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Tamara Geva (Russian: Тамара Гева, Жева, or Джева; 17 March 1907 – 9 December 1997) was a Russian actress, ballet dancer and choreographer. She was the first wife of dancer/choreographer George Balanchine.
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Geva was born with the surname Zheverzheieva, sometimes spelled Gevergeyeva (Russian: Тамара Жевержеева), the daughter of Tamara Urtahl (who was Swedish) and Levko Zheverzheiev (or Gevergeyev). Geva's paternal grandparents, although Tatar Muslims, founded a business, which their son inherited, which manufactured objects for the Russian Orthodox Church, including precious icons and ornaments, as well as gold lame and lace for church vestments. Geva's parents were patrons of avante-garde artists. Geva shortened her surname when she came to St. Petersburg, Russia.
Her father, although raised Muslim, became a freethinker. Geva described her mother, also Tamara, as a beautiful but selfish woman, frequently unfaithful to her husband. Her parents were unable to marry until their daughter was six years old. As a child she lived in a huge 18th-century house which had a miniature theater and a theater museum. The museum is preserved and is currently known as The State Museum of Theater and Music.
Geva studied ballet privately, but after the revolution she entered the Theatre School of the Soviet Ballet when it began to accept older ballet students for night classes. Here she met dancer and later choreographer George Balanchine, who was teaching ballroom dance classes. She married Balanchine in 1923, aged 16. The marriage was dissolved in 1926.
She married Karp (also known as "Kapa" or "Kappa") Davidoff (né Garabed Tavitian; 1897-1982) after her divorce from Balanchine. Davidoff, an actor and fashion executive, had previously been married to a flier, Lucia Davidova; Geva and Davidova became friends, and were often publicly escorted together by Davidoff. Geva married, lastly, on 28 June 1942, to American actor John Emery, former husband of Tallulah Bankhead; that union ended in divorce in 1963. Geva had no children.
While still in Russia, Geva began appearing professionally in ballet concerts. In 1924, together with Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, Geva defected from Soviet Russia on a tour to Germany, after Diaghilev had invited them to join the Ballets Russes, where she danced until 1926. She also appeared in 1925 in a German production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as Oberon. In 1927, she introduced Balanchine's choreography to New York City, when she danced two brief solos by him. At the time she was touring with Nikita Balieff's Chauve-Souris, a touring revue which was composed of Russian emigres. On Broadway, Geva appeared in the musicals Three's A Crowd (1930), Flying Colors (1932) and Whoopee (1934).
In 1935 Geva performed with the American Ballet. This was Balanchine's initial company in New York. She immersed herself in film and theater work. In 1936, she was paired with actor Ray Bolger in On Your Toes by Rodgers and Hart. For On Your Toes, she danced in a dramatic "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" sequence and a balletic parody. One reviewer described her performance as "magnificent", adding "she can burlesque it with the authority of an artist on holiday". She went on to act in productions of the works of Euripedes, George Bernard Shaw, and Jean-Paul Sartre. She starred with Raymond Massey in the London premiere of the anti-war play Idiot's Delight (1938), written by Robert E. Sherwood. She acted in Euripedes' The Trojan Women in New York in 1941, and in the Los Angeles production of Sartre's No Exit in 1947. In 1953 Geva played the character of a sarcastic acrobat in a New York revival of George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance. The cast included Roddy McDowall and Richard Kiley. In 1959, Geva and Haila Stoddard created Come Play With Me a musical comedy with a score penned by Dana Suesse, which had had a short off-Broadway run. She was the choreographer for the film Specter of the Rose (1946), written by Ben Hecht. Her last performance was onscreen in Frevel (1984), credited simply as "Tamara". In her later years, she had several exhibitions of her paintings.
- 1951: an episode of The Web ("Golden Secret")
- 1951: an episode of The Adventures of Ellery Queen ("The Ballet Murder")
- 1948: The Gay Intruders as Maria Ivar
- 1946: Specter of the Rose choreography only
- 1942: Night Plane from Chungking as Countess Olga Karagin
- 1942: Orchestra Wives as Mrs. Beck
- 1937: Manhattan Merry-Go-Round as Madame 'Charlie' Charlizzini
- 1934: Their Big Moment as Madame Lottie Marvo
- 1931: The Girl Habit as Sonja Maloney
- 1925: Wood Love as Oberon
- Geva, Tamara. Split Seconds: A Remembrance. Limelight Editions, 1972.
- Info re Geva's personal life, and marriages after Balanchine; accessed 4 January 2014.
- New York Times obituary, 11 December 1997, page B13; accessed 2 January 2014.
- Tamara Geva at the Internet Movie Database
- Tamara Geva at the Internet Broadway Database
- Tamara Geva at the Internet Off-Broadway Database