Tamara Toumanova (Tamara Vladimirovna Khassidovitch)

Tamara Toumanova

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”. 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). 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”. 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 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. 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, 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.

Tamara Toumanova, was born Tamara Vladimirovna Khassidovitch  in Siberia, while her mother, Princess Eugenia Tumanishvil was fleeing Georgia in search of her husband (either Vladimir Khassidovitch, or Dr Konstantin Zakharov, a physician in the Caucasian Military District, depending on the source). Toumanova is of Armenian and Polish descent. Toumanova was reportedly also of partial Georgian descent, although singer Lyudmila Lopato, who personally knew Toumanova, wrote that “Tamara was of Armenian-Polish descent, not Georgian, as many people think”. Toumanova’s maternal grandfather Prince Dmitry Toumanov was a follower of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Toumanova’s parents had become separated during the Russian Revolution. She was 18 months old before they reunited. The family escaped from Russia via Vladivostok In 1944 Toumanovna married Casey Robinson, whom she met as the producer and screenwriter of Days of Glory, her first film. The union was childless. The couple divorced on 13 October 1955. 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, Hollywood Forever Cemetery. 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.”

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Born

  • March, 02, 1919
  • USA
  • Tyumen, Russia

Died

  • May, 29, 1996
  • USA
  • Santa Monica, California

Cemetery

  • Hollywood Forever Cemetery
  • Hollywood, California
  • USA

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