Tamara Toumanova (March 2, 1919 – May 29, 1996) was a prominent American ballerina and actress. She made her debut at the age of 10 at the children's ballet of Paris Opera and was soon discovered by her fellow émigré, balletmaster George Balanchine, who made Tamara the star of his performances in the United States. While most of Toumanova's career was dedicated to ballet, she appeared in several films as well.
Toumanova early in her career, c. 1932
Tamara Toumanova, born Tamara Khassidovitch in Siberia, while her mother, Georgian Princess Eugenia Tumanishvili was fleeing Georgia in search of her husband (according to some sources, Vladimir Khassidovitch or, Konstantin Zakharov, a doctor of the Caucasian Military District).
Toumanova is of Armenian and Polish descent. She has been also reported as being of partially Georgian descent, while singer Lyudmila Lopato, who personally knew her, writes, that "Tamara was of Armenian-Polish descent, not Georgian, as many people think".
Toumanova's parents had become separated during the Russian Revolution. Toumanova was 18 months old before her parents were reunited. The family escaped from Russia to Shanghai, China, where they lived for a year, then moved to Cairo. After spending time in refugee camps, the family settled in Paris, where there was a large Russian émigré community.
After moving to Paris, Toumanova was given piano lessons and studied ballet with Olga Preobrajenska, who she described as her "first and only permanent teacher" and an "immortal friend".
She made her debut at the Paris Opera at the age of ten in the children's ballet L'Éventail de Jeanne (for which ten French composers wrote the music). George Balanchine saw her in ballet class and engaged her for de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as one of the three "baby ballerinas".
She came to be called "The Black Pearl of the Russian Ballet", because, as A.V. Coton wrote, "she was the loveliest creature in the history of the ballet", with black silky hair, deep brown eyes and pale almond skin. She was the most glamorous of de Basil's "baby" ballerinas who took London by storm in the 1930s. Throughout her dynamic career her mother was devoted companion, nursemaid, dresser, agent and manager - she was always at the helm.
Balanchine created the role of the "Young Girl" for Toumanova in his ballet Cotillon and had her star in his Concurrence and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Léonide Massine also worked closely with Toumanova in the creation of many of his ballets. She played the part of the Top in his Jeux d'Enfants. Balanchine created a role for her in his Le Palais de Cristal (since re-titled Symphony in C) in 1947 at the Paris Opera.
In 1936, while Toumanova was performing ballet in Chicago, a 16-year-old boy named Burr Tillstrom came to see her perform. Following the ballet, Burr came backstage and actually introduced himself to her. As they talked, Toumanova and Tillstrom became friends. Some time later, Tillstrom showed her a favorite puppet he had made and she, surprised by his revelation, exclaimed, "Kukla", and Burr Tillstrom went on to create a very early (1947) television show for children, titled, Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
- 1934 The Comet (cr) in Les Imaginaires (Lichine), de Basil’s 1 Ballets Russes, London Tarantella in La Boutique fantasque (revival; Massine), de Basil’s Ballets Russes, London
- The Miller’s Wife in Le Tricorne (Massine), (de Basil's) Monte Carlo Ballet Russe, Chicago
- The Mexican Girl (cr) in Union Pacific (Massine), (de Basil’s) Monte Carlo Ballet Russe, Philadelphia
- 1935 The Poor Couple (cr) in Jardin public (Massine), (de Basil’s) Monte Carlo Ballet Russe, Chicago
- Principal dancer (cr) in Le Bal (Massine), (de Basil’s) Monte Carlo Ballet, Chicago
- 1936 The Beloved (cr) in Symphonie fantastique (Massine), de Basil’s Ballets Russes, London
- 1938 Title role in Giselle (after Petipa, Coralli, Perrot) (Denham’s) Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, London .
- 1940 Illusion (cr) in La Lutte eternelle (Schwezoff), Original Ballet Russe, Sydney
- Swanilda in Coppelia (Obukhov after Petipa, Saint-Leon), Original Ballet Russe, Sydney
- 1941 Third and Fourth Movements (cr) in Balustrade (Balanchine), Original Ballet Russe, New York
- Ariadne (cr) in Labyrinth (Massine), Denham’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, New York
- The Cakewalk (cr) in Saratoga (Massine), Denham’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, New York
- 1944 The Girl (cr) in Moonlight Sonata (Massine), Ballet Theatre, New York
- Principal dancer (cr) in Harvest Time (Nijinska), Ballet Theatre, New York
- Kitri in Don Quixote Pas de Deux (Obukhov after Petipa), Ballet Theatre. New York
- 1944-45 Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker Pas de deux (Dolin after Ivanov), Ballet Theatre, New York
- Odile in Black Swan Pas de deux (Swan Lake, Act III; Dolin after Petipa), Ballet Theatre, New York
- 1947 Second Movement (cr) in Palais de cristal (later called Symphony in C; Balanchine), Paris Opera Ballet, Paris
- Title role in Giselle (Sergeyev after Petipa, Coralli, Perrot), Paris Opera Ballet, Paris
- 1949 The Duchess (cr) in Del Amor y de la muerte (Ricarda), Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, Paris
- The Infanta (cr) in Le Coeur de diamond (Lichine), Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, Monte Carlo
- 1950 Title role (cr) in Phedre (Lifar), Paris Opera Ballet, Paris
- Principal dancer (cr) in L'Inconnue (Lifar), Paris Opera Ballet, Paris
- Principal dancer (cr) in La Fee d’Aibee (Aveline), Paris Opera Ballet, Versailles
- Principal dancer (cr) in La Pierre enchantee (Lifar), Paris Opera Ballet, Paris
- 1951 Potiphar’s Wife (cr) in Leggenda di Giuseppe (The Legend of Joseph; Wallmann), La Scala, Milan
- Principal dancer (cr) in La Vita dell’uomo (Wallmann), La Scala, Milan
- 1952 Principal dancer (cr) in Reve (pas de deux; Dolin), London Festival Ballet, London
- 1956 Principal dancer (cr) in The Seven Deadly Sins (Char- rat), La Scala, Milan
- The Dance of the Seven Veils (cr) in Salome (opera; mus. Strauss, chor. Toumanova), La Scala, Milan
- Principal dancer (cr) in Epoque romantique (also chor.), Piccola Scala, Milan
- The Princess (cr) in Le Fanfare pour le Prince (Taras), Celebration of the Marriage of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, Monte Carlo
Toumanova on film
Toumanova appeared in six Hollywood films between 1944 and 1970, always playing dancers. She made her feature film debut in 1944, in Days of Glory, playing a Russian dancer being saved from the invading Germans in 1941 by Soviet partisan leader Gregory Peck (who also made his debut in that film). The same year she married the film's producer and screen writer Casey Robinson. They divorced on October 13, 1955, due to his infidelities.
In 1953 she played Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova in Tonight We Sing, and in 1954 she appeared in the biographical musical Deep in My Heart, as the French dancer Gaby Deslys. In 1956 she did a dance scene with Gene Kelly in his dance film Invitation to the Dance, in 1966 she played the lead ballerina in Alfred Hitchcock's political thriller Torn Curtain, and in 1970 she played Russian ballerina "Madame Petrova" in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
Toumanova died in Santa Monica, California, on May 29, 1996, aged 77, from undisclosed causes. Before her death, she gave her Preobrajenska costumes to the Vaganova Choreographic Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. She was buried next to her mother Eugenia in Hollywood. In his obituary British choreographer John Gregory described Toumanova as a "remarkable artist - a great personality who never stopped acting. It is impossible to think of Russian ballet without her."
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