Tamara Tchinarova, principal dancer, writer, interpreter and one of the last stars of the Ballets Russes’ days in Australia

Tamara Tchinarova Finch, a dancer who gave so much to ballet in Australia has died in Spain at the age of 98.

She toured twice to Australia with Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes, and decided to stay after the second tour of 1938/9.

Tchinarova danced with three Australian companies, the Kirsova Ballet, the Polish-Australian Ballet and the Borovansky Ballet, then in 1948 settled in England with her husband, the actor, Peter Finch, who she met in Sydney.

Tchinarova had a further Australian connection when she interpreted for the Australian Ballet during one of their tours to the USSR.

She travelled to Australia for the last time in 1994 where, with her friend, the dancer Irina Baronova, she spoke about her life in ballet at an event at Government House, Sydney.

Her memoir, Dancing Into the Unknown, My Life in the Ballets Russes and Beyond, published in 2007, is essential reading for anyone interested in the Ballets Russes’ era and the mid 20th century development of ballet in Australia.

Born in Romania in 1919, she moved to Paris with her mother, Anna, in 1926. Her father, Evsevy, was already in Paris, where he was seeking work.

In 1928 she decided she wanted to dance when her father took her to see Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris.

After her parents separated and her father returned to Russia, Tchinarova remained in Paris with her mother and trained at the studio of Olga Preobrajenska, a former ballerina of the Russian Imperial Ballet.

Tchinarova danced with the companies that formed after the death of Diaghilev, among them de Basil’s Monte Carlo Russian Ballet that came to Australia in 1936.

Accompanied by her mother, she returned to Australia in 1938 with de Basil’s second troupe, the Covent Garden Russian Ballet.

At the end of the tour they rented an apartment in Philip Street, Sydney, where Anna made costumes for dance schools and ballet companies, including the newly formed Kirsova Ballet.

Tchinarova taught ballet students and sometimes worked in factories to make ends meet.

Helene Kirsova, a former ballerina with de Basil’s Ballets Russes, asked Tchinarova to join the company she had formed in 1941.

The following year Tchinarova was engaged to an Australian press photographer, Fred Breen, who joined the Air Force, trained in Canada and in July 1942 died in a bombing raid over Germany.

In 1943 Tchinarova met the actor, Peter Finch, at Redleaf Pool in Sydney’s east. They married at St Stephens, Bellevue Hill, on 21 April, 1943.

Living with Finch in their Kings Cross apartment wasn’t easy. He had seen war service in the Middle East but was later transferred to the entertainment unit in the Sydney suburb of Pagewood.

Finch brought his army mates home for all night parties or spent much of his time at the Sydney Journalists Club.

In 1944 Tchinarova wrote a letter to Edouard Borovansky to wish him well with his next season, adding “If you ever need a dancer, think of me”.

At the time he did need a new dancer as one of his principals, Laurel Martyn, was injured. Borovansky sent a cable to J C Williamson, the firm that managed the Borovansky Ballet:

“Essential engage Tchinarova immediately”. The Firm agreed and Tchinarova accepted on the spot.

As well, Boro knew Tchinarova could help him stage the old ballets of the Ballets Russes touring days.

Boro said he remembered them all. Tchinarova soon discovered he didn’t. He knew the roles he had danced, but hardly anything else.

Boro begged her to help reproduce the ballets Le Carnaval, Scheherazade and Le Beau Danube. She had danced in them all and knew the leading roles. For every revival she was paid just ÂŁ10. As well she danced the leading roles of the Street Dancer in Le Bleu Danube and Chiarina in Carnaval.

After the end of a Borovansky Ballet season in 1946 Tchinarova danced in two musicals, Dancing Years and Gay Rosalinda, then, in 1948, left Australia with Finch to live in London.

Their daughter, Anita, was born in 1949.

Finch’s career as an actor took flight in London and Hollywood but his relationship with the actor, Vivien Leigh, whom he had met in Australia, meant an end to the marriage of Tchinarova and Finch.

They separated in 1956 and divorced in 1959.

Two years later Tchinarova began her work as an interpreter at the British Trade Fair in Moscow.

In 2004 she moved to Spain to be with Anita and her husband, Val Harrison.

She died at her daughter’s home in Marbella, Spain, on 31 August, 2017.

Tchinarova, an outstanding dancer and a charming woman, was one of the last dancers of the Ballets Russes.

There is, though, at least one other Ballets Russes’ survivor, the dancer, Sono Osato, who is 98.

In her memoir, Distant Dances, Osato wrote that she was “one of the few American dancers who ever saw the Diaghilev ballet at the peak of its glory”.

Whatever their nationality, there would be few other dancers who are still alive who could say the same.