Lubov Tchernicheva (1890~1976) was an extraordinarily beauty and a great star of the Ballets Russes. The studio portrait above was taken sometime between 1930 and 1937 and is from the Geoffrey Ingram archive of Australian ballet now in the National Library of Australia. She trained in Russia, then danced with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from 1911~1929. She was married to Sergei Grigoriev, the company Regisseur. She attempted to retire in 1929.
However, in 1932 Rene Blum coaxed her back to continue dancing as first ballerina and serve as ballet mistress for Col. de Basil’s Ballets Russes. Her husband served as Regisseur for this company as well. The couple worked for the Col. de Basil Ballets Russes troupe from 1932~1952. They performed and worked with de Basil’s Ballets Russes in their popular tour of Austrailia, throughout the United States and Europe. An extremely popular dancer her public simply would not allow her to retire!
In the 1950s this extraordinary ballet couple worked together staging Fokine’s Ballets for other companies.
Fortunately for dance lovers and historians Lubov Tchernicheva left her personal papers and ballet records to the Harvard University Library and her husband, Sergei Grigoriev, left his to the United States Library of Congress.
Tchernicheva also had amazing costumes for many of the roles she danced! Fortunately many striking photos of her were taken in many roles and survive.
My favorite photos of Lubov are as Cleopatra originally known as Une Nuit d’Egypt and premiered by Diaghilev’s troupe in 1908. The ballet was revived in 1917 and exquisite and truly fantastic (as in a product of the artist’s Egyptian fantasy) new costumes were designed for the revived production by Russian artist and textile designer Sonia Delaunay. These Cleopatra costumes are the version Lubov wore in these photographs.
In the days these old photos were taken the ballet dancers often had to assume a pose in the photographers studio and hold it for a long time while the glass plates of film were exposed. By a long time I mean as long as 20 minutes while the photographer got set up and organized and then slowly exposed the film. It must have been sheer torture!
It is hard to hold perfectly still in an an exotic pose, no matter how static, without twitching or swaying a tiny bit. I know because I have posed for photographers who were trying out the old techniques.Dancers were really happy when fast film was developed so that they could be photographed in action!
Tchernichova’s strong aristocratic profile is amazing and perfect for the character of Cleopatra! And the headdress! it must have taken practice to perform in such a costume – it does not look like it allows for freedom of movement. It looks to me as if the dancer had to adapt to working within the confines and limitations of the costume. Fashion is often like that as well! It is interesting to note that this ballet set off a fashion craze for all things Egyptian in Paris and London. Society ladies were even getting Egyptian tattoos in intimate areas of their bodies!