Irina Mikhailovna Baronova FRAD (Russian: Ирина Михайловна Баронова; 13 March 1919 – 28 June 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).

Irina Baronova
Ирина Баронова
Baronova, c. 1937
Irina Mikhailovna Baronova

13 March 1919
Died28 June 2008(2008-06-28) (aged 89)
German Sevastianov
Cecil Tennant
(died 1967)
Children3; including Victoria Tennant



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). In November 1920, the Baronov family escaped the Russian Revolution by dressing as peasants and crossing the border into Romania. After first arriving in Curtea de Argeș, Romania, the family eventually settled in Bucharest. Irina's father found work at a factory and, for the next several years, the Baronov family lived in the slums surrounding the various factories where Mikhail was employed.

Irina's mother, who loved the ballet and had often attended the theatre in Saint Petersburg, found a ballet teacher in Bucharest for Irina. In 1927, at the age of seven, Irina began taking her first ballet lessons from a former corps de ballet member of the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet.

When Baronova 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.

In 1932, Baronova, along with two other girls, Tamara Toumanova (aged 12), and Tatiana Riabouchinska (aged 14), were hired by George Balanchine to become ballerinas in the newly formed Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo. During their first season in London with the Ballets Russes, English critic Arnold Haskell coined the term "Baby Ballerinas" for Toumanova, Riabouchinska and Baronova.[2]

Baronova's first principal role was Odette in Swan Lake, partnered by Anton Dolin, which she performed at 14 years old.

At age 17, she eloped with a Jerry Sevastianov. Two years later, they married in Sydney, Australia, where she was on tour. She then joined the Ballet Theatre in the USA, under the patronage of Sol Hurok. She and Sevastianov divorced. While in Britain in 1946, she met the agent Cecil Tennant, who asked her to marry him if she would give up ballet; he 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, including Victoria. Through Victoria, she became the mother-in-law of Steve Martin. In 2014, Victoria published a pictorial biography of her mother's life entitled 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 classes in the United Kingdom and United States 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 was vice president and a fellow of the Royal Academy of Dance (FRAD).[5][6] She was 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 her sleep at Byron Bay on 28 June 2008.[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. p. B7.
  2. ^ "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), vol. 1, p. 367. ISBN 9780195173697
  5. ^ "Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Dance". Archived from the original on 24 March 2005. Retrieved 6 July 2008.
  6. ^ "Royal Academy of Dance – Contacts" (PDF). Dance Gazette, Issue 1/2007. Royal Academy of Dance. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2008.
  7. ^ "The Australian Ballet School Structure". The Australian Ballet School. Archived from the original on 3 September 2013. Retrieved 6 July 2008.
  8. ^ "Irina Baronova: ballerina and member of Ballets Russes". The Times. London, UK. 26 July 2008. Retrieved 27 July 2008. (subscription required)

Further reading