Today few balletomanes will recall the name of Nina Tikhonova, but as recently as 1992 her memoirs were published in Moscow under the title Ballets Russes: the girl in blue. In her day she was an alluring dancer and, fortunately for my story, Irina Baronova knew her when she lived in Paris during the Sixties. They were active together in raising funds to succour their beloved teacher Olga Preobrajenska during her last years.
Born in St Petersburg in 1910, of a family that moved in literary and artistic circles, Tikhonova came early into contact with such eminent artists as Maxim Gorky and Fyodor Chaliapin. Her beautiful mother Varvara Vassilievna Zubkova married first Anatole Tchaikevitch, who hailed from a well-to-do Kiev family, and secondly Alexander Tikhonov, a writer closely associated with Gorky in publishing a literary magazine, Letter-piece. Varvara Vassilievna became the mistress of Gorky, and her second marriage broke up, but despite this Tchaikevitch always kept in touch with her and their children. During the troubles of 1917 the family was dispersed and the children of both marriages lived with the grandmother in Ekaterinburg, later returning to Petrograd.
In 1921 Nina, aged 11, with her elder stepbrother Andre Tchaikevitch, left Petrograd and made her way to Berlin where she commenced ballet studies. Journeying on to Paris with her brother and grandmother Nina set her course on a ballet career, taking lessons with Olga Preobrajenska, Nicolai Legat and Lubov Egorova.
Tikhonova moved in exclusive circles, the Tchaikevitch family having kept a salon in Paris, but ballet became the raison d'etre of her life. She thrived on the classes of Legat. During the late Twenties and throughout the Thirties she blossomed as a danseuse of great beauty and charm, making her debut with the Theatre Romantique Russe of Ida Rubinstein. They gave performances at the Paris Opera and toured in France and Germany. With this company Tikhonova danced in ballets choreographed by Rubinstein, Fokine, and Bronislava Nijinska. The repertoire was made up of avant-garde works using the music of Bach, Ravel, Poulenc and Stravinsky, but she found time to dance her first Swan Lake in Brussels with Vera Nemchinova and Anton Dolin in the leading roles.
In July 1931 Tikhonova appeared with the Ida Rubinstein Company at Covent Garden when she danced the leading role of Alcine in a new version of Leonide Massine's ballet arranged to the music of Georges Auric. Tikhonova relates how successful the season was, quoting the correspondent from Le Figaro writing in the Morning Post, "a triumph", and pressing for a return visit.
Tikhonova possessed a brilliant fluid technique with a precise yet effortless flow of movement. Her refinement and artistry endeared her to Nijinska, whose favourite dancer she became. Nijinska promoted her to danseuse etoile in her own company, Ballet Russe de Nijinska. With this company she toured extensively in Italy and South America. Tikhonova thrived on being a tourist. In Sorrento she met up with Maxim Gorky, who drove her to Naples, and together they visited Pompeii and Capri. Afterwards Tikhonova was guilt-stricken that she had not delivered to him a letter from her mother.
From 1942 to 1944 she was premiere danseuse of the Nouveau Ballet de Monte Carlo, thus escaping some of the harshness of the Nazi occupation. After retiring from the stage she opened her own school of ballet in Paris at the Conservatoire Russe on the Quai de New York. She taught and choreographed throughout the Sixties. Dedicated to her art, she never married, but lived all her life with her stepbrother Andre.
In 1971 Tikhonova visited her native Russia which she had left 50 years before. It was a great emotional experience for her to see again the mouldering yet beautiful city of Leningrad which she had left as a child. She records in her book how she stood on a bridge beside the Moika canal and mused about her childhood: "Some remarkable figure illumined my childhood, and followed my fate. It gave me everything that was good in my life, teaching me early to discern what was bad."
During her stay she visited the Vaganova Choreographic Academy and was befriended by the artistic director Konstantin Sergeyev. She watched the class of Natalia Dudinskaya and was torn by nostalgia for a life that was snatched from her grasp. It inspiredher to write a book of reminiscences which was published in Russia when she was 81.
John GregoryReuse content