Tamara Toumanova

Tamara Toumanova

1940s promotional portrait photo
Born (1919-03-02)2 March 1919
Tyumen, Russian SFSR
Died 29 May 1996(1996-05-29) (aged 77)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Occupation Ballerina, actress
Spouse(s) Casey Robinson (1944–55; div.)

Tamara Toumanova (Russian: Тамара Туманова, Georgian: თამარა თუმანოვა, Armenian: Թամար Թումանեան; 2 March 1919 – 29 May 1996) was a Russian-born American[1][2] 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.[3]


Toumanova was the daughter of Yevgenia[4] (or Eugenia) Dmitrievna Toumanishvili, who was half-Armenian, on her father (Dmitri Toumanov, originally Toumanishvili)'s side, and half-Georgian (on her mother, Yelizaveta Chkheidze)'s side.[5]

At the time of her daughter's birth, Yevgenia was married to Konstantin Zakharov (a Russian). Both Tamara and her mother used the surname Khassidovitch (Yevgenia's second husband was Vladimir Khassidovitch (akas: Vladimir Khassidovitch-Boretsky/Vladimir Khazidovich-Boretsky)[6] for most of their lives following the end of Yevgenia's first marriage, including on their paperwork for naturalization as citizens of the United States.[4]

Toumanova and Serge Lifar performing Swan Lake.

After moving to Paris, Toumanova was given piano lessons and studied ballet with Olga Preobrajenska, whom she described as her "first and only permanent teacher" and an "immortal friend".[7]

At the age of six, Toumanova was invited by the ballerina Anna Pavlova to perform in one of her gala concerts in 1925. Toumanova danced a polka choreographed by Preobrajenska. Tamara was ten years old 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".[8]

Toumanova became recognised as a young prodigy of immense talent. She came to be called "The Black Pearl of the Russian Ballet", because, as ballet critic 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.[9]

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 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.[10]




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).[12]

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 performed a dance scene with Gene Kelly in Invitation to the Dance.[13] 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

Some sources indicate that Tamara Toumanova was born Tamara Vladimirovna Khassidovitch[14][15] in Siberia, while her mother, Princess Eugenia (later Eugenie) Dmitrievna Toumanova[16][17][18][19] was fleeing Georgia in search of her husband (Vladimir Khassidovitch),[17][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]).

Toumanova was of Armenian[28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36] and Polish[32] descent. Toumanova was reportedly also of partial Georgian[37][38][39][40][41] descent, although singer Lyudmila Lopato, who personally knew Toumanova, wrote that "Tamara was of Armenian-Polish descent, not Georgian, as many people think".[32] Toumanova's maternal grandfather Prince Dmitry Toumanov was a follower of the Armenian Apostolic Church.[42] <sup class="noprint Inline-Template "noprint Inline-Template"" style="white-space:nowrap;">[check quotation syntax]Toumanova's parents had[43][44][45] become separated during the Russian Revolution. She was 18 months old before the family reunited. The family escaped from Russia via Vladivostok.[46]

In 1944 Toumanovna married Casey Robinson, whom she met as the producer and screenwriter of Days of Glory, her first film.[12] The union was childless. The couple divorced on 13 October 1955.[47]


Toumanova died in Santa Monica, California, on 29 May 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 Eugenie in Hollywood, Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[48]

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."[9][49]


See also


  1. "Examiner". trove.nla.gov.au. 19 April 1952. p. 12. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  2. "IS BALLET DANCING SLAVERY?". trove.nla.gov.au. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  3. Naturalization info. re Tamara Toumanova (1943), familysearch.org; accessed 18 July 2014.
  4. 1 2 "Eugenie Dmitrievna Toumanishvili" (based on naturalization paperwork for United States citizenship), fold3.com; accessed 19 September 2016.
  5. Artsvi Bakhchinyan, Armenians on the International Dance Scene, Yerevan, 2016, p. 142
  6. "Album Archive". Get.google.com. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  7. Tamara Toumanova obituary, Michaelminn.net (29 May 1996); retrieved 12 July 2016.
  8. Amanda. "Ballets Russes", The Age, 17 July 2005.
  9. 1 2 Obituary: Tamara Toumanova, The Independent; retrieved 12 July 2016.
  10. TV Recording - The Origins and Earliest Surviving Live Broadcast Recordings (PDF), earlytelevision.org; accessed 19 January 2016.
  11. Peter Anastos. "A conversation with Tamara Toumanova", Ballet Review, vol. 11, no 4, Winter 1984, pp. 33–57
  12. 1 2 "Is Ballet Dancing Slavery?", The Examiner (Tasmania), 19 April 1952; retrieved 29 August 2012.
  13. wn.com video: Tamara Toumanova and Gene Kelly in 'invitation To The Dance' 1956; retrieved 29 August 2012.
  14. "Picasa Web Albums - Владимир Шулятиков". Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  15. Hulme, Derek C. (2010). Dmitri Shostakovich Catalogue: The First Hundred Years and Beyond. Scarecrow Press. pp. 758–. ISBN 978-0-8108-7265-3.
  16. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (7 May 2012).
  17. 1 2 Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (26 May 2012).
  18. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com, 1 June 2012.
  19. Владимир Шулятиков, Picasaweb.google.com, 15 August 2012; accessed 6 May 2014.
  20. Владимир Шулятиков – Tamara Toumanova, Picasaweb.google.com.
  21. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (6 February 2012).
  22. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com, 6 February 2012.
  23. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (24 March 2013).
  24. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com, 24 March 2013; accessed 6 May 2014.
  25. Some sources cite Dr Konstantin Zakharov, a physician in the Caucasian Military District as Princess Eugenia Tumanishvili's husband or lover although United States immigration and naturalization records record Vladimir Khassidovitch (or Khazidovich-Boretsky) as Eugenie's husband and presumably Tamara's father, who emigrated with them to the United States and applied for naturalization at the same time.
  26. "19 April 1952 - Examiner". p. 12.
  27. Arabesque: Georgian Ballet Magazine, No 2 (15) (2010), p. 63.
  28. A dos tintas by Josep Mengual Català. Random House Mondadori (2013)
  29. Kananur V. Chandras. Arab, Armenian, Syrian, Lebanese, East Indian, Pakistani, and Bangla Deshi Americans: a study guide and source book, R&E Research Associates, 1977, p. 44.
  30. Прекрасная Маруся Сава: русская эмиграция на концертных площадках и в ресторанах Америки, Михаил Иванович Близнюк – 2007
  31. 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..."
  32. 1 2 3 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 30 September 2011.
  33. Rayner Heppenstall. Apology for dancing, Faber and Faber Ltd (1936), p. 212: "And the fact that Toumanova is only half Russian (half Armenian)...."
  34. Thomas Stearns Eliot. The Criterion, Volume 15 (1935), p. 62.
  35. Francis James Brown and Joseph Slabey Rouček. One America: the history, contributions, and present problems of our racial and national minorities, p. 308
  36. Aleksandr Vasil'ev. Beauty in exile: the artists, models, and nobility, 2000: «She was the daughter of army engineer Vladimir Khazidovich-Boretsky and Yevgenia, an Armenian woman»
  37. 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."
  38. Gottlieb, Robert. George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker. HarperCollins 2004, p. 136; ISBN 0-06-075070-7
  39. International Encyclopedia of Dance. Selma Jeanne Cohen (ed.) Oxford University Press 1998, vol. 6, p. 182f; ISBN 0-19-512310-7
  40. Tracy & DeLano. Balanchine's Ballerinas: Conversations with the Muses. Linden Press (1983), p. 66; ISBN 0-671-46146-X
  41. "Книга А. Васильева: "Этюды о моде и стиле" РУССКИЕ ДИВЫ".
  42. , f. 400, o. 15, case 732, pg. 6
  43. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2013-04-03).
  44. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (11 February 2012).
  45. Владимир Шулятиков. Picasaweb.google.com (2012-02-11).
  46. Toumanova and her family's escape from Russia via Vladivostock; accessed 6 May 2014.
  47. "Little Black Book Leads to Divorce", Hamilton Daily News Journal, 19 October 1955, page 7; retrieved 29 August 2012.
  48. Profile, findagrave.com; accessed 6 May 2014.
  49. Gregor Koenig. "Obituary: John Gregory", The Independent, 31 October 1996.
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