Irina Baronova

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Irina Baronova
Irina Baronova, c. 1937
Native name Ирина Михайловна Баронова
Born Irina Mikhailovna Baronova
(1919-03-13)March 13, 1919
Russian Empire
Died June 28, 2008(2008-06-28) (aged 89)
Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation Ballerina
Spouse(s) German Sevastianov,
Cecil Tennant
Children Victoria Tennant,
Irina Tennant,
Robert Tennant
Parent(s) Mikhail Baronov
Lidia Vishniakova

Irina Mikhailovna Baronova FRAD (Russian: Ири́на Миха́йловна Баро́нова; March 13, 1919 – June 28, 2008) was a Russian ballerina and actress who was one of the Baby Ballerinas of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, discovered by George Balanchine in Paris in the 1930s.[1] She created roles in Léonide Massine's Le Beau Danube (1924), Jeux d'enfants (1932), and Les Présages (1933); and in Bronislava Nijinska's Les Cent Baisers (1935).


Baronova was born in Saint Petersburg (then known as Petrograd) in 1919, the daughter of a lieutenant in the Imperial Navy, Mikhail Baronov, and his wife Lidia (née Vishniakova). When she was less than two years old, her family moved to Romania. In November 1920, the Baronova family escaped the Russian Revolution by dressing as peasants and crossing the border into Romania. Irina was just two years old. After first arriving in Arges, Romania, the family eventually settled in Bucharest. Irina’s father Mikhail Baronov found work at a factory and for the next several years, the Baronova family lived in the slums surrounding the various factories where Mikhail is employed. Their start on life in Bucharest was a tumultuous one, having arrived in this foreign country without speaking the language and with no money, but because of Mikhail’s hard work and determination, their circumstances eventually started to look up.

Irina’s mother, who loved the ballet and often attended the theater in St. Petersburg, found a ballet teacher in Bucharest for Irina. In 1927, at the age of seven, Irina began taking her first ballet lessons. Mme. Majaiska, who was a former corps de ballet member of the Maryinsky Theatre Ballet, and a refugee like the Baronovas, conducted these ballet lessons. The lessons took place in Mme. Majaiska’s one room house, where Irina would hold onto the kitchen table as a barre, and was accompanied by her mother’s humming as music. When Irina was 10 years old, the family moved to Paris to provide her with professional training. She was taught by Olga Preobrajenska. She also studied with fellow ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska. Baronova made her debut aged 11 at the Paris Opera in 1930.

The crucial point in Baronova's career came in 1932, just a few months short of her thirteenth birthday. She, along with two other girls, Tamara Toumanova, 12, and Tatiana Riabouchinska, 14, were hired by George Balanchine to become ballerinas in the newly formed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Their extreme youth and technical perfection won them fame around the world. During their first season in London with the Ballet Russe, English critic Arnold Askell coined for Tamara Toumanova, Tatiana Riabouchinska and Irina Baronova, the term “Baby Ballerinas”.[2]

Baronova's first principal role was Odette in Swan Lake, partnered by Anton Dolin, which she performed at just 14 years old. Irina was an animal lover, and travelled the world with her pet marmoset, Miky. On tour in Barcelona in 1937, she bought Miky a friend, whom she named Piki. From then on, Irina toured with her two monkeys and they lived with her happily for the next nine years.

At age 17, she eloped with an older Russian, German ("Jerry" or "Gerry") Sevastianov. They had a church wedding in Sydney, Australia, two years later, when she was on tour. She joined the Ballet Theatre in the USA, under the patronage of Sol Hurok. Her marriage to Sevastianov ended in divorce, and in Britain in 1946 she met the agent Cecil Tennant, who asked her to marry him if she would give up ballet. Aged only 27, she agreed, and retired.

Between 1940 and 1951, Baronova appeared in several films, including Ealing Studios Train of Events (1949) and worked as ballet mistress for the 1980 film Nijinsky.

Baronova and Tennant had three children, Victoria, Irina and Robert. Through Victoria, she became the mother-in-law of Steve Martin. In 2014, Victoria published a pictorial biography of her mother's life titled Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo.[3] In 1967, Cecil Tennant was killed in a car accident, and Baronova moved to Switzerland. Later, she resumed her relationship with her first husband, Jerry Sevastianov, who died in 1974. She returned to teaching master classes in the United States and United Kingdom in 1976.[4] Margot Fonteyn asked her to conduct a training course for teachers. In 1986 she staged Fokine's Les Sylphides for The Australian Ballet. In 1992 she returned to Russia to help the Mariinsky Theatre with an archival project. In 1996 she received a Vaslav Nijinsky Medal from Poland and an honorary doctorate from the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Baronova's daughter Irina moved to Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia, and, after visiting her in 2000, Baronova decided to settle there as well. Baronova appeared in the 2005 documentary Ballets Russes. In the same year she published her autobiography, Irina: Ballet, Life and Love, which she wrote in longhand despite having lost much of her sight.

Baronova was a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Dance (FRAD)[5] and its vice-president;[6] she was also a patron of the Australian Ballet School.[7]

Only five weeks before her death, she spoke at a symposium in Adelaide, South Australia, on the Ballets Russes tours of Australia. She died in Byron Bay on June 28, 2008, aged 89.[8]


Year Production Role Notes
1940 Florian Trina
1943 Toast of Love Dancer
1949 Train of Events Irina Nozorova
1951 Toast to Love Yolanda Petrova
1980 Nijinsky Ballet Mistress Miscellaneous crew
2004 Ballets Russes Herself Documentary


See also


  1. Kisselgoff, Anna (2 July 2008). "Irina Baronova, Ballet Star, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 July 2008. Irina Baronova, an international ballet star who was one of three celebrated prodigies known as the "baby ballerinas" after George Balanchine discovered them in Paris in the 1930s, died on Saturday at her home in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia. She was 89.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Amanda. "Ballets Russes", The Age (17 July 2005).
  3. Victoria Tennant (2014) Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, University of Chicago Press ISBN 978-0-22616-716-9
  4. "Irina Baronova," entry in International Encyclopedia of Dance (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), volume 1, p. 367.
  5. "Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Dance". Retrieved 6 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Royal Academy of Dance – Contacts" (PDF). Dance Gazette, Issue 1/2007. Royal Academy of Dance. February 2007. Retrieved 6 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "The Australian Ballet School Structure". The Australian Ballet School. Retrieved 6 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  8. "Irina Baronova: ballerina and member of Ballets Russes". The Times. London. 26 July 2008. Retrieved 27 July 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (subscription required)
  9. "Raymond Lister" obituary, The Daily Telegraph (30 November 2001)

External links