Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Dancing into the Unknown: My Life in the Ballets Russes and Beyond

Recommended Posts

Dancing into the Unknown: My Life in the Ballets Russes by Tamara Tchinarova Finch was published April 2007 and is available in hardcover on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

"Tamara Tchinarova was born in Romania in 1919 and began her dance training in Paris with emigre ballerinas from the Imperial Russian Ballet. She danced professionally in Europe with the touring Ballet Russes companies that emerged in the 1930s after the death of the entrepreneur Serge Diaghilev, and she went to Australia in 1936 with the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet, returning in 1938 with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet."

"In 1939 at the conclusion of the Covent Garden Russian Ballet tour, along with a number of her colleagues, Tchinarova elected to stay in Australia where she met and married the actor Peter Finch and worked with him on a number of films before leaving Australia to make her home in London. But Finch had caught the eye of the glamorous actress Vivien Leigh, wife of Sir Laurence Olivier, and the love triangle that developed was to have devastating consequences. This fascinating autobiography highlights Tamara's incredible life in Romania and her worldwide dancing career, the tempestuous marriage to Peter Finch and her involvement in his notorious affair with Leigh, through to her subsequent career as adviser and interpreter for many Russian ballet companies."

quoted from

Link to comment

When I first saw the movie Ballets Russes, I found Irina Baronova delightful and so very generous in her description of her fellow baby ballerinas. But I fell in love with the woman sitting next to her, her great friend Tamara Tchinarova, who said that Baranova was her "perfect ballerina," and when Baronova protested, she said in her very no-nonsense way, that it wasn't just because Baranova was sitting next to her. and from her manner, I believed her completely. I always wondered why, although I had seen her name in passing, I had never heard of her, especially since she looked like a terrific dancer in the very short clips of her.

I read Dancing into the Unknown this summer. It's a memoir more than an autobigraphy, with great emphasis on specific periods of her life. Because of her intelligence, she describes in great detail the contrast between her childhood spent in rural Romania and her family's subsequent life in Paris, and the tragedy of her father, and those like him: an idealist about the Soviet Union who thought he could be a servant of his country in the West, but was treated as a spy and traitor upon his return.

What I found most remarkable about the book is how Tchinarova manages at each point in her life to describe her own reality at the time, however naive: for example, when she is a young member of the Ballet Russe with her mother, it is a description of the experience of a young girl; when she is the young wife of Peter Finch and she brings her daughter to Hollywood, she describes how inconceivable the luxurious Hollywood existence was for someone who had struggled financially; when she and her mother are the financial victims of one of Ballet Russe's collapses before and during wartime, the restriction, worry, and treatment as unfriendly (or at least untrustworthy) aliens in Australia she describes are palpable.

Perhaps what will sell the most copies is her long description of her husband at the time, Peter Finch's, affair with Vivian Leigh. Peter Finch was "discovered" by the Oliviers and was a theater actor in London before he went to Hollywood, summoned by Leigh. She aptly describes what it was like for a non-diva ballet person, used to strict discipline and financial hardship, to be caught way in over her head in a psycho-drama during a time when mental illness -- Leigh was bipolar -- was more misunderstood and not tolerated than even now and was hidden. (Leigh's friends from Great Britain, who were the set with whom the Finches socialized during their Hollywood stay, had long known of her behavior and breakdowns, yet in the midst of them, acted as if nothing abnormal was happening.) For all of her intelligence, what I find astounding is that she never recognizes Finch's behavior as a form of the same illness, although it wasn't as severe and he was able to self-medicate with alcohol. I believe she never recognizes this, having associated his drinking and absences with the hard-drinking male-pack behavior he displayed when she met him in Australia and which plagued their early marriage, and his ups and downs and periodic disappearances with an unfulfilled artistic temperament.

When her marriage to Finch fell apart, and she was responsible for her mother and daughter, she became a technical translator, which eventually brought her back to ballet, as a translator for visiting ballet companies. Her mother was quite a handful in her later years, and if there's anything about which Tchinarova seems bitter in the slim volume, it is the pro-tenant laws that allowed drug dealers and prostitutes to remain in her mother's rental property, even when they were able to witness and prove criminal activity in the apartments. It is quite a description of the end of a parent's life, and the pressures on an adult child to care for that parent, especially a willful one.

She also gives an overview of Baranova's life that Baranova left out of her autobiography.

While the story is personal, I found that Tchinarova told, if not a universal story, the parts that help the reader understand its time and place.

Link to comment

Thank you for the heads up, innopac. I hope there's more about dancing and ballet in the book, though.

I don't think the adultery saga will necessarily be much of a selling point - the subject has already been explored quite exhaustively elsewhere, although of course the view of the wronged wife will hold its own interest, and I'm not sure how much people care about this now.

Link to comment

I'm sure it has - it's the sort of thing reviewers focus on, alas - but my point was that this particular affaire has been rehashed pretty frequently over the years. It may very well be new to anyone not familiar with the Oliviers' travails.

Would be interested in hearing what she says about the roles she danced.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...