Victoria Tennant Lecture

The Dramatic Life of Irina Baronova

Noted British actress Victoria Tennant, who starred in the movies “The Winds of War” and “L.A. Story,” gave a riveting and very moving lecture on her mother, the Russian ballerina Irina Baronova. When her mother died in 2008, Victoria and her sister discovered over 2,000 photos and correspondence dating back to the 1920’s. Wanting to preserve these memories for the sake of her children, Victoria explained, “I became an accidental author.” Her sumptuously illustrated book, Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo chronicles an amazing and dramatic life. Irina was born in St. Petersburg in 1919; her parents were White Russians loyal to the Tsar. With the advent of the Russian revolution, their lives were in danger. They escaped to Romania where her father became a factory worker. Living in poverty in the slums, Irina’s mother was determined to give her daughter some semblance of civilization, and decided to give her ballet lessons. When the 7-year old Irina saw her first ballet performance in Bucharest, she thought that the theatre with its chandeliers and red velvet seats was a “palace” and the principal ballerina a “fairy princess.” Her teacher recognized an exceptional talent in her and encouraged her parents to take her to Paris to study with Olga Preobrajenska who said, “I’ll take her with no money. She can pay me back later.” As fate would have it, when Olga was in her 90’s and poor, Irina raised funds for her so that she would be completely taken care of until her death.

George Balanchine, a dancer and choreographer with the Ballets Russes, discovered Irina and invited her to join the company. She was only 12, but Balanchine wanted to create something fresh, modern and young. He chose two other young Russian dancers, Tamara Toumanova and Tatiana Riabouchinska, and the three created a sensation with their dancing. They were known as the “Baby Ballerinas.”  Artists such as Raoul Dufy designed the sets, and fashion designers such as Jeanne Lanvin did the costumes. At age 14, Irina danced the leading role in “Swan Lake.” Due to her extraordinary talent, she became a prima ballerina by age 15.  Balanchine took the company on tour to America in the 1930’s, thereby introducing ballet to many audiences for the first time.

Irina fell in love with and married Gerry Sevstianov who worked for the company.  Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo gave its last performance in the summer of 1939 at Covent Garden in London. The audience wouldn’t stop clapping and shouted for Baronova. She had become a star. On September 3, England declared war on Germany. Irina took the last boat to New York and joined New York’s Ballet Theatre as a leading ballerina.  Now divorced from Gerry, Irina met Victoria’s father, Cecil Tennant, in London after the war.  He wanted her to stop working. After living out of a suitcase well into her late 20’s, the idea of having a home and starting a family was very tempting. Victoria ended the lecture with a beautiful video of her mother, recounting her extraordinary life.

To find out more about Victoria’s book, go to her website at: You can also watch this interview about Victoria’s book with Connie Martinson at:

Post by Linda Meadows
Friends of Robinson Gardens Member


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