chapter  3
23 Pages


In 1915, an obituary notice in the Woman's Herald (Zhenskii vestnik) proclaimed: "Mariia Gavrilovna Savina demonstrated what a Russian woman can be and what she can accomplish when her path is freely chosen."! Mariia Savina, the most powerful actress of the Silver Age, may also have been the most powerful individual, male or female, in Russian theatre between the late 1870s and 1900, the point when private theatres began to pose a genuine threat to the Imperials. Savina, whose reign on the Imperial Aleksandrinskii stage in St. Petersburg lasted for more than four decades, is, unfortunately, little known in the West. Her relative obscurity is not difficult to explain. In certain respects, Savina was the most audacious actress of the era. But because she remained within the Imperial system and preferred to exploit popular trends rather than encourage aesthetic innovation, she was often identified with the forces of reaction. Western histories of Silver Age theatre tend to focus almost exclusively on the progressive avant-garde. For that reason, actresses associated with the stolid, often reactionary traditions of the Imperial theatres are neglected in favor of those few, like Vera Kommissarzhevskaia, who abandoned the Imperial system in order to explore theatrical modernism independently.