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|Born||November 17, 1920|
|Died||June 15, 2003 (aged 82)|
Falls Church, VA, USA
Oleg Tupine born 17 November, 1920 in a Russian boat in Turkish waters, near the capital of Istanbul (which at the time was Constantinople). His parents were from Russia and left Russia just before the Soviet Union was about to take over. The family travelled to Bulgaria and then ultimately settled in France.
In 1930s Paris, him and his brother worked small jobs to make money. His uncle sang at the Russian opera and told his parents that he and his brother should become ballet dancers so that they could have a guaranteed job and make money. His mother decided to enroll them in ballet classes.
Tupine’s first ballet class was when he was 13. He knew nothing about ballet and had never seen a dance performance before. He was taught by Lubov (Nikolaevna) Egorova, and stated that she was a great, respected teacher who was also a “wonderful person”. He took classes all day after school in the small studio that had no windows or ventilation, and Egorova let him continue taking class when his family could not afford it. He did a few performances with the Ballet de la Jeunesse around France, then his teacher decided he should audition for a ballet company. She told Serge Grigoriev about Tupine and his brother.
He auditioned for the Original Ballet Russes as the company was touring in France. He joined the Original Ballet Russes in 1938, around the time when the company had split in two. As it was also around the time of World War II, he stated that “no one thought much about the war yet. Even in 1939 we were not conscious that clouds were gathering.” After he joined the company, he learned to love dance. There was always new choreography to learn, and thus he remembered it as a “very exciting period.”
Under the Original Ballet Russes, he worked with Bronislava Nijinska, who changed his dance technique for the better. His dancing improved immensely while working under her direction. He also worked with Leonide Massine, Michel Fokine, and Serge Grigoriev. Tupine danced with many dancers in the company, including Alexandra Danilova whom he performed Swan Lake with. He also danced with Alicia Markova, who in later years asked him to go on tour with her company, the Markova Dolin company. Tupine became a principal dancer for the Original Ballet Russes.
After some years with the company, Tupine left the Original Ballet Russes. He chose to leave because “the company did not treat us like human beings” and dancers were “worked like a dog.” In addition, some dancers (in the corps de ballet) got paid more than others, and he could never get a raise unless he argued for one. There was a point where he could not even afford food because he was not getting paid and the company was in debt. He stated that the dancers were never given enough compensation – the money given to the dancers was never enough – while the management got paid much more. This unfair treatment led to a strike in Cuba while the company was on tour in South America, which he and the corps de ballet participated in. The strike lasted for around 5 months before the company finally paid them. Grigoriev and his wife had to end up dancing for the shows, and the lead dancers had to also perform the corps de ballet roles.
Although he was asked to join the American Ballet Theatre, and did dance with them for about 2 weeks, he ultimately turned down the offer, as it was a smaller position than he had in the Ballet Russes, and he was unable to get a permit to stay in the U.S. He had to leave the country and returned to the Ballet Russes, which occurred around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1949 as a premier danseur, which he enjoyed much more than the Original Ballet Russes company. He “never had to fight for a part” as all of the female dancers only wanted to dance with him, since he was a good partner and dancer. At this time, the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo was under the direction of Colonel W de Basil, whom Tupine saw as a very persuasive man who helped keep the company alive by raising money in every means possible. The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was also directed by Serge Denham while Tupine was in the company.
Tupine performed countless pieces of repertoire all over the world under the Original Ballet Russes and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. These pieces included Cinderella, Paganini, Paquita, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Don Quixote (which was the last piece he performed in the company). For many of these pieces, he performed as a lead role. He performed in Brazil, Buenos Aires, Cuba, North America, Australia and all over Europe. He remembered the theaters in South America were beautiful in red, gold, and velvet, and theaters in Europe were still raked. The company was highly respected as artists in Australia, South America, and England. The company never had a set schedule for touring and would sometimes add weeks to their tour when they performed in certain countries. They travelled by boat, which although was slow, Tupine believed was beautiful and leisurely, as they were able to visit places they stopped on the way (in the time before World War II).
When Tupine came to America for the first time, he was surprised that dancers are expected to do more than one style, and even sing. During his time in the Ballet Russes, it was more about personality than technique when it came to dance. Tupine enjoyed the story-telling aspect of dance, and believed in order to have a good company, “you must have a variety of repertoire.” He also liked the production, sets and costumes that come with a ballet – he liked what the entire performance of a ballet encompassed, not just the technical dancing. He enjoyed “story” ballets.
By this time in his life, he was married and had a child and thus left the company in 1952 to spend time with his family. He turned down many offers to dance with other companies, and he considered his departure from his dance career in the ballet world early. His last ever performance took place in 1963, where he performed with Maria Tallchief as a guest performance.
- Look for the Silver Lining (1949) (danced)
- Peter Gunn (1958) (acted)
He taught at the Washington School of Ballet after his departure from the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and later served as the ballet master of the National Ballet of Washington. He then spent time in Los Angeles with his wife who taught at a dance school. Ultimately, they divorced in 1961 and he eventually settled down with his second wife, Tatiana Rousseau, in Virginia. Tupine and Rousseau danced together in Paris when they were young, but lost touch and reconnected in 1961. The two became founders and co-directors of the Virginia Ballet Company and School in 1965.
Oleg Tupine died on 15 June, 2003 at age 82 in Falls Church, VA, United States.
- "Oleg Tupine". IMDb.com, Inc. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
- Jacqueline L. Salmon. "Dance School Graced With Sense of History". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
- "Our History". Virginia Ballet Company and School. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
- Digital Collections, The New York Public Library. "(sound recording) Interview with Oleg Tupine, 1978, (1978 - 1978)". The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. Retrieved September 17, 2020.