Born in Moscow, Pavelnko was refused admittance to the Bolshoi Ballet School in her home town but, like her sister Nadia before her, she was able to study at the Vaganova Academy in Saint Petersburg. There she followed the full eight-year course, first with Olga Iskanderova and then with Elena Evteyeva.
After graduating in 1996, Pavlenko joined the Mariinsky where she became a soloist in 1998 and a principal dancer in 2004.
In June 2000, Pavlenko hit the headlines when at short notice she danced the leading role in George Balanchine's Jewels (ballet) at London's Covent Garden. Her performance was all the more remarkable as she had less than a day to rehearse the part. Later that year, she also played the lead in Diamonds and Emeralds, becoming one of the few ballerinas to master all three roles.
In 2001, notable performances included Giselle and the Siren in Balanchine's The Prodigal Son. The following year she received the Golden Mask award in Moscow for performing the Snow Queen in Kirill Simonov's The Nutcracker. In 2003, as a guest with The Royal Ballet, she partnered Roberto Bolle as Nikiya in Natalia Makarova's La Bayadère. In 2006, she danced the title role in the Maki Asami production of Raymonda in Tokyo.
Daria Pavlenko has received several awards including:
- 2000: Soul of Dance awarded by Ballet Magazine
- 2001: Golden Mask
- 2006: Leonid Massine Positano Dance Prize
- 2010: Honoured Artist of Russia
- Marc Haegeman (December 2001). "An interview with Daria Pavlenko, principal dancer of the Mariinsky Ballet". For ballet lovers only, reproduced from Dance International. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
- "Daria Pavlenko". The Ballerina Gallery. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
- Marc Haegeman (2008). "Artistes: Daria Pavlenko". International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
- "Daria Pavlenko". Gerhard Rieder Promotions. Archived from the original on 29 April 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2014.