Tamara Toumanova

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Tamara Toumanova
Georgian-American Ballerina Tamara Toumanova (Tumanishvili) - 1940s.jpg
Toumanova in a promotional portrait
Native nameТамара Владимировна Туманова
BornTamara Vladimirovna Khassidovitch
(1919-03-02)March 2, 1919
Tyumen, Siberia
DiedMay 29, 1996(1996-05-29) (aged 77)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Spouse(s)Casey Robinson
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Tamara Toumanova
Georgian-American Ballerina Tamara Toumanova (Tumanishvili) - 1940s.jpg
Toumanova in a promotional portrait
Native nameТамара Владимировна Туманова
BornTamara Vladimirovna Khassidovitch
(1919-03-02)March 2, 1919
Tyumen, Siberia
DiedMay 29, 1996(1996-05-29) (aged 77)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Spouse(s)Casey Robinson

Tamara Toumanova (Russian: Тамара Туманова, Armenian: Թամարա Թումանովա, Georgian: თამარა თუმანოვა; March 2, 1919 – May 29, 1996) was a prominent Russian American[1] prima ballerina and actress. A child of exiles in Paris after the Russian Revolution of 1917, she made her debut at the age of 10 at the children's ballet of the Paris Opera.

She became known internationally as one of the Baby Ballerinas of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, after being discovered by her fellow émigré, balletmaster and choreographer George Balanchine. She was featured in numerous ballets in Europe. Balanchine also featured her in his productions at Ballet Theatre, New York, making her the star of his performances in the United States. While most of Toumanova's career was dedicated to ballet, she appeared as a ballet dancer in several films, beginning in 1944. She became a naturalized United States citizen in 1943 in Los Angeles, California.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Toumanova early in her career, c. 1932

Tamara Toumanova, was born Tamara Vladimirovna Khassidovitch [1][3] in Siberia, while her mother, Princess Eugenia Tumanishvili[4][5][6][7] was fleeing Georgia in search of her husband (either Vladimir Khassidovitch,[5][8][9][10][11][12] or Dr Konstantin Zakharov, a physician in the Caucasian Military District, depending on the source).[13][14] Toumanova is of Armenian[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23] and Polish[19] descent. Toumanova was reportedly also of partial Georgian[13][24][25][26][27][28] descent, although singer Lyudmila Lopato, who personally knew Toumanova, wrote that "Tamara was of Armenian-Polish descent, not Georgian, as many people think".[19] Toumanova's maternal grandfather Prince Dmitry Toumanov was a follower of the Armenian Apostolic Church.[29]

Toumanova's parents had[30][31][32] become separated during the Russian Revolution. She was 18 months old before they reunited. The family escaped from Russia via Vladivostok[33]

They fled to Shanghai, China, where they lived for a year, then moved to Cairo. Shanghai has sometimes been misreported as Tamara Toumanova's place of birth.[34][35][36] After spending time in refugee camps, the family settled in Paris, where there was a large Russian émigré community.[37]


Toumanova and Serge Lifar performing Swan Lake.

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".[38] At the age of six, the ballerina Anna Pavlova invited young Toumanova to perform in one of her gala concerts (08.06.1925). Toumanova danced a polka choreographed by Preobrajenska. The girl was ten when she made her debut at the Paris Opera as a child étoile in the ballet L'Éventail de Jeanne (for which ten French composers wrote the music). Toumanova's dancing astounded critics.[citation needed]

In 1931, when Toumanova was twelve years old, George Balanchine saw her in ballet class and engaged her for de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, along with Irina Baronova, 12, and Tatiana Riabouchinska, 14. The three girls were an immediate success, and the writer Arnold Haskell dubbed them the "baby ballerinas".[39] Toumanova quickly became recognised as a young prodigy of immense talent. She came to be called "The Black Pearl of the Russian Ballet", because, as A.V. Coton[who?] wrote, "she was the loveliest creature in the history of the ballet", with black silky hair, deep brown eyes and pale almond skin. Toumanova was considered the most glamorous of the trio. Throughout her dynamic career, her mother was her devoted companion, nursemaid, dresser, agent and manager – she was always at the helm.[40]

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.[citation needed]

In 1936, while Toumanova was performing ballet in Chicago, an 18-year-old boy named Burr Tillstrom came to see her perform. Following the ballet, Burr went backstage to meet 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" (Russian for "puppet"). Burr Tillstrom went on to create a very early (1947) television show for children, titled, Kukla, Fran and Ollie.[41]


Peter Anastos. "A conversation with Tamara Toumanova", Ballet Review, vol. 11, no 4, Winter 1984, pp. 33–57


Toumanova on film[edit]

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).[1]

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.[42] In 1966 she played the odious, unnamed lead ballerina in Alfred Hitchcock's political thriller Torn Curtain. In 1970 she played Russian ballerina "Madame Petrova" in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

Personal life[edit]

In 1944 Toumanovna married Casey Robinson, whom she met as the producer and screenwriter of Days of Glory, her first film.[1] The union was childless. The couple divorced on October 13, 1955.[43]


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.[44]

In his obituary, British choreographer John Gregory was said to describe Toumanova as a "remarkable artist – a great personality who never stopped acting. It is impossible to think of Russian ballet without her."[40][45]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Examiner. "Is Ballet Dancing Slavery?" April 19, 1952 trove.nla.gov.au TEXT
  2. ^ Naturalization info. re Toumanova 91943), familysearch.org; accessed July 18, 2014.
  3. ^ Hulme, Derek C. (2010). Dmitri Shostakovich Catalogue: The First Hundred Years and Beyond. Scarecrow Press. pp. 758–. ISBN 978-0-8108-7265-3. 
  4. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2012-05-07).
  5. ^ a b Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2012-05-26).
  6. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2012-06-01).
  7. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com,2012-08-15; accessed May 6, 2014.
  8. ^ Владимир Шулятиков – Tamara Toumanova. Picasaweb.google.com.
  9. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2012-02-06).
  10. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2012-02-06).
  11. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2013-03-24).
  12. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com, March 24, 2013; accessed May 6, 2014.
  13. ^ a b "Is Ballet Dancing Slavery?", ibid. Trove.nla.gov.au (1952-04-19).
  14. ^ Arabesque: Georgian Ballet Magazine, No 2 (15) (2010), p. 63.
  15. ^ A dos tintas by Josep Mengual Català. Random House Mondadori (2013)
  16. ^ Arab, Armenian, Syrian, Lebanese, East Indian, Pakistani, and Bangla Deshi Americans: a study guide and source book, Kananur V. Chandras, R&E Research Associates, 1977, p. 44
  17. ^ Прекрасная Маруся Сава: русская эмиграция на концертных площадках и в ресторанах Америки, Михаил Иванович Близнюк – 2007
  18. ^ The American Dancer, vol 14, issue 2 (1941): "Seen on New York's 57th Street, the hub of the ballet social world: Tamara Toumanova, Leon and Hercelia Danielian and William Saroyan, all within a block of each other; one more Armenian and the street would have been roped off..."
  19. ^ a b c Людмила Ильинична Лопато, Волшебное зеркало воспоминаний, 2003г., cit. "Тамара была армянско-польского происхождения, а вовсе не грузинской княжной Туманишвили, как многие думают"./"Tamara was of Armenian-Polish descent, not Georgian, as many people think". Zakharov.ru; retrieved September 30, 2011.
  20. ^ Apology for dancing, by Rayner Heppenstall, Faber and Faber Ltd (1936), p. 212: "And the fact that Toumanova is only half Russian (half Armenian)...."
  21. ^ The Criterion, Volume 15 by Thomas Stearns Eliot, 1935, p. 62
  22. ^ One America: the history, contributions, and present problems of our racial and national minorities by Francis James Brown and Joseph Slabey Rouček, p. 308
  23. ^ Beauty in exile: the artists, models, and nobility, by Aleksandr Vasil'ev – 2000: «She was the daughter of army engineer Vladimir Khazidovich-Boretsky and Yevgenia, an Armenian woman».
  24. ^ Mason, Francis (1991). I remember Balanchine: recollections of the ballet master by those who knew him. Doubleday. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-385-26610-9.  Tamara Toumanova: "I think he saw kinship with me, with my tristesse, with my being part Georgian."
  25. ^ Gottlieb, Robert. George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker. HarperCollins 2004, p. 136; ISBN 0-06-075070-7
  26. ^ International Encyclopedia of Dance. Selma Jeanne Cohen (ed.). Oxford University Press 1998, vol. 6, p. 182f; ISBN 0-19-512310-7
  27. ^ Tracy & DeLano, Balanchine's Ballerinas: Conversations with the Muses. Linden Press (1983), p. 66; ISBN 0-671-46146-X
  28. ^ "Книга А. Васильева: "Этюды о моде и стиле" РУССКИЕ ДИВЫ". 
  29. ^ Russian Archives report on Tamara Toumanova, f. 400, o. 15, case 732, pg. 6
  30. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2013-04-03).
  31. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2012-02-11).
  32. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2012-02-11).
  33. ^ Toumanova and her family's escape from Russia via Vladivostock; accessed May 6, 2014.
  34. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2013-05-04).
  35. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2013-05-03).
  36. ^ Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2013-05-03).
  37. ^ Kerper, Barrie. Paris: The Collected Traveler: An Inspired Anthology & Travel Resource (2000) "after...the Revolution of 1917, there was suddenly a large Russian community in Paris."
  38. ^ Tamara Toumanova notice of death, Michaelminn.net (1996-05-29); retrieved 2011-09-30.
  39. ^ Amanda. "Ballets Russes", The Age (17 July 2005)
  40. ^ a b Obituary: Tamara Toumanova obituary, The Independent; retrieved 2011-09-30.
  41. ^ TV Recording - The Origins and Earliest Surviving Live Broadcast Recordings
  42. ^ wn.com video: Tamara Toumanova and Gene Kelly in 'invitation To The Dance' 1956 Retrieved 2012-08-29
  43. ^ "Little Black Book Leads to Divorce", Hamilton Daily News Journal, October 19, 1955, page 7; retrieved 2012-08-29.
  44. ^ Find A Grave profile; accessed May 6, 2014.
  45. ^ Gregor Koenig. "Obituary: John Gregory", The Independent, 31 October 1996

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