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The Dance of a Lifetime

Victoria Tennant’s new book reveals what life was like for her mother, famed ballerina Irina Baronova

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Film star Victoria Tennant’s new book, Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carloprovides an intimate account of the life of her mother, the famous ballerina Irina Baronova, through a collection of breathtaking photographs, correspondence and news clippings.

When she first came across these things, Tennant wasn’t thinking about writing a book. After Baronova’s death in 2008, her daughter spent five months categorizing the miscellany of papers Baronova had left behind, but it wasn’t long before Tennant realized that she was doing more than simply organizing; the actress was piecing together her mother’s life story.

And what a story it was. Baronova had no formal training in ballet, but her parents, sensing she had a natural gift, brought her from her native Russia to Paris, where George Balanchine himself gave the little dancer her first break. In 1932, Baronova was asked to join Balanchine’s elite ballet company, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, becoming one of three “Baby Ballerinas” in the company. Throughout the 1930s, Baronova toured the world as the prima ballerina for the Ballets Russes and later the Ballet Theatre in New York, where she helped to introduce modern ballet to America.

Knowing she had something special on her hands, Tennant decided to compile her findings into a book of portraits, and she’s done quite a job. Photograph by photograph, Tennant touches on some of the most celebrated moments of Baronova’s career as a professional ballerina, while providing an unprecedented look into the Golden Age of ballet. Although most know Baronova for her grace on the ballet floor, Tennant chronicles her mother’s life from humble and difficult beginnings to her days as a world-renowned dancer. 

Here, Victoria Tennant takes DuJour through some of the highlights of her mother’s life as a dancer.