Ballet Russe ~ Snapshot

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Snapshot Photograph
Tatiana Mikhaylovna Riabouchinska
Opening Scene of 'Le Coq D'or'
Le Basils Ballet Russes
January 1938
Vintage Silver Gelatin Print
5 x 4 ins / 13 x 10 cms
Inscribed verso
Le Coq D'or Jan 21 / Le Basils Ballet Russes / Philharmonic Jan 21-26 1938 / Tatiana Riabouchinska / as Le Coq D'or / Opening scene of / the ballet


Additional Information

Tatiana Mikhaylovna Riabouchinska

Born Moscow 23rd May 1917

Died Los Angeles 24th August 2000

Tatiana Riabouchinska was born in Moscow in 1917. She was immediately put under house arrest at the start of the Russian Revolution (1917) along with her father, a banker for the Tzar, mother and three siblings. The family's servants helped Tatiana's mother and her four children escape from Russia via a route through the Caucasus, arriving in the south of France. Like many other Russian émigrés of the time they eventually settled in Paris.

It was in Paris that Riabouchinska studied with Mathilde Kschessinska (1872-1971) who had been a prima ballerina at the Mariinsky Ballet (and the mistress of Tsarevich Nikolai, later Tsar Nikolai II) and Alexander Volinine (1882-1955), the Bolshoi trained dancer and one time partner of Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)

Riabouchinska's ballet career began in 1931 at the age of 14 when she was chosen by Nikita Baileff to join his fashionable Russian variety show, the Chauve Souris, where she appeared as Diana the Huntress in a costume created by the Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). It was here that she was first spotted by George Balanchine (1904-1983) who, in 1932, as the ballet master at the time, signed her to René Blum's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the age of 15. It was here that she becoming the oldest of the three dancers who become known as the 'baby ballerinas'. The other ballerinas, Tamara Toumanova (1919-2006) and Irina Baronova (1919-2008), were both 13. The publicity generated by the three 'baby ballerinas' helped revive interest in the ballet following the death of Serge Diaghilev in 1929 which left Europe without a major ballet company.

During her time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1932-1942), Riabouchinska danced roles in George Balanchine's ''La Concurrence', ''Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,'' and "Cotillon" (where she danced the role of the Mistress of Ceremonies), and in 1933 in the first three of Leonide Massine's (1896-1979) famous, and at that time, quite controversial, 'symphonic' ballets ''Les Présages'' (where she played Frivolity), "Choreartium" - which premiered on 24th October 1933 at the Alhambra Theatre, London (where she played Reverie) and "Symphonie Fantastique" - which premiered on 24th July 1936 at Covent Garden, London. Massine's 'symphonic' ballets outraged many music critics of the day who objected to a serious symphonic works by Tchaikovsky's (Les Présages), Brahms (Choreartium) and Berlioz (Symphonie fantastique) being used for the basis of a ballet

Riabouchinska went on to dance in David Lichine's 'Le Pavillon' (1936), "Francesca da Rimini" (1937), 'La Creation'' (for Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees in 1948), and as, in what has been described as 'perhaps the happiest and most charming of them all', the Romantic Girl in "Graduation Ball" which premiered on 1st March 1940 at the Theatre Royal of Sydney during the Original Ballet Russe troupe tour of Australia - The Sydney Morning Herald reported twenty-five curtain calls on the opening night

In 1943, Tatiana Riabouchinska and David Lichine (1910-1972) were married. They later had a daughter, Tania (now Tania Lichine Crawford)

During her time at the Ballet Russe, Riabouchinska was coached by the highly respected Russian choreographer and dancer Michel Fokine (1880-1942), when he joined the company briefly between 1937 and 1939. Riabouchinska performed in his productions of ''Le Spectre de la Rose'' and ''Les Sylphides" (originally titled Chopiniana). Her performance of the Prelude in ''Les Sylphides" became legendary, ensuring it as a role she would retained for the rest of her career.

It was with Fokine that she danced the title roles, (all of which were created especially for her by Fokine) of the Golden Cockerel "Le Coq d'or" in 1937 and "Cendrillon" (as Cinderella) in 1938, and the Florentine Beauty in "Paganini" (1939). It was this role as the Florentine Beauty in "Paganni" which some consider to be her finest work, due to the impossible set of whirling pirouettes that she executed before collapsing at the feet of Pananini. The dance critic Arnold Haskell (1903-1980) described her performance as being 'among the most moving I have seen on the ballet stage'

Before the Covent Garden Russian Ballet's arrival in Australia in September 1938 the artist Daryl Lindsay (Sir Ernest Daryl Lindsay, 1889-1976), long acquainted with all the Russian companies in london, had, through an extended feature article, established high expectations amongst audiences. Turning his attention to Baronova and Riabouchinska and their performances in Fokines's 'Le Coq d'or', Lindsay wrote:

'Baronova has brought to this ballet something essentially her own. As the Queen she is not only a very great dancer, but a great actress as well. Riabouchinska as the Golden Cock is a delight to the eye..... In 'Les Sylphides', that evergreen ballet and to me the gem of them all, Riabouchinska gives of her best. Her wonderful elevation and etheral lightness suggest that she is floating through the air rather than dancing. But it is in 'Coq d'or' that she shines most. The part suits her to perfection. She has an individuality that is difficulkt to analyse'.

The ballet Le Coq d'or (The Golden Cockerel) was originally staged in 1914 by Michel Fokine for Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russe. This work was an opera-ballet, a danced interpretation of the Rimsky-Korsakov epic opera of the same name, with the dancers accompanied by a chorus and solo singers. Fokine's revised 1937 version for the Ballet Russe company of Colonel W de Basil, creating a single-act ballet in three scenes which premiered at Covent Garden on 23 September 1937. For this straight-dance version, the Rimsky-Korsakov score was adapted and arranged by Nicolas Tcherepnin, and Fokine condensed the original opera libretto, which Vladimir Bielsky had adapted from a Pushkin poem. Natalia Gontcharova based her neo-primitive set and costume designs on those she had made for the 1914 version, recreating the original curtain and modifying other elements to produce a brilliantly colourful tableau. Her costume for the Cockerel, using real gold thread, was introduced in the 1937 production, the 1914 version having used a prop to represent this character.

After the Ballet Russe, Riabouchinska and Lichine made guest appearances together with many other companies - most notably Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet) the Original Ballet Russe, Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees and, thanks to Anton Dolin, the London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) in the early 1950s.

Disney animators sketching rehearsals used her for the hippopotamus ballerina in Disney's 1940 movie ''Fantasia' - her husband was the model for the alligator. Riabouchinska and Lichine can be seen dancing together in silhouette in the 'Two Silhouttes' segment of Disney' 1946 feature ''Make Mine Music.''

Tatiana Riabouchinska and David Lichine retired in Los Angeles in 1950, opening a school in Beverly Hills and forming the Ballet de la Ville des Anges and several other companies that sadly failed to receive enough financial support to continue. After Lichine's death in 1972, Riabouchinska maintained their school until 1998, after which she taught at Academy 331 in West Hollywood right up until her death in 2000.

Tatiana Riabouchinska was known for her equanimity. In comparing dancers of her day with those of today, she told The Times in 1989, "The dancers today think that everything is about the perfection of fifth position or how many pirouettes they can do.... We had fun, but they just have hard work.''

Writing in the New York Herald Tribune about her 1944 performances in New York, the eminent American dance critic Edwin Orr Denby (1903 - 1983) described Riabouchinska as "a very rare dancer indeed." Denby later wrote of her "Her naturalness in action comes from the fact that she shows you so clearly the sustaining impetus, the dance impulse which carries her lightly through from beginning to end. Because the impetus is exactly right she strikes you as dancing her whole number on an impulse, spontaneously for the joy of it."