Balanchine and Toumanova: the mysterious video tributes from Georgia

Toni Bentley, one of the most eloquent writers about dance was sent a mysterious email a few months ago. Although it came from an unknown address and had no subject heading, she opened the email which contained only a link.

Common sense would tell most of us to click delete, but Bentley took the risky path, clicking on the link that turned out to be a YouTube video depicting the life of Balanchine in what Bentley calls “a lyrical sequence of slowly expanding black-and-white images of George Balanchine, starting with him as a young man and proceeding to his final curtain call”.

The video ended with the words: “With Love and Respect From Tamara G. Pkhakadze 22.01.2012.”

Bentley danced with New York City Ballet for 10 years but she is also the author of five books, including Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal, so the instinct of a writer would have kicked in.

Bentley found Tamara Pkhakadze on Facebook, sent her a message, and eventually discovered she is only 13 years old and lives with her parents in Tbilisi, Georgia, the same home town of Balanchine’s father.

As Bentley wrote last week in The New York Times: “The plot thickened: Young Tamara was named after Tamara Toumanova, one of the famous baby ballerinas chosen by Balanchine in Paris in the early 1930s.

“Toumanova was Tamara’s father’s grandfather’s first cousin. So young Tamara comes to Balanchine as family…

“I found this out after contacting her father, George Pkhakadze, who assured me by email that Tamara did indeed make the YouTube collage and was named after the ballerina relative”.

Bentley also discovered that Tamara Pkhakadze has made, in the last year or so, about 20 video tributes, including several in homage to her namesake.

“These montages are interesting from one so young”, Bentley wrote.

“They are not about current or even recent stars, but the great immortal ghosts, the haunting Wilis — Anna Pavlova, Olga Spessivtseva — of 20th-century classical ballet.

“If Tamara Pkhakadze has a sophisticated cultural leaning for her years — most 13-year-old girls are more interested in Bieber than Balanchine — she comes by it honestly. Her father is a masterly painter, his New York exhibitions being the cause of his daughter being born in America.

“As we talked on Skype, Tamara proudly flashed her American passport in front of the computer screen, the eagle-head watermark securing Tamara’s citizenship in a country she hopes to visit one day; she left one month after her birth and has never been back”.

I searched for Tamara Pkhakadze on YouTube and found 39 videos on her channel, Tamara02031919.

Some of them are short clips and are titled incorrectly eg “Colonel W. de Basil, Serge Lifar, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Ballet Russe De Monte Carlo 1930” (the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo began in 1932) but they are all worth a look.

Tatiana (or maybe her father) is in contact with the Sydney-based archive ballet film buff, Nick Wallace Smith, with whom she swaps comments in English on who or who might not be shown in the clips. Another intriguing link between three countries and one that would be unimaginable a generation ago.

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