OBITUARY : Nina Verchinina

Nina Verchinina enjoyed a long and varied career in Russian ballet and was particularly notable for the modernistic trend she contributed to the classical dance.

She made annual appearances with the De Basil Ballet Russe at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, throughout the Thirties, and may still be remembered by some for the fluid plasticity of her style. She was an inspiration to Leonide Massine who created specific roles for her in his symphonic ballets, Les Presages (Tchaikovsky, 1933), Choreartium (Brahms, 1933) and Symphonie fantastique (Berlioz, 1936).

The Times's critic Cyril Beaumont wrote: "Her arms were remarkable for the varying quality of movement. Sometimes they described beautiful curves, moving with a gentle rhythm like the ripple of a wave; sometimes they darted forward or backwards with the sudden swiftness of the flick of a whiplash. So dynamic were her movements that she seemed to radiate power."

Massine himself, writing about Choreartium, said: "To the second movement I compose a slow solemn dance for Verchinina, who gave a haunting performance as a restless brooding creature in thrall to some sombre destiny."

Arnold Haskell, in the Daily Telegraph on 16 June 1936, exalted: "The triumph was Verchinina! Last night she not only gave the performance of her career but showed herself to stand alone as the symphonic dancer."

Verchinina was undoubtedly the prototype of the new expressive classical dancer who combined modern influences in a freer style. But she was also gifted for character roles such as Chiarina in Le Carnaval, the street dancer in Beau Danube, and the snow maiden in Le Soleil de Nuit and other character works such as Prince Igor. Much in demand, Verchinina frequently left the De Basil company to pursue her career as a dancer and choreographer in San Francisco and South America. She possessed an innovative strain and was ambitious to be more than just a dancer.

Nina Verchinina was born in Moscow in 1910 and spent her childhood in Shanghai, where she commenced ballet training. As a teenager she arrived in Paris to continue her studies with Olga Preobrajenska and Bronislava Nijinska. It was to her great advantage that she took the unlikely course of studying the central European style of Rudolf von Laban which extended her range and gave her an individual quality of movement.

She made her first stage appearance with the Ida Rubenstein company in Paris in 1929. Three years later she joined the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and remained with that company throughout the Thirties in its various guises under the directorship at different times of Rene Blum, Leonide Massine and Colonel de Basil. During that decade she acquired international fame and married Count Jean Beausacq, who later was to contribute significantly by financing her own companies. During the Second World War she established her reputation in Cuba and South America while still maintaining contact with de Basil.

Her life was always busy and roving. After the war she again returned to Europe, touring with de Basil. In 1949 she formed her own company to tour Spain, but South America had become the land of opportunity for her. In 1950 she was guest choreographer at the Teatro de la Plato, Buenos Aires. In 1952, as ballet mistress and choreographer, she created the Ballet Universidad de Cuyo at Mendoza, Argentina, producing such ballets as Pastoral Symphony (Handel), Narcisse (Ravel), Rhapsody in Blue (Gershwin) and Salome (Richard Strauss). Once more in Rio de Janeiro she undertook choreographies for the Casino Copacabana at the same time becoming guest choreographer to the Teatro Municipal.

During the following years she formed another company, Ballet Nina Verchinina, in Rio, making several tours of the South Americas. Periodically she returned to choreograph ballets for the Ballet Rio de Janeiro. Eventually settling in Copacabana, she organised her own studio and performing group which kept her occupied for the rest of her life. Like many dancers of her era she retained a sturdy physique and continued to work into old age.

John Gregory

Nina Verchinina, dancer, teacher and choreographer: born Moscow 1910; married Count Jean de Beausacq; died Copacabana, Brazil 16 December 1995.

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