Today's balletomanes will not find the name of Nina Tarakanova in any encyclopaedia of ballet, and not surprisingly her demise in April was overlooked in the national press; yet she was a scintillating artist of the Ballets Russes of the Twenties and Thirties and her captivating portrayal of the glove-seller in Leonid Massine's Gaite Parisienne was quite memorable.
Her date and place of birth are obscure. We know she was born in Russia, and she may have been related to that legendary Princess Tarakanova who entered a nunnery to escape persecution by Catherine the Great. After the 1917 revolution Nina Tarakanova migrated to Paris where she was trained by the great Maryinsky ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, alongside Tatiana Riabouchinska and David Lichine.
She began her career with Diaghilev's Ballet and her vivacious aura soon won her solo parts. She first appeared in Britain with de Basil's Ballets Russes in the early Thirties, and thence transferred to Leon Woizikovsky's company with whom she was seen in seasons at the Coliseum during 1934 and 1935, dancing the doll in Petroushka and Swanhilda in Coppelia. Later, with Rene Blum's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, she extended her repertoire taking in Carnival, Ode, Swan Lake and Les Sylphides. But she always excelled in such demi-caractere roles as the street dancer in Beau Danube. Never the great technician, she scored by her beauty and vibrant charm. There was something aristocratic in her manner and on stage her sweet winsomeness won her many admirers.
Massine showed his appreciation of her qualities when he cast her as the glove-seller in his Gaite Parisienne which fitted her perfectly. It was ironic that she had to teach her role to Alexandra Danilova, whom she had understudied in the part of the street dancer in Le Beau Danube. In Gaite Danilova seemed a little vulgar after the refinement and grace of Tarakanova.
In 1938, at the peak of her career during a season at Drury Lane, Tarakanova married a Mr Gray- Shaw, a Scottish businessman. The marriage was later dissolved. During the Second World War, having settled in England, she toured with Mona Inglesby's newly formed International Ballet. Though she never quite fitted this company she contributed a touch of chic dancing Venus in Planetomania (with music by Norman de Muth), Maria in a ballet of Twelfth Night (with music by Grieg), both ballets choreographed by Inglesby and glamorously decored by Doris Zinkeizen.
She also danced the temptress in Leslie French's production of Inglesby's choreographed version of Everyman (1943) to music of Richard Strauss with decors by Rex Whistler.
Towards the end of the war she left the ballet to dance in a spectacular Russian revue entitled Merry-Go-Round staged by Eugene Iskoldoff. Following a provincial tour it had a short run at the Adelphi.
After the war she married Neil Maclaren, one-time curator of the National Gallery. Now retired from the stage, she appeared to live a secluded life. I suppose homesick for the ballet, she taught for a brief time in my School of Russian Ballet in Chelsea and in 1951, on one extraordinary afternoon, she assisted her old teacher Mathilde Kschessinska in giving a class of Russian character dancing during which her effervescent vivacity sprung to life. Together they dazzled the pressmen from Picture Post who were watching and contributed a dash of Russkaya dussha (Russian soul) which made everything sparkle. On stage she was always like a breath of nectar, off- stage she was inclined to be shy and retiring, as if unsure of herself.
After the death of her second husband she left London and with the onset of her last fatal illness she entered a hospice in Devon, where she was much loved.