The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) has announced the acquisition of a rare and valuable painting of the Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina. While many outside of ballet may not know her name, Karsavina was one of the dancers behind a major change in ballet bringing the more expressive style into the dance in place of stiff, traditional ways.
Who was Tamara Karsavina?
Tamara Karsavina was born in 1885 in St Petersburg, Russia. Her father, Platon was an instructor at the Imperial Ballet School as well as having been a principal dancer and mime. At first, her father didn’t want her to study ballet as he had a bad experience in his later career. But her mother insisted and set up lessons without her father’s knowledge.
Her father later took over as her instructor and she was accepted into the Imperial Ballet School in 1894. She graduated early in 1902, unheard of for her age but she needed to turn professional and help support her family.
She quickly became the leading ballerina but left Russian in 1918 before the civil war came. She first went to Paris where she came to work alongside her rival, Anna Pavlova.
Karsavina and the RAD
In 1920, Karsavina was married to British diplomat Henry Bruce and the couple moved to London. It was here that she worked with a group of other dancers to create the Royal Academy of Dance. She brought the Imperial Method alongside others such as Phyllis Bedells and Lucia Cormani who brought the English and Italian ballet methods to the school.
She quickly learned English and wrote a memoir by the early 1930s called Theatre Street. She worked on developing the RAD and also offered private tutoring to upcoming ballet stars. This included working with Margot Fonteyn where she coached her for Firebird.
With the other founding members of the RAD, Karsavina created a new movement in ballet, a blend of different styles and experiences that they passed on to their students. She taught key original Russian choreographic details that led to many new styles of dance in the years that followed including by Frederick Ashton, who always said she was one of his great inspirations.
Former dancer Anya Linden, now Lady Sainsbury of Preston Candover, was behind the acquisition of the painting of Karsavina. Quickly working with donors from across the country, she secured funding to purchase the painting, created by Jacques-Emile Blanche.
The painting is believed to have been painted in Paris around 1912. It was owned by English dance teacher Roger Tully and is one of two that he painted of Karsavina. The other showed her as the star of Firebird and is currently handing in the Stravinsky ballet.
The RAD plan to unveil the painting at their new Battersea headquarters later in 2021 so people visiting can see one of the most influential people in its history and learn what Tamara Karsavina brought to the establishment.