Russia denies entry for ashes of famed ballerina

— Like so many great Russian artists, Anna Pavlova � the 20th century's most celebrated ballerina � died in exile.

Now, plans to return her ashes to her homeland have been called off in circumstances that read like a Russian novel, full of tangled family ties, intrigue and jealousies, claims and counterclaims.

Thursday � five days before the ashes were to have been flown to Moscow � the crematorium where they had lain for 70 years said Russian authorities had denied permission to bring in the sealed urns of Pavlova and her husband, Victor Dandre.

Harvey Thomas, a spokesman for the London Cremation Co., said a terse call Wednesday night from the Russian Embassy alluded to family objections but provided no details.

The embassy issued a statement Thursday saying "strong doubts remain in all strata of Russian society about the legal and moral aspects of this project." It added that a niece of Pavlova had demanded that the remains be "left in peace."

The crematorium countered by producing a 1999 letter from the niece, Valentina Trifonova, pleading that the ashes "find their place of rest in the ballerina's homeland, which she loved."

Press reports in Britain had predicted the return might be scuttled by rivalry between Moscow, where the ashes were to have been interred, and Pavlova's native city of St. Petersburg, the imperial capital where she was trained at the prestigious Mariinsky ballet school.

"I'm not sure they should touch her remains at all � we're talking about art, and art knows no borders," said Altynai Asylmuratova, artistic director of the school, now called the Vaganova Ballet Academy. "But if they are going to bring them back ... St. Petersburg would make more sense, because this is where she began."

At the academy, Pavlova's talent was so compelling that she became a principal dancer immediately upon graduation. She captivated audiences in Russia � and later in Europe and the United States � with fluid style, poetic grace and the signature solo piece, "The Swan," choreographed especially for her.

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