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Evgeni Zablotski. Tamara Karsavina - Notes to Her Biography and Genealogy. (translation: Andrew Foster, authorized)

The biography of the outstanding ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina she gave herself in her famous book of memoirs "Theatre Street" [1] which has been published in many editions and translated into many languages. The central theme of the memoirs is, of course, the balletic theatre - the world of artists and her own artistic journey, but particularly interesting are the descriptions of her childhood years and the details about her family. Vivid pictures are presented to the reader of the ballerina's father, the ballet artist Platon Konstantinovich Karsavin, and her mother - Anna Iosifovna, (nee Khomyakova), and also her brother, the future famous philosopher Lev Platonovich Karsavin. She writes in detail about her grandmother, Maria Semenovna Khomyakova, (nee Paleologue), who was the relative of the famous slavophile A.S.Khomyakov. Karsavina mentions her second grandmother, without mentioning her name, in the last chapter of the book, recalling "the portrait of a lady in a green silk dress with a rose in her hand" [2]. Other relatives appear at intervals in the pages of the book. There are her father's brother and sister, "uncle Volodya" about whom no mention is even made that he was a ballet artist), "aunt Katya" and also her mother's sister, Raisa. Nothing is said in the book about the ballerina's cousin, Nikolai Nikolayevich Balashev, the son of "aunt Katya", also a ballet artist and a dear nephew of Platon Konstantinovich.

One should not be surprised that more detailed information about Karsavina's relations is absent from the book. Tamara Platonovna writes about her childhood memories without the benefit of studying the roots and branches of her family tree. Even if she had taken on the task of researching her genealogy she would certainly have encountered almost insurmountable problems. It would have required close contact with people in Soviet Russia, which she left in 1918, to all intents and purposes illegally. Working with archived documents would have been required.

Irina Lvovna, the ballerina's niece and the oldest daughter of her brother L.P.Karsavin [3] was interested in the genealogy of the Karsavina family. We know this from the words of her sister Susanna [4], youngest daughter of Lev Platonovich. In 1989 Susanna Lvovna Karsavina met for the first time my mother, Nina Nikolayevna Zablotskaya (nee Balasheva), granddaughter of "aunt Katya" and goddaughter of Tamara Karsavina. Their contact continued until 1994. Susanna Lvovna particularly recalled her sister Irina speaking of "uncle Kolya", her father's cousin, and his children. The discussion therefore was about the family of my grandfather, Nikolai Nikolayevich Balashev.

In 1989, 37 years after L.P.Karsavin's death, his grave was found in the graveyard at the Abez'' camp. (His student and camp comrade, A.A.Vaneev, wrote an acclaimed book called "Two years in Abez''"). Then the political atmosphere in Russia changed substantially. There was no longer any prohibition on the names and events in the country's history and there appeared the real possibility of bringing to publication both family and archival material, and so casting light on the genealogy of the clan which gave to world culture both an outstanding religious thinker and a brilliant ballerina. The first results of this work were published [5]


Information contained in the files of the archives of the Ministry of the Imperial Court [6], can add to and support occasional references in Tamara Karsavina's book about the family characters and the situation in the years of her childhood. For example, recollections about the family's place of residence in 1890 can be supplemented with the exact address of the family's apartment, Ekaterininsky Canal Embankment (now Griboyedova Canal), house No.170, apartment No.9. At this address the Karsavin family lived until 1896, when, due to their worsening financial situation (according to "Theatre Street"), they moved to another apartment in the same house - Apartment No. 15. House 170 is located not far from the junction of Griboyedova Canal with the river Fontanka. Up until this time the family had changed address frequently, and so, in 1888-1889, Anna Iosifovna lived at four addresses consecutively: Malaya Morskaya Street, Torgovy Lane, Ofitsersky Lane and Mogilev Street. After the house on the Yekaterininsky Canal, from 1901, not long before Tamara finished at the ballet school, the family lived along Sadovaya Street, Number 93, apartment 13. [7].

According to the archives, in the summer of 1882, when Karsavina's parents married, her father was living with his sister, "in aunt Katya's house", which Karsavina mentions in her book. This house was actually located "beyond the Narva gates", in the Tentelevka village of those days, Pravaya Street, house number 6. The photograph of Ekaterina Konstantinovna Balasheva shows this house in the background. The house had two floors, and the Balashev family made a living by renting out one floor to tenants.

The archives contain information about Tamara Platonovna's father's parents - her grandfather, whom she describes as a provincial actor and a playwright, and her grandmother, whom she only mentions in passing. In a recent biographical article [8] it states that Konstantin Mikhailovich Karsavin subsequently became a tailor. The archives show that in 1851 K.M.Karsavin was already a master "permanent Guild tailor" [9]. He died in 1861, being at this time the master of a lady's tailoring shop. Pelageya Pavlovna, K.M.Karsavin's wife, died in 1890 at the age of 70, when Tamara was only five years old. The "lady in the green silk dress" in the portrait, the grandmother she recalled living in the house "beyond the Narva gates", was possibly Pelageya Pavlovna in her youth.

From the archives we also learn about the training, the service and the dates of birth and death (1851-1908) of Vladimir Konstantinovich Karsavin, Tamara Platonovna's uncle. In 1865, at the age of 13, he was accepted from the day students into the numbers of official pupils at the Theatre school; in 1867 he graduated from the school and then served as a dancer in the corps de ballet up to his retirement with pension in 1887. As can be seen from the official listing for that year, at the age of 37 he remained unmarried. We learn from the certificate given by the St. Petersburg board of the craftspeople, that in 1865 the widowed Pelageya Pavlovna was looking after three children: Ekaterina 17, Vladimir 15 and Platon 12. Judging by P.P.Karsavina's age in the year that Ekaterina was born, about 30 years, we can assume that this was not her first child. Actually, as Susanna Lvovna Karsavina told me in one of her letters, it was believed in their family that her grandfather Platon had two sisters and many brothers.

Archives also tell about the marital status of Ekaterina Konstantinovna ("aunt Katya" of Karsavina's memoirs). She was born in 1849 and married between 1870 and 1872. Her husband, Nikolai Alekseyevich Balashev (the grandfather of my mother, Nina Nikolayevna Zablotskaya) was a theatre artist, assistant to the scene painter at the Mariinsky Theatre, and was registered as a member of the urban commoners' social estate (sosloviye). N.A.Balashev was apparently considerably older than his wife - his certificate of service was dated 1857 (In 1872, at the time of the birth of a son, Nikolai was already retired). The archive documents suggest that N.A.Balashev died sometime between 1880 and 1885, and his wife, according to N.N.Zablotskaya's information, died in 1920.

"Aunt Katya's" son, Nikolai Nikolayevich Balashev, also became an artist of the ballet. He was at the theatre school from 1880 until 1890, and began service in the corps-de-ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre. In 1897 he was promoted to coryphee and in 1910 finished service as an artist of the 3rd level. Nikolai Nikolayevich maintained a close relationship with his uncle, P.K.Karsavin for many years. Both the father and the daughter, who was herself becoming a famous ballerina, took his family affairs to their heart. After the death of his first wife at a young age and divorce from his second wife, the dancer N.T.Rykhlyakova, N.N.Balashev for a long time couldn't get permission for a church marriage with the mother of his three additional children, a domestic teacher named Antonina Pavlovna Moskaleva [10]. According to Nina Nikolayevna Zablotskaya, her father quite often visited his uncle, even in the post-revolutionary years, - first in his apartment on the Petrograd side, on Vvedenskaya street opposite the Vvedenskaya church (destroyed in Soviet times), and then, after Anna Iosifovna's death in 1919, in the home for old artists on Kamenny Island [11]. Nikolai Nikolaievich often took his children to visit Lev Karsavin and family, living in a university apartment on the Neva embankment.

Interesting information is contained in the records of baptism for two generations of Karsavins as well as the marriage of Platon Constantinovich to Anna Iosifovna (in 1882). All these religious acts took place in the church of the Holy Ascension (Vozneseniya Gospodnya) close to the Admiralty area. This church, one of the oldest in Petersburg (it was built of wood in 1728, and then in stone in 1769), was located at 34-a Voznesensky Prospekt, on the Ekaterininsky Canal embankment, and was pitilessly destroyed in 1936. Both Vladimir and Platon Karsavin were christened here (in 1851 and 1854), and also Platon's children, Lev and Tamara.

From these records we also learn about the people close by, the friends who appeared as sponsors at the baptisms or witnesses at the wedding. We can see the changes to the circle of these people through the different generations of Karsavins. So, for the family of Platon Konstantinovich Karsavin it is artists of the Imperial Theatres: M.N.Lusteman (guarantor for the bride at the wedding of P.K.Karsavin and A.I.Khomyakova, and also godfather to their son Lev) and P.A.Gerdt (Tamara Karsavina's godfather). Platon's godparents were the master of a chimney-sweep guild, Saxony-national Knefler, and Rezanova, the widow of a master tailor.

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Tamara Karsavina.
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