Rena Backer's family helped build the foundation of modern ballet. Explore this rich history that lead Rena to where she is today.
Anna Pavlova was a famous Russian dancer from the early 20th century. She was the godmother to Mrs. Backer’s grandmother, Irine Fokine. Pavlova forever changed the ideal for future ballerinas, Pavlova was considered to be technically weak, though ballerinas were expected to be strong technicians at the time. She became popular because of her frail, ethereal look. Her most famous show piece was the Dying Swan, choreographed by Michel Fokine, Mrs. Backer’s great-great uncle. For more information on the life of Anna Pavlova, click here: Anna Pavlova or notablebiographies.com
Michel Fokine (1880-1942), Mrs. Backer’s great-great uncle, paved the way for new freedoms in dance and brought Russian Classical Ballet into the 20th century. He was born in St. Petersburg 1880 into a well-to-do family. He was accepted into the Imperial Ballet School and after his studies he joined the Imperial Marinsky Theatre as a soloist. He served as a choreographer for many great ballets still performed today.
Michel Fokine & his wife Vera left Russia in 1918 after the Russian Revolution settled in New York City, opening a ballet school. He died in August 1942 of pneumonia. He was the creator of 81 ballets, many still performed today worldwide. His most famous work, Les Sylphides, one of the first plotless ballets was performed as a tribute after his death by 17 international ballet companies.
Alexandra Fedorova-Fokine, Mrs. Backer’s great-grandmother, studied at the Marinsky Theatre School in St. Petersburg in Czarist Russia. She was a classmate of Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina both world famous ballerinas. She met and married her husband Alexander Fokine who is an older brother of Michel Fokine, while dancing at the Marinsky Theatre. After the Russian Revolution in 1918 she and her family moved to Riga, Latvia where she was a Prima Ballerina, Artistic Director and teacher at the Riga Opera House.
Mrs. Backer’s grandmother, Irine Fokine, had a studio in Ridgewood, New Jersey and has been teaching for 59 years. In the late 1950s, she formed the Irine Fokine Ballet Company and had produced The Nutcracker for over 50 years. The Fokine family was featured in a four-page article in the December 2002 publication of Dance Magazine.
Leon Fokine, the brother of Mrs. Backer’s Grandmother, Irine Fokine, graduated from the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was in school with George Balanchine in the 1920s. He danced internationally, and taught for many years, with students including Alicia Alonso, and taught and toured with Rebecca Harkness, founder of the Harkness Ballet. In the late 1960s, Leon founded a ballet school in Washington, D.C., with his wife Gloria Fokine .
Donna Decker, Mrs. Backer’s aunt, began training professionally at the age of four. She studied under many renowned teachers and had the opportunity to dance with the Bolshoi Ballet when she was fourteen. She danced professionally with the Irine Fokine Ballet and toured the East Coast performing in productions of The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Don Quixote. Ms. Decker has been teaching for over 40 years and runs her own ballet studio in upstate New York. For more information go to www.deckerschoolofballet.com
Nina Marlow, Mrs. Backer’s mother, began training professionally at the age of eight with her mother's company, the Irine Fokine Ballet. She studied at the American Ballet Theatre under Mme. Pereyslavic and at Ballet Russe under Mme. Swaboda and Leon Danileon, and also studied and partnered with world renowned Igor Youskevitch. Nina Marlow has worked professionally at the famous Radio City Music Hall, and has associated with the Alicia Alonso Ballet de Cuba in Havana. Performing with the Irine Fokine Ballet Company as soloist, Miss Marlow's appearances read like a lexicon of the greatest works of ballet art: Giselle, Nutcracker, Aurora’s Wedding, Swan Lake, Mayerling, and Romeo & Juliet.
Miss Marlow has been recognized numerous times for her contributions to the world of dance. In 2004, Miss Marlow was nominated as Artist of the Year at the Governor's Arts Awards and was the recipient of the 2004 Dance Teacher of the Year Award from Dance Teacher Magazine. Nina Marlow is past President of the Arizona Dance Guild and has been honored as a Community Angel by the Phoenix Opera. Miss Marlow has taught for over forty years, the last twenty-four years in her own studio in the Paradise Valley area in Arizona.
Mrs. Rena Backer began her training at the age of 7, and has danced and taught classes at all levels for Nina Marlow for over 25 years. She has performed with the Nina Marlow School of Ballet & Marlow Ballet Theatre in many productions including Swan Lake, Don Quixote, La Bayadere, and Nutcracker, in which she was the first Snow Queen.
After graduating from Northern Arizona University in 1991 with a degree in Psychology, Mrs. Backer worked as a counselor. Mrs. Backer then returned to teaching ballet and choreography in many productions with Nina Marlow, and has also worked on the stage crew of the annual productions of Nutcracker and Spring Concerts.
Mrs. Backer, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, has been married for 28 years and has two sons.