Karsavina, Tamara (1885–1978) By Eliot, Karen
Trained at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet School, Tamara Karsavina became, in the course of her long and varied career, the prototypical modern ballerina. A dancer of rare intelligence and versatility, she was a key member of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and a muse of modern choreographers. As an artist, she was closely identified with Michel Fokine’s “New Ballet,” which emphasized expressivity, dramatic veracity, and a more creative approach to ballet language and convention. She originated roles in some of Fokine’s greatest works, such as Chopiniana/Les Sylphides (1908–9), Firebird (1910), Petrouchka (1911), and Le Spectre de la rose (1911), and in many now forgotten works such as Thamar (1912) and Le Coq d’or (The Golden Cockerel, 1914). She was an ideal collaborator, as an artistic risk-taker who immersed herself in the style and atmosphere of a work. With Fokine and her most celebrated partner, Vaslav Nijinsky, Karsavina developed a modern performance aesthetic for early twentieth-century ballet.