Tamara Toumanova


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(b Tyumen, Siberia, 2 Mar. 1919; d Santa Monica, Calif., 29 May 1996)

Russian-US dancer. An exceptionally glamorous international ballerina, she was exotic from birth, born on a train near Shanghai as her parents were leaving Russia after the Revolution. Her earliest dance classes were in China but when she was 5 the family moved to Paris, where she studied with Preobrajenska; later she trained with Balanchine and Nijinska. She made her debut as a child prodigy in the 1929 Paris Opera production of L'Éventail de Jeanne, in which she danced a leading role. She was then one of the trio of ‘baby ballerinas’ (along with Baronova and Riabouchinska) who were hired by Balanchine to generate publicity for René Blum and de Basil's new Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1932. Only 13 at the time of her first performance, she went on to create roles in Balanchine's Cotillon, La Concurrence, and Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1932) and in Massine's Jeux d'enfants (all 1932). For much of her career she remained closely associated with Balanchine: she joined his Les Ballets 1933 and created roles in his Les Songes, Mozartiana, and Fastes. She then returned to de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, where she stayed until 1937, creating roles in Massine's Choreartium (1933), Union Pacific (1934), Jardin public (1935), and Symphonie fantastique (1936). In 1938 she danced with the new Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which had Massine as its artistic director, and during its London season danced her first Giselle. During the war years she was firstly with de Basil's Original Ballet Russe (1939–41), creating a ballerina role in Balanchine's Balustrade (1941); then with Denham's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1941–2) creating roles in Massine's Labyrinth (1941) and Saratoga (1941); and finally with Ballet Theatre (1944–5), where she created roles in Massine's Moonlight Sonata (1944) and Nijinska's Harvest Time (1945). A sought-after guest artist, she subsequently worked as a freelance ballerina with companies in Europe and America, creating roles in Balanchine's Le Palais de cristal (Paris Opera, 1947), Lifar's Phèdre (title role, Paris Opera, 1950), L'Inconnue (Paris, 1950), and La Pierre enchantée (Paris, 1950), Wallmann's La vita dell'uomo (La Scala, Milan, 1951), Dolin's Rêve (London Festival Ballet, 1952), Charrat's The Seven Deadly Sins (Milan, 1956), and Taras's Le Fanfare pour le Prince (Monte Carlo, 1956). She also gave concert performances, appearing mainly with Vladimir Oukhtomsky as her partner. She appeared in many Hollywood films, including Days of Glory (1944, produced by her husband, Casey Robinson), Tonight We Sing (1953), Deep in My Heart (1954), Invitation to the Dance (1956), Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966), and Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). She also appeared on stage, in the Broadway production of the musical Stars in Your Eyes (1939). A dancer of great beauty and virtuosity, she was admired for both her tragic and comedic interpretative skills.

Subjects: Dance.

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