Tamara Geva

Tamara Geva (Russian: Тамара Гева, Жева, or Жева; 17 March 1907 – 9 December 1997) was a Russian-American actress, ballet dancer and choreographer. She was the first wife of dancer/choreographer George Balanchine.


Geva was born in St. Petersburg, Russia,[1] with the surname Zheverzheeva, sometimes spelled Gevergeyeva (Russian: Тамара Жевержеева), the daughter of Tamara Urtahl (who was Swedish) and Levko Zheverzheev (or Gevergeyev). Geva's paternal grandparents, 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 became a freethinker. Geva described her mother, also Tamara, as a beautiful but selfish woman. 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.

In addition to attending the Kirov School of Ballet in Leningrad,[2] Geva studied ballet privately. 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 1924, when she was 17 years old.[2] The marriage was dissolved in 1926.


Geva married Kapa 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;[3] Geva and Davidova became friends, and were often publicly escorted together by Davidoff. Geva married, lastly, on 28 June 1942, 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,[4] 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.[1] On Broadway, Geva appeared in the musicals Three's A Crowd (1930), Flying Colors (1932)[5] and Whoopee (1934).[6]

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. New York Times reviewer Brooks Atkinson described her performance as "magnificent", adding "she can burlesque it with the authority of an artist on holiday".[1] She went on to act in productions of the works of Euripides, 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 Euripides' 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.

In the early 1960s, Geva turned her attention to directing, including a production of Tender Loving Care at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida.[6]


Geva died on 9 December 1997, aged 90, at her home in Manhattan from natural causes.[1]


Year Title Role Notes
1925Wood LoveOberon
1925Cock of the RoostJutta, Rombergs Tochter
1925Joyless StreetLia LeidUncredited
1925Die unberührte FrauJane, ihre Mutter
1926Gräfin Plättmamsell
1929Zwischen vierzehn und siebzehn - Sexualnot der JugendParent
1931The Girl HabitSonja Maloney
1934Their Big MomentMadame Lottie Marvo
1937Manhattan Merry-Go-RoundMadame 'Charlie' Charlizzini
1942Orchestra WivesMrs. Beck
1943Night Plane from ChungkingCountess Olga Karagin
1946Specter of the Rosechoreography
1948The Gay IntrudersMaria Ivar
1951The Adventures of Ellery QueenEpisode: "The Ballet Murder"
1951The WebEpisode: "Golden Secret"
1978Cartas de amor de una monjaMonja
1984FrevelBardame(final film role)


  • Geva, Tamara. Split Seconds: A Remembrance. Limelight Editions, 1972.


  1. Anderson, Jack (December 11, 1997). "Tamara Geva Is Dead at 91; Ballet Dancer and Actress". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 29 May 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  2. Webb, Clifton (2011). Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781604739978. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  3. Hughes, Alice (January 21, 1941). "A Woman's New York". Reading Angle. p. 12. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  4. "Tamara Geva: American Ballerina and Actress". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on 29 May 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  5. https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/flying-colors-11624
  6. Muir, Helen (April 8, 1962). "Grove To Glitter At World Premiere". The Miami News. Florida, Miami. p. 88. Retrieved May 28, 2018 via Newspapers.com.
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