Serge Oukrainsky, choreographer and protégé of Anna Pavlova

Serge Oukrainsky was born Leonide Orlay de Carva on December 2, 1885, in Odessa, Russia. Oukrainsky was educated in Paris and began his stage career in 1911 as a mime at the Theatre de Chatelet’s French Musical Festival. He arrived in the United States two years later with Anna Pavlova’s company, and remained with that troupe as a soloist and Pavlova’s partner until 1915, subsequent to her historic break with Michael Mordkin. In 1940, Oukrainsky authored “My Two Years with Anna Pavlova,” a memoir of the dancer’s latter career.

Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet trunk (1920s) Serge Oukrainsky Collection, Museum of Performance (click image to enlarge)

Andreas Pavley, Anna Ludmila, and Serge Oukrainsky, c. 1920. Source: Newberry Library (Barzel Collection)

He moved to Chicago, where he was the leading dancer, and director of the Chicago Opera Ballet until 1927. At the same time, with Andreas Pavley, he established the Pavley-Oukrainsky School of Ballet, which affiliated with the opera during Mary Garden’s reign as prima diva.

The Pavley-Oukrainsky Ballet toured extensively in the United States, Mexico, Cuba and South America. In July 1931, Pavley died mysteriously when he plunged from the sixteenth floor of Chicago’s McCormick Hotel. Reportedly he had financial reverses and was unable to meet a blackmailer’s extortion demand for $100. Police claimed it was a suicide, but Oukrainsky and other friends insisted it was an accident. After Pavley’s death, he formed the Serge Oukrainsky Ballet.

In 1927, Oukrainsky moved to California where, until 1931, he served as the ballet master of the San Francisco and Los Angeles operas. He was the choreographer for the Hollywood Bowl and several films; in 1934, he taught ballet in Hollywood. He had been in semiretirement for several years when Oukrainsky died after a long illness on November 1, 1972 at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. He was interred in the mid-southern part of Chandler Gardens (Section 12) at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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7 Responses to “Serge Oukrainsky, choreographer and protégé of Anna Pavlova”

  1. Jim Lacy says:

    Allan, good to see that yet another nearly-forgotten personality isn’t overlooked by you. And one with a Pavlova connection, to boot. He also designed some of her dance costumes. Wonder what the symbol on his marker stands for?

  2. Melissa says:

    What an amazing discovery….well, certainly to this Pavlova fan. I have over 50 books regarding her, Nijinsky, Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes, etc. but Oukrainsky’s book has remained illusive. However, thanks to you, *he* is not! Guess who I’ll be visiting the next time I’m at H4E. Wonderful article, Allan…..I am so bowing in your general direction. Serge Oukrainsky. I simply cannot believe it.


  3. Harry Martin says:

    Yet another interesting find!

  4. Melissa says:

    @Jim: This is an early Grecian cruciform symbol; X and P are the two beginning letters for Christ in Greek called Chi and Rho. The two tiny symbols represent the Alpha and the Omega (the beginning and the end aka “the first and the last”) and are usually included with the Chi Rho.

    PS I still *so* owe you a giant epistle or two which I hope to finish before the Second Coming!

  5. Jim Lacy says:

    Wow, Melissa. Thanks! (something told me to check back here). I bow to your ancient-symbol knowledge.

    Symbolically-challenged Jim

  6. So nice you remember these amazing individuals…

  7. Marcia James Wilheim says:

    Hard to comprehend here in 2021, but my mother, Gladys Ellen Reiner (James), was a member of the Pavley & Oukrainsky Ballet Company’s Corp de ballet and toured with them and the Chicago Opera Company (predecessor to the Chicago Lyric Opera) for several years in the 1920s. How I wish I knew more of those years she experienced!

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