Ellen Price, the early-20th-century Danish ballerina, has two claims to immortality: as the model for Edvard Eriksen’s famous Copenhagen statue of “The Little Mermaid,” and as one of the very first ballerinas whose dancing has been preserved on film.
The Guardian explains that Price belonged to one of Denmark’s great performing dynasties. She made her debut with the Royal Danish Ballet in 1895, and it was her performance in a 1909 Little Mermaid ballet that led to her modeling for Eriksen’s statue. And while it was only her face that he copied—she refused to pose nude—on stage she was acclaimed for the full-bodied and full-hearted expressiveness of her dancing, some of which was caught on film.
Many ballerinas of Price’s generation can disappoint on film, their physical technique looking so much smaller-scale, so much less athletic than today’s dancers, and their personalities somehow lost in the crackle of music and old celluloid. Yet Price’s performances, from more than 100 years earlier, stand up amazingly well. When she abandoned dancing for a career in the movies, in 1913, her fans must surely have gone into mourning. And ballet as an art form lost one of its seminal stars.
To view clips (from 1903 and 1906) of Price dancing the title role of August Bournonville’s 1836 version of La Sylphide visit http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/sep/05/ellen-price-first-ballet-film-star.