Tamara Karsavina

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Tamara Karsavina, Тамара Карсавина, Тама́ра Плато́новна Карса́вина, Tamara Karsawina
Ballerina, ballet dancer
London Borough Of Camden, Hampstead Cemetery

Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (10 March 1885 – 26 May 1978) was a famous Russian ballerina, renowned for her beauty, who was most noted as a Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev. After settling in Hampstead, England, she began teaching ballet professionally and would become 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.

Family and early life

Karsavina was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the daughter of Platon Konstantinovich Karsavin. A principal dancer and mime with the Imperial Ballet, Platon was also employed as an instructor at the Imperial Ballet School (Vaganova Ballet Academy) and counted among his students Karsavina's future dancing partner and paramour, Michel Fokine.

She was the sister of religious philosopher and medieval historian Lev Karsavin. Her niece, Marianna Karsavina, was married to Ukrainian author and artistic patron Pyotr Suvchinsky. Through her mother, Karsavina was distantly related to the religious poet and co-founder of the Slavophile movement, Aleksey Khomyakov.

Karsavina's father had once been the favorite pupil of Marius Petipa, but their relationship deteriorated in later years. Karsavina suspected that Petipa was behind the "political intrigue" that resulted in her father's 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.

Karsavina later wrote:

I think the blow to their pride meant more than financial considerations to them. After all, we always lived from hand to mouth, never looking ahead, spending more when there was something to spend, fitting in somehow when there wasn't. Father had reason to expect his being kept for the second service, like other artists of his standing. He was sore at heart parting with the stage.



Tamara Platonovna Karsavina, St. Petersburg, circa 1915


Due to his own bitter experiences, Platon initially refused to allow Karsavina to study ballet, but her mother interceded.

Mother's dream was to make a dancer of me, Karsavina later wrote. "It is a beautiful career for a woman," she would say, "and I think the child must have a leaning for the stage; she is fond of dressing up, and always at the mirror"

Without seeking Platon's permission, Karsavina'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, Karsavina referred to her father as her "most exacting teacher...to the tune of his fiddle I exerted myself to the utmost."

In 1894, after a rigorous examination, Karsavina was accepted at the Imperial Ballet School. At her mother's urging, Karsavina chose to graduate ahead of schedule in early 1902. It was unheard of at that time for women to begin dancing professionally before the age of eighteen, but her father had lost his teaching position at the school in 1896, leaving her family in dire straits financially. They desperately needed the small income Karsavina would receive as a dancer with the corps de ballet.

After graduating from the Imperial Ballet School, Karsavina enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks, quickly becoming a leading ballerina with the Imperial Ballet, dancing the whole of the Marius Petipa repertory.


Her most famous roles were Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée, Medora in Le Corsaire, and the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse. She was the first ballerina to dance in the so-called Le Corsaire Pas de Deux in 1915.

The choreographer George Balanchine said he had fond memories of watching her when he was a student at the Imperial Ballet School. It was during the late 1910s that she began traveling regularly to Paris to dance with the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. It was during her years with the company that she created many of her most famous roles in the ballets of Mikhail Fokine, including Petrushka, and Le Spectre de la Rose. She was perhaps most famous for creating the title role in Fokine's The Firebird (a role originally offered to Anna Pavlova, who could not come to terms with Stravinsky's score) with Vaslav Nijinsky, her occasional partner.


Tamara Kasarvina


She left Russia in 1919 after the revolution, and subsequently continued her association with the Ballet Russe as a leading Ballerina. (Her brother Lev Platonovich Karsavin moved to newly independent Lithuania, where he was awarded a university chair in cultural history; when the Soviets occupied Lithuania in 1940, he was arrested and died in a gulag.)

Her memoirs, Theatre Street, discusses her training at the Imperial Ballet School, and her career at the Mariinsky Theatre and the Ballet Russe. In the ultra-competitive world of ballet, she was almost universally beloved. However Karsavina did have a rivalry with Anna Pavlova. In the film A Portrait of Giselle Karsavina recalls a "wardrobe malfunction": during one performance her shoulder straps fell and she accidentally exposed herself, and Pavlova reduced an embarrassed Karsavina to tears.

Personal life

In 1904, guided by her mother, Anna Iosifovna, Karsavina rejected a marriage proposal from Mikhail Fokine, which led to a simmering unease between the two and which coloured their future relationship. She later stated 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 Vasili Mukhin, Karsavina married the British diplomat Henry James Bruce (1880 - 1951), the father of her son Nikita (1916 - 2002).

Later years

At the end of her life she could reduce a crowded room to admiring silence merely by the manner of her entering it. Greatly under-used and neglected by the management of the Royal Ballet, she occasionally assisted with the revival of the ballets in which she danced, notably Spectre de la Rose, in which she coached Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. In 1959 she advised Sir Frederick Ashton on his important revival of La Fille Mal Gardée for the Royal Ballet, in which she taught him Petipa's original mimed dialogue for the celebrated scene When I'm Married, as well as his choreography for the Pas de Ruban - two passages which are still retained in Ashton's production.


  • File:'Les Papillons' 1912.jpg

    Tamara 1912


  • File:Karsavina.jpg



  • File:Tamara Karsavina favorite jewel.jpg

    Tamara Karsavina's favorite jewel


  • File:Karsavina 1.jpg

    Tamara Karsavina In "L'Oiseau de feu" / Firebird (1910)


  • File:Tamara Karsavina 003.jpg  


Tamara Karsavina: 'A Recollection of Strawinsky', in 'Tempo' (New Series), No. 8 (Strawinsky Number), Summer 1948, pp. 7–9.

Source: wikipedia.org

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