Thursday, April 25, 2013


Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978) created the role of Stravinsky's Firebird for Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes in 1910, after Anna Pavlova turned the part down (disliking the modernist score). I had never heard of Karsavina until I came across the color lithograph above, which led me to investigate its subject. Her partner in the crumpled black-and-white Firebird photo immediately above (taken in 1911) was Michel Fokine (1880-1942), the ballet's choreographer as well as its male lead.

At bottom, Karsavina in a publicity shot with Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) from Le Spectre de la Rose, another Ballets Russes premier (in 1911), also choreographed by Fokine.

Skimming through Nijinsky's biography for the umpteenth time, I was struck anew by the fact that his career was so extraordinarily short, lasting from 1908 (when he was nineteen) only until 1916 (when mental illness brought his performing life to an end). Exactly a century ago he would have been at his brief, brief peak.

Karsavina lived to a ripe old age and became one of the most revered dance teachers in Europe. The great George Balanchine (1904-1983) often said in later years that one of his formative memories was watching her dance in Russia when he was a child.