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Tamara Platonovna Karsavina
(March 10, 1885 - May 26, 1978) Russia

Tamara Karsavina

Ballet dancer


Tamara Platonovna Karsavina was a Russian prima ballerina, renowned for her beauty, who was a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later of the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev. After settling in Britain at Hampstead in London, she began teaching ballet professionally and became recognised as one of the founders of modern British ballet. She assisted in the establishment of The Royal Ballet and was a founder member of the Royal Academy of Dance, which is now the world's largest dance-teaching organisation.


Tamara Karsavina was born in Saint Petersburg, the daughter of Platon Konstantinovich Karsavin and his wife, Anna Iosifovna (née Khomyakova). A principal dancer and mime with the Imperial Ballet, Platon also taught as an instructor at the Imperial Ballet School (Vaganova Ballet Academy). He counted among his students Michel Fokine, a future dancing partner and paramour of his daughter.

Tamara's father had once been the favorite pupil of Marius Petipa, teacher and choreographer, but their relationship deteriorated in later years. Tamara suspected that Petipa was behind the "political intrigue" that resulted in her father being forced into early retirement. Though Platon continued to teach at the Imperial Ballet School, and also retained some private pupils, he was disillusioned by the experience.

Due to his own bitter experiences, Platon initially refused to allow Tamara to study ballet, but her mother interceded. Without seeking Platon's permission, Tamara's mother arranged for her to begin taking lessons with a family friend, the retired dancer Vera Joukova. When Platon learned months later that his daughter had begun dancing lessons, he took the news in his stride, becoming her primary instructor. Far from receiving preferential treatment, however, Tamara referred to her father as her "most exacting teacher... and to the tune of his fiddle I exerted myself to the utmost."

In 1894, after a rigorous examination, Tamara was accepted at the Imperial Ballet School. After graduating from the Imperial Ballet School, Karsavina enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks, quickly becoming a leading ballerina with the Imperial Ballet. She danced the whole of the Petipa repertory.

The choreographer George Balanchine said he had fond memories of watching her when he was a student at the Imperial Ballet School. Shortly before 1910, she was regularly invited to dance in Paris with the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev.

Tamara left Russia in 1918, just before Red Terror was launched by the Bolsheviks at the beginning of the Russian Civil War, and moved to Paris, where she continued her association with the Ballets Russes as a leading ballerina.

Tamara's memoir, Theatre Street (the name of the street where the Imperial Ballet School was located, due to its proximity to the Alexandrovskii Theatre), describes her training at the Imperial Ballet School, and her career at the Mariinsky Theatre and the Ballets Russes. In the ultra-competitive world of ballet, she was almost universally beloved.

In 1904, guided by her mother, Anna Iosifovna, Tamara rejected a marriage proposal from Mikhail Fokine. This led to a simmering unease between the two, which coloured their future relationship. She later said that Fokine rarely spoke to her outside the ballet studio. In 1907, once again guided by her mother, she married the civil servant Vasili Vasilievich Mukhin (1880 - post 1941), in the chapel of the Ballet School. Mukhin occasionally travelled with her on Diaghilev tours.

In June 1918, a year after her divorce from Mukhin, Karsavina married the British diplomat Henry James Bruce (1880 -1951). He was the father of her son Nikita (1916-2002). She moved to Hampstead, England after helping found the Royal Ballet. Tamara had an affair with Mercedes de Acosta.


Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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