Ida Rubinstein was a famous Russian ballerina, actress, patron and Belle Époque figure. An idol of the fin de siècle renowned for her beauty, mimetic powers and enormous wealth. She was a significant patron and she tended to commission works that suited her abilities, works that mixed dance with drama and stagecraft
She was born in Kharkiv 1885, Ukraine, but was orphaned at an early age. The family was wealthy, cultured and Russified, a merchant-banking clan that had moved up the social ranks; her father’s title, Hereditary Honorary Citizen, conferred gentry status.
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. Tutored by Mikhail Fokine, she made her debut in 1908. This was a private performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, in which she stripped nude in the course of the Dance of the Seven Veils. After the play was banned, Rubinstein performed the dance alone as a concert number.
Salomé brought Rubinstein to the attention of Serge Diaghilev (1872–1929), who included her in the earliest Paris seasons of his celebrated Ballets Russes. Because of her limited dance training, she was cast in “mime” roles such as Cleopatra (1909) and Ta-Hor in Schéhérazade (1910), which capitalized on her dark, exotic looks and stunning stage presence. Both ballets were choreographed by Fokine, and designed by Léon Bakst. Her partner in Scherazade was the great Nijinsky. Scherezade 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. World War I was a watershed in Rubinstein’s life. Although twenty years would elapse before she became a French citizen, by the 1920s she had become a grande dame of the French theatre. In 1928 Rubinstein formed her own dance company, using her inherited wealth, and commissioned several lavish productions. Her last performance was in the play Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher in Paris, 1939. In 1940 she left France during the German invasion, and made her way to England via Algeria and Morocco. She later returned to France, living finally at Les Olivades at Vence, where she lived in strict seclusion, reading the Bible and occasionally visiting the Abbey of Cîteaux. She died in 1960 and was buried nearby.
Ida Rubinstein 1920s
Ida Rubinstein 1917 by Romaine Brooks
Ida Rubinstein in Phaedre, 1923
Mme Ida Rubinstein by Léon Bakst 1910