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Tamara Geva (born Tamara Zheverzheeva; Russian: Тамара Гева, Жева, or Жева; 17 March 1906 – 9 December 1997) was a Soviet and later an American actress, ballet dancer, and choreographer. She was the daughter of art patron and collector Levko Gevergeyev [ru] and she was the first wife of the well-known ballet dancer/choreographer George Balanchine.
17 March 1906
|Died||9 December 1997 (aged 91)|
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
(m. 1921; div. 1926)
(m. 19??; div. 19??)
(m. 1942; div. 1963)
Throughout her life she danced with Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, performed with husband George Balanchine, and performed in and choreographed many notable Broadway shows. Geva also wrote an autobiographical book entitled Split Seconds.
Family and early lifeEdit
Tamara Geva was born in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire on March 17, 1906 with the surname Zheverzheeva, sometimes spelled Gevergeyeva (Russian: Тамара Жевержеева). Geva's mother was well-known actress Tamara Urtahl and her father was passionate collector and art enthusiast Levko Gevergeyev [ru] (or Gevergeyev).
Her father was known as a freethinker. He sponsored Russian avante-garde artists and their projects through his enthusiasm for artistry. Geva described her mother, Tamara Urthal, as a beautiful but selfish woman. Her parents were unable to marry until their daughter was six years old. As a child, she lived in a huge 19th-century house (Ivan Zheverzheev′s house at Rubinstein Street, 18) which had an extensive art, book and theater collection as well as a miniature theater all organized by her father and his years of collecting such artifacts. Her father had agents all over who found art, writings, and artifacts from a variety of well-known artists to add to his massive collection. Geva has said that this collection was her father's most prized possession. After the Russian Revolution ended and Levko had passed away, his extensive theatre memorabilia collection was preserved and put into an exhibit at Saint Petersburg State Museum of Theater and Music [ru]. Geva grew up in the midst of the Bolshevik Revolution where she experienced true hardships in her youth.
Training and early careerEdit
Tamara began her ballet training by taking private lessons in dance studios with notable teachers such as Evgenia Sokolova and Alexander [ru] & Ivan Chekrygin [ru]. At age 13 she began to attend dance classes at the St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre School, when it began to accept older students for evening classes shortly after the revolution. These evening classes were segregated by sex, so the only time the boys and girls interacted was during ballroom dance classes. It was here that she met dancer and choreographer George Balanchine, who at the time was the teacher for the ballroom dance classes. She and Balanchine became close shortly after this and he began choreographing pieces for them both. One of the first things they did was La Nuit to Anton Rubenstein's Romance in E-flat. Geva remembers audiences thinking it was "terribly erotic." During the Revolution Balanchine moved in with Geva's family. To make ends meet the two would perform in small theaters performing dances Balanchine choreographed as well as music sung by Geva accompanied by Balanchine. She married Balanchine in 1924, when she was 17 years old. Soon after, she shortened her surname and the couple left Russia in 1924.
While the couple was still in Russia, Geva and Balanchine began appearing together professionally in ballet concerts. In 1924, the couple met Anton Dolin, one of Sergei Diaghilev's star dancers. Dolin suggested that they audition for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. Diaghilev was immediately impressed by the pair and he hired them on the spot to join the Ballet Russes. Balanchine and Geva defected from Soviet Russia and left on a tour to Europe with Diaghilev as a part of the Ballets Russes. Geva was a part of Ballet Russes for 2 and a half years from 1924 until 1927 during which they performed in places such as Paris and Monte Carlo. Geva performed in The Triumph of Neptune with the Ballet Russes in 1926 where she wore a costume made of tiny mirrors that weighed 75 pounds. Geva remembered Diaghilev as having a superior air at all times and that he would often look down upon others, but he could also turn his charm on at any time he needed it. Diaghilev often stuck Geva in the corps de ballet, so she left the company fairly early to find more fulfilling work.
In 1927, Geva left Europe and made her way to America while touring with Nikita Balieff's Chauve-Souris. During this time, she introduced Balanchine's choreography to New York City, where she danced three solos choreographed for her by him. She premiered these three pieces entitled Romanesque, Grotesque Espagnol with music by Albeniz, and Sarcasms with music by Prokofiev at the Cosmopolitan Theatre and was called "a Russian star". After this, Geva began performing with the Ziegfeld Follies. Later Geva transitioned towards Broadway where she appeared in a number of notable musicals between 1925 and 1953 including Three's A Crowd (1930), Flying Colors (1932) and Whoopee! (1934). She cherished her time on Broadway as a performer, but she also got the chance to choreograph many numbers in these productions. She choreographed the "Talkative Toes" dance for Three's a Crowd and "Two Faced Woman" in Flying Colors.
In 1935 Geva performed with the American Ballet, Balanchine's ballet company in New York. She performed in their first performance where she danced in Errante with music by Schubert. She later immersed herself in film and theater work while staying in America. In 1936, she was paired with actor Ray Bolger in On Your Toes by Rodgers and Hart. In On Your Toes, she danced in the dramatic "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" sequence and a balletic parody choreographed by Balanchine and composed by Dick Rodgers. New York Times reviewer Brooks Atkinson described her performance as "magnificent", adding "she can burlesque it with the authority of an artist on holiday". She went on to act in productions of the works of Euripides, George Bernard Shaw, and Jean-Paul Sartre. She acted in Euripides' The Trojan Women where she played Helen of Troy in New York in 1941, and in the Los Angeles production of Sartre's No Exit in 1947. In 1953 Geva played the character of Lina Szczepanowska a sarcastic acrobat in a New York revival of George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance. The cast included Roddy McDowall and Richard Kiley. In 1959, Geva and Haila Stoddard created Come Play With Me a musical comedy with a score penned by Dana Suesse, which had had a short off-Broadway run. She was the lead choreographer for Ben Hecht's film Specter of the Rose (1946), based on the Nijinsky legend. Her last ever performance was onscreen in Frevel (1983).
In 1923, Geva married George Balanchine in Russia at the age of 17. A year later in 1924, Geva and Balanchine left Russia. Geva was the first of Balanchine's four wives, all of whom were dancers. They divorced by 1926, but remained good friends and constantly worked together throughout both of their careers. Geva later married Kapa Davidoff (né Garabed Tavitian; 1897-1982). Davidoff was an actor and fashion executive who had previously been married to a flier, Lucia Davidova; They also ended up divorcing. In 1942 Geva married again, this time to American actor John Emery, former husband of Tallulah Bankhead; that union ended in divorce in 1963. Geva never had any children.
|1925||Cock of the Roost||Jutta, Rombergs Tochter|
|1925||Joyless Street||Lia Leid||Uncredited|
|1925||Die unberührte Frau||Jane, ihre Mutter|
|1929||Zwischen vierzehn und siebzehn - Sexualnot der Jugend||Parent|
|1931||The Girl Habit||Sonja Maloney|
|1934||Their Big Moment||Madame Lottie Marvo|
|1937||Manhattan Merry-Go-Round||Madame 'Charlie' Charlizzini|
|1942||Orchestra Wives||Mrs. Beck|
|1943||Night Plane from Chungking||Countess Olga Karagin|
|1946||Specter of the Rose||Choreographer|
|1948||The Gay Intruders||Maria Ivar|
|1951||The Adventures of Ellery Queen||Episode: "The Ballet Murder"|
|1951||The Web||Episode: "Golden Secret"|
|1978||Cartas de amor de una monja||Monja|
|1979||Diaghilev: A Portrait||Narrator|
|1984||Frevel||Bardame||(Final film role)|
|1930||Three's a Crowd||Performer|
|1933||A Divine Drudge||Lania|
|1934||The Red Cat||Mimi|
|1936||On Your Toes||Princess Zenobia, Strip Tease Girl|
|1941||The Trojan Woman||Helen|
- "Interview with Tamara Geva, 1976". NYPL Digital Collections. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
- "Tamara Geva | American ballerina and actress". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
- Geva, Tamara (1972). Split seconds : a remembrance / by Tamara Geva (First ed.). New York. ISBN 0-06-011512-2. OCLC 533715.
- Anderson, Jack (11 December 1997). "Tamara Geva Is Dead at 91; Ballet Dancer and Actress". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 29 May 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
- Mason, Francis (19 December 1997). "Obituary: Tamara Geva: Bolsheviks, ballet and Broadway". The Guardian.
- Webb, Clifton (2011). Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781604739978. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
- "Dance Magazine". Dance Magazine. Retrieved 24 September 2020.
- "Tamara Geva: American Ballerina and Actress". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on 29 May 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
- "Tamara Geva – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB". www.ibdb.com. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
- "Flying Colors – Broadway Musical – Original | IBDB".
- Muir, Helen (8 April 1962). "Grove To Glitter At World Premiere". The Miami News. Florida, Miami. p. 88. Retrieved 28 May 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- Hughes, Alice (21 January 1941). "A Woman's New York". Reading Angle. p. 12. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
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