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Irina Baronova (1919–2008)

Author of Irina: Ballet, Life and Love

Includes the names: Irina Baronova TENNANT

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Irina Baronova was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia (then known as Petrograd), the daughter of an aristocratic officer in the Imperial Navy. The following year, the family fled the Russian Revolution to Romania, where they settled in Bucharest. Living in poverty in a foreign country with little knowledge of the language, Irina’s mother managed to provide ballet lessons for her small daughter. Irina made such progress that when she was 10, the family moved to Paris to obtain professional training for her. In Paris, she was taught by the famed Olga Preobrajenska and Mathilde Kschessinska. Irina made her professional debut at age 11 at the Paris Opera in 1930. In 1932, just shy of her 13th birthday, she was chosen by George Balanchine, along with Tamara Toumanova and Tatiana Riabouchinska, to join the newly-formed Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. With their extreme youth, energy, and technical strength, they won fame around the world as the "Baby Ballerinas." Her first principal role was as Odette in Swan Lake at age 14. At age 18, Irina eloped with German "Gerry" Sevastianov, the troupe's manager, who was twice her age. She went with him to the USA and joined the new Ballet Theatre (present-day American Ballet Theatre). In the UK in 1946, she met theatrical agent Cecil Tennant, and divorced her first husband to marry him. Aged only 27, she agreed to Tennant's condition that she retire from ballet, but appeared in several films between 1940 and 1951. The couple had three children. Irina turned to teaching ballet master classes in the USA and UK after Tennant's death. In 1986, she staged Michel Fokine's Les Sylphides for the Australian Ballet. In 1992, she returned to Russia for the first time to help the Maryinsky Theatre with an archival project. In 2005, she appeared in the documentary film Ballets Russes and published her autobiography, Irina: Ballet, Life and Love. She was named a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Dance (FRAD) and served as a patron of the Australian Ballet School. In 2014, her daughter Victoria Tennant published a pictorial biography of her mother entitled Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo.
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