyn from England.
The only French dancer to hold the title is Yvette Chauviré who was described by Rudolph Nureyev as a "legend".
Nureyev also referred to the American ballerina Cynthia Gregory as America's prima ballerina assoluta, however this has never been formally acknowledged. Another not to hold the title is the great Anna Pavlova, probably the best known ballerina in history.
In South Africa, the only ballerina granted the title prima ballerina assoluta (1984) was Phyllis Spira (1943–2008).
Since Evdokimova is generally viewed as an international rather than an American dancer and the U.S. has no process for designation of a prima ballerina assoluta, the title for an American ballerina dancing for an American company is frequently considered to have belonged to Cynthia Gregory with American Ballet Theatre.
Sylvie Guillem as well as Darcey Bussell at The Royal Ballet, London, are considered by some to belong in the league of assolutas and both were, until their retirement from ballet, principal guests artists of The Royal Ballet, which is an honorary title roughly equivalent to the rank of prima ballerina.
Pierina Legnani, Italy and Imperial Russia 1893
Mathilde Kschessinska, Imperial Russia ca. 1906
Alicia Markova, United Kingdom 1933
Galina Ulanova, Soviet Union 1944
Alicia Alonso, Cuba 1959
Maya Plisetskaya, Soviet Union 1960
Eva Evdokimova, Bulgaria and United States 1976
Margot Fonteyn, United Kingdom 1979
Anneli Alhanko, Sweden 1984
Phyllis Spira, South Africa 1984
Nina Ananiashvili, Georgia 1988
Alessandra Ferri, Italy 1992
Juilliard Faculty Forum. Vol. XXV No. 1. September 2009.
Dance Magazine. December 2005.
"Eva Evdokimova". Prix Benois de la Danse. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
Teatro alla Scala. Ballet Company, citing appointment as prima ballerina assoluta of La Scala in 1992.
Yvette Chauviré – France's Prima Ballerina Assoluta. Amazon.com.
"Yvette Chauviré" (in French). etoiledelopera.e-monsite.com. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
YouTube. Nureyev on Yvette Chauvire.
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.