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Lila Nikolska

It has often been claimed that the Slavs did not influence on Western European Culture.   However, a counter argument can be presented.

There is currently concern in France regarding the façade of a great landmark, the Folies Bergere Theatre.  What is specifically of concern is the carved wall above the entrance way, carved by the French sculptor Pico [Picaud] in 1929, representing the dancer Lila Nikolska, also known La Nicolska, the stage names of Elizaveta Nikolska or Jelizaveta Nikolska.

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Elizaveta Nikolska was an important dancer from the 1920-1930s, as is evidenced by the fact that she has been immortalized on the Folies Bergere wall.  Her popularity as a dancer was furtheremphasized by the fact that smaller versions, cast in bronze and gold were sold to patrons.  A plaque was recently sold at close to $5000 at auction in France.

Yet, Lila Nikolska is barely known today, even though she toured extensively throughout Europe performing as a dancer and a choreographer.  She has been called a Russian, Ukrainian, Czech and Hungarian.  However, most importantly is that she is that she was a star that influenced many.

Born in 1904 in Vladivostok, Russia, Nikolska studied dance at the L. Tittiriova Dance Gymnasia in Odessa, Ukraine.  1919-1921 sees her being a soloist with the B. Romanov Ballet Company as well as being a photographic model in France. By 1921, she is in Prague with the Prague National Ballet, performing as a soloist in Swan Lake in 1922.

Between 1923-27, she is working as a choreographer with the Prague Ballet.  At the same time she is a choreographer with the Folies Bergere in Paris, as well as a performer.  Her performance in France can be seen in the 1927 film La Revue des Revues.  She seems to have done other film work in France during this period, but it is difficult to confirm.  However, she did do the choreography for a number of films made in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s.

In 1929, Lila Nikolska performed Ancient Greek dances in front of the Parthenon in Athens, an event captured by the photographer Nelly.

Between 1930-32, she is working at the Cairo King’s Opera.  In 1932, she returned to the Prague Ballet, working as Prima Ballerina, Ballet Mistress, and finally Ballet Chief 1940-45.   Nikolska also ran dance schools, including one in Lviv, Ukraine, promoting dance using not just classical techniques but introducing gymnastics, acrobatics, Spanish and Oriental influences.

In 1945, following the Soviet Occupation of Czechoslovakia, Elizaveta Nikolska, along with her mother, left Prague to travel to Caracas, Venezuela to work with the ballet there.  Unfortunately, Lila Nikolska died suddenly in 1955 and has since been forgotten.  However, her influence during the 1920-30s was substantial.   .

 

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Jaroslaw Zurowsky

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