Spotlight: Tatiana Riabouchinska

This week's Spotlight Saturday concludes the Baby Ballerina feature with Tatiana Riabouchinska.

Tatiana, known as Tania, was born May 23 1917, in Moscow, Russia, just a few months before the Russian Revolution. Her father was a banker for the Tsar, Nicholas II, and as a consequence after the Imperial family's downfall Tania's family was put under house arrest by the revolutionaries. Helped by servants, Tania, her mother, and her three siblings escaped through the Caucasus to the south of France, settling in Paris a few years afterwards. Tania began studying ballet with Alexandre Volinine, who had studied at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. She then studied with Mathilde Kschessinskaya, a friend of her parents who had been prima ballerina assoluta of the Imperial Ballet.

Above: As Bluebird in 'Aurora's Wedding'; Below: Tania darning her pointe shoes, c. 1940

At 14, Tania joined Nikita Balieff's vaudeville troupe Le Theatre de la Chauve-Souris (The Bat Theatre). Tania appeared in their 1931 season in the ballets Diana Hunts the Stag and The Romantic Adventures of an Italian Ballerina and a Marquis. While performing in Paris, she was seen and signed by ballet master George Balanchine for the new ballet company Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She joined the company after La Chauve-Souris' American tour, becoming the third of the headline act, the Baby Ballerinas. Her fellows were Irina Baronova and Tamara Toumanova.

Above: In 'Cinderella'; In 'Le Coq d'Or'

In 1932, her first season with the company, Tania starred in Leonide Massine's Jeux d'Enfants, and Balanchine's La Concurrence and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. She also later created roles in three of Massine's five controversial 'symphonic' ballets, Les Presages (1933), Choreartium (1933), and Symphonie Fantastique (1936). She danced a great many roles, often sharing them with her fellow Baby Ballerinas and with older ballerinas of the company such as Alexandra Danilova. When choreographer Mikhail Fokine joined the company, he created several ballets especially for Tania, including Le Coq d'Or (1937), Cendrillon (1938), and Paganini (1939). Fokine also personally coached her for her performance of his Les Sylphides, and her interpretation of the Prelude solo became legendary.

'Pas de Quatre' at the Festival Ballet, 1951. From left: Alexandra Danilova, Alicia Markova (front, bending), Tatiana Riabouchinska, and Natalia Krassovska

She was also frequently featured in the ballets of Divid Lichine, a principal dancer in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo company who was also a choreographer. She performed in Nocturne (1933), Les Imaginaires (1934), Le Pavillon (1936), Francesca da Rimini (1937), Le Lion Amoureux (1937), and Graduation Ball (1940), which was to become one of her signature roles. When the company split, Riabouchinska remained with de Basil's company, which was renamed the Original Ballet Russe. The company had to stop touring in 1942 due to the war. In 1943, Tania married David Lichine, and the two of them went freelance. They choreographed and danced for many companies in America, England, France, and Argentina. They also had a daughter, Tanica Lichine.

Above: With Roman Jasinsky in 'Les Dieux mendiants'/'The Gods Go a-Begging', c. 1939; Below: In 'Graduation Ball'

Whilst in America, Tania appeared in an unsuccessful operetta called Polonaise (1945), choreographed by Lichine to music by Chopin. She and Lichine appeared together in the Hollywood film Make Mine Music (1946), dancing Lichine's Two Silhouettes. Together, they were one of ballet's most admired partnerships. They retired from the stage in 1953, and instead devoted their time to their dance school in Beverley Hills. They also founded and directed several small companies. David Lichine died in 1972, but Tania continued to teach for a great many years. She was filmed teaching class and reminiscing about her time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the 1990s. The footage, along with several archival films, was used for the 2005 Ballet Russes documentary.

Above and below: In 'Les Sylphides'

She died on August 24 2000, aged 83.

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Leonide Massine.

- Selene

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