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Submitted by Roger Mellor
Ballerina, actress and writer
The Independent; 27 March 2004
Monika Tchemerzine (Ludmila Tchérina), dancer, actress and artist: born Paris 10 October 1924; married first Edmond Audran (died 1951), second 1953 Raymond Roi; died Paris 21 March 2004.
Ludmila Tchérina was a singularly driven woman who also had the immense adroitness to be born beautiful. Her part-Georgian background fed her sense of uniqueness; her ballet training gave her a disciplined self-belief which she extended into other artistic realms.
She achieved fame in her native France as a ballerina, then reached a wider public at home and abroad as an actress, visual artist and novelist. She appeared in some 18 films, including the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger classics The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). In this second film, she played Giulietta, a role which, her entry in International Who's Who claims, won her an Oscar for Best Performance by a Foreign Actress.
That, though, is disputed by other sources and collating her history is an exercise that requires picking through a minefield of hyperbole and vagueness. But one fact seems fairly consistent: her date and place of birth and her real name. She was born Monika Tchemerzine in Paris on 10 October 1924, of a French mother and Georgian father. Her mother was Stéphane Finette and her father Avenir Tchemerzine, an exiled prince who is variously described as a horseman, mathematician, inventor and the compiler (with his wife) of a monumental bibliography of original editions of French poetry.
The family had little money, but Monika started ballet around the age of three, eventually studying with some of the greatest names in Paris - the former Maryinsky ballerina Olga Preobrajenska, the former Bolshoi ballet master Ivan Clustine, the influential French teacher Gustave Ricaux. Her first teacher, though, was Blanche D'Alessandri, who came from the strict Italian school and instilled technique with the help of taps on the body from a stick. This old-fashioned approach worked wonders. After escaping with her mother to Marseilles at the start of the Second World War, she made her professional début at 15 and was a star dancer at the Opéra de Marseille at 16.
In 1943 she transferred to the Nouveaux Ballets de Monte Carlo where she was spotted by Serge Lifar, then director of the Paris Opéra Ballet. He invented her stage name, Ludmila Tchérina, and choreographed Romeo and Juliet, to Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture, for himself and Tchérina, an extended pas de deux that was premiered at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1943.
Shortly after, just turned 20, she performed another Lifar premiere, Mephisto Valse, in another concert at the Salle Pleyel, in a programme accompanied by Youly Algaroff and her future husband Edmond Audran, who had been her stage partner at the Marseilles opera and with whom she had moved to the Monte Carlo company. Sponsored by a French countess, the concert had attracted le tout Paris and Tchérina became an overnight celebrity.
She had ambition and confidence; she was more a ballerina-star than an archetypal, austerely devotional ballerina. "She had," writes Irène Lidova, "inherited from her Georgian father a luminous ivory complexion and the carriage of a princess."
Lidova persuaded her to appear in the first season of Les Ballets des Champs-Elysées, founded by Lidova and the choreographer Roland Petit and the crucible for the post-war revitalisation of French ballet. Tchérina danced in Petit's seminal Les Forains, whose libretto about circus people was by Boris Kochno, its music by Henri Sauguet and designs by Christian Bérard. Tchérina wore her long glittering black tulle dress with supreme elegance.
She could only dance a few times with the Ballets des Champs-Elysées as she and Audran were contracted with the Nouveaux Ballets de Monte Carlo, now directed by Lifar in exile from Paris for alleged Nazi collaboration. The company performed at the Cambridge Theatre in London in 1946 and Tchérina appeared in her created travesti role of the young Bonaparte in Lifar's A La Mémoire d'un Héros.
Meanwhile, she was also starting her film career. The Champs-Elysées performances had brought her to the attention of Christian Jaque who offered her the starring role in his 1946 film Un revenant (A Lover's Return). This was followed by the British film The Red Shoes, where she played Irina Boronskaja and spoke English for the first time. She made other films in Europe, then The Tales of Hoffman in which she was noticed by Universal-International and made her American screen début in Sign of the Pagan (1954), co-starring Jeff Chandler, Jack Palance and Rita Gam. She played a straight acting role, although she did perform a dance, which she also choreographed. Her other films include La Fille de Mata-Hari (1954) and Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955).
In 1951 Audran died in a car accident. Distraught, she stopped dancing, but was persuaded to return to the stage by Raymond Roi, a French industrialist, whom she married in 1953. Roi's wealth gave her the freedom to form her own experimental company which existed in 1958-59 and appeared at the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhard (now Théâtre de la Ville). For this, she commissioned Les Amants de Téruel, a dance theatre piece, devised by Raymond Rouleau and choreographed by Milko Sparemblek to a commissioned score by Mikis Theodorakis, which transferred to the cinema screen in 1959; and also Le Feu aux poudres (1958), which had a libretto by the great film director Jean Renoir (his only work for the ballet stage) and choreography by Paul Goubé.
She appeared widely as a guest artist: at the Metropolitan Opera in New York she danced Joseph Lazzini's production of The Miraculous Mandarin, which was later filmed and televised; at La Scala, Milan in Giselle under Toscanini's baton; at the Bolshoi in Moscow and the Kirov in Leningrad. She scored a success in her Paris Opéra debut in 1957, in Lifar's Le Martyre de Saint-Sébastien, returning to the role in 1958 and 1969.
Very dramatic in appearance and manner, in the theatre she played Anna Karenina (1975); and on French television she starred in Salomé (1972), La Dame aux camélias (1974) and La Reine de Saba (1975). She had two novels published, drawing on her life as a dancer: L'Amour au miroir (1983) and La Femme à l'envers (1986).
She had, she said, been painting since the age of six and she plunged herself into this in an attempt to overcome depression following her first husband's death. Her work was displayed in a number of exhibitions, including one in 1973 at the Hôtel de Sully in Paris which was opened by the former minister of culture André Malraux. She also made sculptures, including one for the 1989 French Bicentenary and in 1994 a monumental piece for the inauguration of the Channel Tunnel.
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