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Spotlight: Tamara Toumanova

This week's Spotlight Saturday continues the Baby Ballerina feature with Tamara Toumanova.

Tamara Toumanova was born in Tyumen, Siberia on March 2 1919. Her mother was Princess Yevgenia Dmitrievna Toumanova, a half-Armenian (on her father, Prince Dmitri Toumanov's side). She was born while her mother was fleeing Georgia in search of her husband; they had become separated after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Tamara was almost two years old before the family reunited, fleeing to Paris via Vladivostok.

In 'La Sylphide'

In Paris, Tamara took piano lessons and was taught dance by former prima ballerina of the Imperial Ballet, Olga Preobrajenska. She later described Preobrajenska as an 'immortal friend'. At only 6 years old, Tamara was chosen by Anna Pavlova to appear in one of the ballerina's gala concerts in 1925, in which she performed a polka choreographed by Preobrajenska. At 10, she made her debut at the Paris Opera Ballet in L'Eventail de Jeanne.

Tamara Toumanova and Olga Preobrajenska

A few years later, fellow Russian refugee and now ballet master for the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, George Balanchine, came to Mme. Preobrajenska's class. He was looking for several exceptionally talented young ballerinas. He chose Tamara, then aged 12, along with her fellow dancers Irina Baronova and Tatiana Riabouchinska. Dubbed the 'baby ballerinas', the three girls were an immediate success.

Above and below: The Baby Ballerinas, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Tamara Toumanova, and Irina Baronova

Tamara came to be called 'The Black Pearl of the Russian Ballet', reflecting her immense talent and dark colouring, with black hair, dark brown eyes, and almond skin. She was considered the most glamorous of the three girls, who, because they were so young, travelled with their mothers as companions. Tamara's mother acted not only as companion but as dresser, agent, and manager as well.

In 'Swan Lake' with Serge Lifar

Famed choreographers Leonide Massine and George Balanchine created several roles for her, including in Balanchine's Cotillon, Concurrence, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and Le Palais de Cristal (later renamed Symphony in C), which she premiered in 1947 at the Paris Opera Ballet, and in Massine's Jeaux d'Enfants. She appeared in the Broadway musical Stars in Your Eyes, and danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo until the company split; Toumanova then followed Massine to Monte Carlo, where she became his most treasured ballerinas, and also danced with Balanchine's Ballet 1993, American Ballet Theatre, London Festival Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet.

In her dressing room

In 1944, Tamara married Casey Robinson, who had been the producer and scriptwriter of her first film, Days of Glory. The marriage did not last, and the couple divorced in 1955. Tamara appeared in six Hollywood films. In Days of Glory (1944), she starred opposite Gregory Peck, playing a Russian dancer who had to be saved from the invading Germans by a Soviet partisan; in 1953, she played Anna Pavlova in Tonight We Sing; in 1954, she played French dancer Gaby Deslys in the bio-pic musical Deep in My Heart; in 1956 she joined Gene Kelly for a dance scene in Invitation to the Dance; in 1966, she played a lead ballerina in Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain; and in 1970, she played 'Madame Petrova', in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

In rehearsal

She died in Santa Monica, California on May 29 1996, aged 77, from undisclosed causes. She was buried next to her mother Eugenia in the Hollywood Fever Cemetery. Olga Preobrajenska had bequeathed to her the priceless collection of jewelled tutus and costumes that she had worn during her time at the Imperial Ballet; before her death, Tamara gifted these to the Vaganova Choreographic Museum.

With Serge Lifar

Here she is in Invitation to the Dance with Gene Kelly:

In Swan Lake:

In Don Quixote:

And in two unfortunately quite small fragments of The Firebird:

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Tatiana Riabouchinska.

- Selene

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