(b St Petersburg (some sources say Kharkov) Oct. 1885; d Vence, France, 20 Sept. 1960)
Russian dancer, actress, and director. Born into a wealthy family she was able to study music, dance, and acting with private teachers including Fokine who also choreographed for her the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ which she performed in her own production of Salomé (mus. Glazunov, 1908). Though this was privately performed it still created a scandal as Rubinstein removed most of her veils. In 1909 she joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes where, on the strength of her personal beauty rather than her dance technique, she created the title role in Fokine's Cléopâtre (1909) and Zobéide in his Scheherazade (1910). In 1911 she left Diaghilev to form her own company for which she commissioned several lavish productions including Le Martyre de Saint-Sébastien (mus. Debussy, text d'Annunzio, chor. Fokine, des. Bakst, 1911). After the First World War she appeared in various plays and danced in Staat's Istar at the Paris Opera, 1924. Between 1928 and 1929 she directed her own ballet company (with Nijinska as choreographer) in Paris. It was revived in 1931 and in 1934 and during its run she created leading roles in several specially commissioned works, such as Nijinska's Bolero (mus. Ravel) and Le Baiser de la fée (mus. Stravinsky), both choreographed in 1928, Massine's David (mus. Sauguet, 1928), Amphion (mus. Honegger, 1931), and Diane de Poitiers (libr. de Gramont, chor. Fokine, mus. Ibert, 1934). One of the few female ballet directors of her era, her commissioning record was impressive, including librettos by Valéry and Gide, and designs by Benois as well as original scores for most of her repertoire. She also possessed a fine stable of dancers including Vilzak and Schollar, Ashton, Lichine, and Krassovska. In 1935 she disbanded the company leaving several of her last commissions to the Paris Opera. Her final stage appearances were in the Claudel–Honegger play Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher, in Basle, 1938, and Paris, 1939. Though often dismissed as a dilettante on account of her considerable wealth, as a performer she possessed a genuinely extraordinary charisma and was one of the most powerful women in the theatre of her day.