Irine Fokine (1922–2010)
For 60 years, Irine Fokine, niece of Ballets Russes choreographer Michel Fokine, taught challenging, no-nonsense classes at her studio in Ridgewood, NJ. Her students went on to dance in top ballet companies, on Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall (where her brother, Leon Fokine, had also danced).
Miss Fokine’s mother, Alexandra Fedorova, had mounted the first one-act Nutcracker on the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and often came to the studio to teach or advise. Fedorova had been mentored by Anna Pavlova, who in turn became Irine’s godmother.
American Ballet Theatre dancer Eric Tamm remembers the discipline and demands of studying with Fokine. “Knowing what it is to devote yourself in mind and body to ballet—that was what she was able to get a 14-year-old, with plenty of other distractions, to do. I fell in love with the artform because of that,” he says.
Last summer Fokine closed down the Irine Fokine School of Ballet. This last December would have been her first without The Nutcracker. However, her Nutcracker lives on through productions at daughter Donna Decker’s school in Oneonta, NY, and granddaughter Rena Backer’s studio in Phoenix, AZ.
Wendy Perron is editor in chief of Dance Magazine and a former student of Irine Fokine.