Ida Rubinstein

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Ida Rubinstein
Ida Rubinstein Face.jpg
Ida Rubinstein (1913) by Antonio de la Gandara
Born Ida Lvovna Rubinstein
(1885-10-05)5 October 1885
Died 20 September 1960(1960-09-20) (aged 74)
Vence, France
Occupation dancer, actress
Years active 1908-1939
Partner(s) Romaine Brooks
Valentin Serov, portrait of Ida as Salome, 1910.
Ida Rubinstein dancing in approximately 1911.
Costume design by Léon Bakst for Ida as Saint Sebastian

Ida Lvovna Rubinstein (Russian: Ида Львовна Рубинштейн; 5 October 1885 – 20 September 1960) was a Russian actress, dancer, patron and Belle Époque figure.


Early life[edit]

Born in either Kharkiv, Ukraine, or Saint Petersburg[1]p408 into a wealthy Jewish banking family, Rubinstein was orphaned at an early age. From the age of two, she and her sister were living in a mansion on the English Embankment, Saint Petersburg, with their aunt, the socialite Madame Horowitz. Her family were extremely wealthy industrialists, and were closely connected by marriage with the Polyakov family (from which Anna Pavlova was rumoured to be illegitimately descended) and the Raffalovich family.[2]

She had, by the standard of Russian ballet, little formal training. Tutored by Mikhail Fokine, she made her debut in 1908. This was a single private performance of Oscar Wilde's Salomé, in which she stripped nude in the course of the Dance of the Seven Veils.

Sergei Diaghilev took her with the Ballets Russes and she danced the title role of Cléopâtre in the Paris season of 1909, and Zobéide in Scheherazade in 1910. Both ballets were choreographed by Fokine, and designed by Léon Bakst. The finale of Cléopâtre inspired Kees van Dongen's Souvenir of the Russian Opera Season 1909. Her partner in Scheherazade was the great Nijinsky. Scheherazade was admired at the time for its racy sensuality and sumptuous staging, but these days it is rarely performed; to modern tastes, it is considered too much of a pantomime and its then fashionable Orientalism appears dated.

Rubinstein left the Ballets Russes in 1911.[1]

Depictions in art[edit]

Rubinstein was much celebrated in art. Her portrait by Valentin Serov in 1910 marks the most complete realization of his mature style. The Art Deco sculptor Demetre Chiparus produced a Rubinstein figurine, and she was also painted by Antonio de la Gandara.

Bisexual,[3] in 1911 Rubinstein began a three-year affair with the painter Romaine Brooks, who created a striking portrait. She used the dancer as a nude model for Venus.

Rubinstein companies[edit]

After leaving the Ballets Russes, Rubinstein formed her own dance company, using her inherited wealth, and commissioned several lavish productions. In 1911 she performed in Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien. The creative team was Fokine (choreography); Bakst (design); Gabriele d'Annunzio (text) and score by Debussy. This was both a triumph for its stylized modernism and a scandal; the Archbishop of Paris prohibited Catholics from attending because St. Sebastian was being played by a woman and a Jew.

After the First World War, Rubinstein appeared in a number of plays, and in Staat's Istar at the Paris Opera in 1924. Between 1928 and 1929, she directed her own company in Paris with Nijinska as choreographer. She commissioned and performed in Maurice Ravel's Boléro in 1928. Other works developed in 1928 were Massine's David, with music by Sauguet; and Le Baiser de la fée, with music by Stravinsky, and choreography by Nijinska. The repertoire also included The Firebird (L'Oiseau de Feu) with music by Stravinsky, and choreography by Fokine; this had been one of the most sensational creations for the Ballets Russes. The company was revived in 1931 and 1934, with new works. She closed the company in 1935, and gave her last performance in the play Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Paris, 1939.[1]

Rubinstein often staged free ballet events and continued to dance until the start of the Second World War.

Later life[edit]

Rubinstein is not considered to be in the top tier of ballerinas; she began her training too late for that to have been a possibility. She did, however, have tremendous stage presence and was able to act. She was also a significant patron and she tended to commission works that suited her abilities, works that mixed dance with drama and stagecraft. In 1934 the French government awarded her the Légion d'honneur, and then in 1939 the Grand Cross of the order, their highest honor. In 1935 she was awarded honorary French citizenship, and in 1936 she converted to Roman Catholicism.[4]

In 1940 she left France during the German invasion, and made her way to England via Algeria and Morocco. There she helped wounded Free French soldiers until 1944. Walter Guinness (later Lord Moyne), her long-term lover and sponsor, remained supportive, providing a suite at the Ritz Hotel, until he was assassinated by the Stern Gang in late 1944.[5] She returned to France, living finally at Les Olivades at Vence.

She died in 1960 at Vence, France, and is buried nearby.

Images and paintings[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Crane, Debra & Mackrell, Judith 2000. The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  2. ^ Dancing in the Vortex: The Story of Ida Rubinstein, By Vicki Woolf (Psychology Press, 2000), page 3
  3. ^ Secrest, Meryle (1974). Between Me and Life: A Biography of Romaine Brooks, Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-03469-5.
  4. ^ Web page on her later life
  5. ^ Joe Joyce; The Guinnesses Poolbeg Press, Dublin 2009, chapter 11.