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Irina Baronova 1919-2008

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There's not much for me to say other than she will be missed. I enjoyed her biography and her role in the Ballet Russes documentary. She is the subject of some of my favorite photos in Haskell's Ballet Panorama. Baronova obituary

Every time i hear one of this icons is gone, i can't help but remember the following quote-(don't remember the author)

"somewhere, beyond the blue, i'm willing to bet she's enchanting the angels"

RIP, Mme. Baronova. :shake:

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When I turn on my computer the photo that greets me is one of Riabouchinska, Toumanova and Baronova in their Sylphides tutus taken in a bare studio and now they are all gone. I managed to see Riabouchinska and Toumanova on the Stage when they were guests with Ballet Theatre in the mid 40's; but by that time Baronova had already retired and I did not see her with a ballet company. However, I was determined to see her on the stage and saw her in a musical comedy on Broadway called 'Follow The Girls' (Jackie Gleason had his first starring role) and the best part of it was that she wore the traditional classical tutu when she performed. During this time word circulated around the dance studios in NYC that she was taking class at Vilzak-Shollar and off we went! It was said that she looked marvelous and had "slimmed down to 126 lbs"; imagine saying that about a dancer today---they probably average 20 lbs. less. When I saw her in the Ballet Russe documentary I came away feeling---'that is someone I wish I had as a friend'. Rest in peace, Irina.

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Very sad news. May she rest in peace!

I met this delightful lady in St. Petersburg, Russia, while she attended a seminar on the Ballet Russe at the Hermitage Theater, related to the reconstruction of Nijinska's Les Noces by the Maly troupe. I'll never forget her physical beauty -- still striking in her 80s -- lively personality and wit...especially when gently criticizing the Russians' not-too-great attempt to recreate Fokine's 'Petrouchka.' Her mind was sharp as a tack, saying, "No - that's the wrong color dress on the little girl!" or..."That step should be done on the opposite leg!" It's an experience that will stay with me forever.

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Here are a couple hundred photos of Ms. Baronova from the Australian National Library collection. You can see her sewing, cooking etc but there are also nearly 200 ballet photos, including many of her in such works as Balanchine's La Concurrence and Cotillon, Lichine's Prodigal Son, Massine's Symphonie Fantastique, ... .


You first click the little picture to get to a little picture with descriptive material. Click it again to make it large.

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A real treasure trove. I particularly liked the photos of 'Aurora's Wedding' where she is wearing the well-known blue and white tutu of the 1930's. There are any number of photos of ballerinas of that era in the same tutu.

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For me, perhaps the BIGGEST news in that wonderful documentary was how much I loved the way Baronova danced. I'd only seen photos, and to my mind, the photos of Toumanova were far more intoxicating. But the way Baronova moved absolutely enchanted me. Of ALL those people, the way she danced looked to me the most musical, the wittiest, the most natural, the most beautifully phrased -- no matter what the role, she was always right.

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One of Baronova's most important contributions to ballet history, IMO, is her re-introduction of the "ballerina buffa" to a large audience. Many people were locked into the idea of ballet as a rather melancholy, elegiac art form, but Baronova could also be funny, and showed that ballet as a form of expression possessed as much variety as any other theater.

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Thanks, leonid. I hope those who attend will post here to tell us how it was.

St. Paul's -- the "Actors' Church" -- is a wonderfully approprtiate location for this event. North Americans may not be familiar with this church and its amazing mission, one tht goes back to the 17th century. Here is their website. If you scroll down to March 13, you will find the Baronova memorial service.


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Irina Baronova was a Pisces! I will be thinking of her on her 90th birthday. I have a special friend who is also featured in the Ballet Russe documentary. He always speaks of Baronova so highly...almost reverently. It seems clear to me that he regarded her as one of the finest dancers to grace the stage at the Ballet Russe.

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Thanks, leonid. I hope those who attend will post here to tell us how it was.

St. Paul's -- the "Actors' Church" -- is a wonderfully approprtiate location for this event. North Americans may not be familiar with this church and its amazing mission, one tht goes back to the 17th century. Here is their website. If you scroll down to March 13, you will find the Baronova memorial service.


Today, I was at “The Actor’s Church” which Bart pointed out, to attend the Memorial Service for Irina Baronova. It was a family affair. Members of her own family, the professional ballet world family and the ballet lover’s family. St.Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, is one of those Georgian Churches whose interior is beautiful in the way it combines understated grandeur through simplicity of decoration.

I have attended many memorial services there in the past for people from the theatre world and ballet. J.M.W Turner and W.S Gilbert were baptised here, and those buried here include Sir Peter Lely, Samuel Butler, Grinling Gibbons, Thomas Arne, and Thomas Rowlandson. The ashes of Ellen Terry and Edith Evans repose here and there are commemoration plaques around the walls of the church dedicated to numerous famous actors and persons associated with the performing arts.

I arrived early and sat amongst old friends and talked with Katherine Sorley-Walker who was a long time friend of Mme Baronova and author of a number of books; including Robert Helpmann (Rockliff, 1957), Eyes on the Ballet (London, 1963) De Basil's Ballets Russes. London: Hutchinson, 1982) and Ninette de Valois (London, 1987).

The order of the service was:

An organ Prelude - Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring - Bach

The Bidding - The Reverend Simon Gregg

Hymn – Praise, my soul. The King of Heaven

Tribute – Lynn Wallis the Artistic Director of the RAD

Interlude – Two Rachmaninoff Songs (As Fair as Day and Spring Waters)

Reading- Robert Tennant(Son) read out messages from his sister in Australia as well as those from Frederick Franklin and George Zoritch followed by a reading of the familiar, "Death is nothing at all“ by Henry Scott Holland

Reading – Finn Tennant(Grandson) the poem,” And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year…” by Minnie Louise Haskins

Interlude – Oliver Wennink (step grandson) played and sang, “Girl from the North Country by Bob Dylan

Hymn - The King of love my Shepherd is…”

Prayers - The Reverend Simon Gregg

There followed a slide display of photographs of Mme Baronova from childhood to old age showing her in many roles and with her family while Ross Alley at the piano played the “Panorama” music from “The Sleeping Beauty” .

To end the service The Reverend Simon Gregg bid the congregation to join in a round of applause for Irina Baronova which went on and on as if no one wanted it to stop and the experience of this became extremely moving.

As people lefts the church I noticed that there was a good smattering of octogenarians and possibly nonagenarians in the congregation some of whom had seen Baronova dance. The ballet-world was widely represented and included representatives of the Royal Academy of Dancing of which Mme Baronova was a Vice-President. Dame Antoinette Sibley looked amazingly young in a lavender/violet coat; Dame Monica Mason looked both serious and extremely vital. Peter Wright was there as was Lady Sainsbury (Anya Linden), Ivor Guest, Peter Wilson ballets man of many parts, former RB dancers Gail Monahan (nee Thomas), Kathryn Wade and David Gayle and a good number of others whose names I regret escaped me. My good friend Richard Whitehouse looked around and said ponderously, “Mmmm I think I am probably the only person here to have danced with Irina Baronova.” “Really” said I to give him a lead, “Yehss he drawled, it was at a RAD function when we waltzed together.”

I never met Mme Baronova but I had corresponded with her when she graciously became a member of a distinguished support committee for ballet history event I had organised.


I know I am not alone in being interested in the history of ballet as a pathway to understanding this art form as is obvious from the distinguished contributions from many at ballettalk. What on occasion concerns me today is that societies across the world are more self-obsessed about the period of time they live in, rather than investigating the past to contextualise their experience. It is also my observation that many younger ballet goers seem to think that nothing in ballet exists other than what they have personally experienced.

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There are two oral history recordings now available (no charge) on the internet from the National Library of Australia.

Here is the Library's catalogue.

1. Irina Baronova interviewed by Michelle Potter


"Irina Baronova speaks briefly about her experiences in Australia as a dancer with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet."

2. Irina Baronova interviewed by Lee Christofis


"Irina Baronova, born 1919, in Petrograd, speaks about her family history; the Russian revolution and the effects on her family; ballet classes; seeing her first ballet performance; moving to Paris; her teachers, Imperial Ballet; Olga Preobrajenska, her teaching methods; ballet mothers, Mama Toumanova; the term 'baby ballerinas'; touring, London, Paris; diets; friendships; marriage; socialising with famous people; her workload, performing 9 times a week; Wassily de Basil; Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; Australia tour (1938) with the Covent Garden Russian ballet; WWII; reaction to Australia, environment, audience reactions; Anna Volkova, Anna Barnes; Royal Academy of Dance; Maina Gielgud; Australian Ballet; company members who remained in Australia, Kira Bousloff and Edouard Borovansky; audience favourites, other repertoire and choreographers; press and criticism, critics' expectations of Ballets Russes dancing; U.S.A. tour; J.C. Williamsons Baronova discusses working conditions, no unions; her education; her introduction to repertoire and choreographers early in her career; George Balanchine; restaging Les Sylphides (2006) for Revolutions program; working with Michel Fokine; Vaslav Nijinsky; Leonide Massine and the symphonic ballets; notable features of Massine's choreographic style; the abstract ballets 'Choreartium' and 'Les Presages'; the success of 'Symphonie fantastique' as a narrative ballet; Nina Verchinina; influences on the choreography of David Lichine, and the importance of a knowledge of music and art to choreography; Antal Dorati and other conductors for the Ballets Russes including Efrem Kurtz; Sir Thomas Beecham; audience reaction to the Ballets Russes extensive repertoire; her feelings on first joining the company; Tamara Karsavina."

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I just found this thread! I just finished reading her autobiography, and was absolutely fascinated and moved by it (and she's a good writer too). I wanted even more when I turned the last page, so came online to look, and found this thread, among other things. I don't think I was yet reading Ballet Alert when these were posted. I want to thank you all for these observations, and especially leonid for the lovely recounting of her memorial service. She certainly deserved all of the applause. I, too, found her to be one of the most fascinating people in the Ballet Russes documentary.

R.I.P., Irina

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