The passing of Austin dancer Tamara Barrington Yaryan and opera star Irra Petina Bussey.
On the eve of what should be the brightest week of our dance community's year, the week of the Austin-wide celebration DanceFest, a dark shadow has fallen. Last Friday, January 21, one of the city's most gifted and giving young dance artists, one who was intimately involved in communicating the value of the art form to thousands of children across Austin, was struck down. Tamara Barrington Yaryan, a member of Stillpoint Dance Company and artistic director for the Believe in Me Project Inc., died following a traffic accident. She was only 25 years old. Barrington Yaryan came to Austin from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where she earned a BFA in ballet and modern dance from Texas Christian University and performed with several companies. She had also studied in Oslo, Norway, with the Norwegian Ballet Institute and in New York with National Dance Institute. It was her work with NDI founder Jacques d'Amboise that led the dancer to Austin and Believe in Me, a nonprofit modeled on NDI. She joined it for its 1997-98 season and quickly became an inspiring presence there. As Stillpoint artistic director Lisa Fehrman put it, Barrington Yaryan was "so generous in spirit ... the biggest heart of anyone I've ever known. I've never met anyone who contributed so much." Barrington Yaryan met Fehrman shortly after arriving in town and appeared in the Stillpoint works Not My Body and Chance Blames Fate. She had been in rehearsal for Stillpoint's next project, Shadowing Profound Doubt, an excerpt of which is to be performed at DanceFest. Fehrman says they will still perform the piece, but without a dancer filling in for their colleague and friend. The company, which is dedicating the performance to Tamara, will dance around her. Barrington Yaryan is survived by her spouse of three weeks, Chris Yaryan. An overflow crowd attended a service in her memory at St. David's Episcopal Church Monday. A memorial fund in her name has been established at Believe in Me; contributions may be made to the organization at 4704-A Cesar Chavez, Austin, Texas 78702. She will be deeply missed.
A singer of world renown has also passed from our midst. Irra Petina Bussey, a mezzo soprano who spent 18 seasons with the New York Metropolitan Opera and appeared in several Broadway shows, including the world premiere production of Candide, died in Austin Thursday, January 20. It was the end to a colorful life for the 93-year-old opera star. She was born in Czarist Russia, where her father was a general and, in World War I, personal escort to Nicholas II; she lived in China after her family fled the Bolshevik Revolution; she came to the U.S. to study music and began singing with the Met in 1934, appearing in many historic productions, including the Le Nozze de Figaro used for the Met's first radio broadcast in 1940; and she made her mark on Broadway, winning acclaim in such shows as Song of Norway and Carmen. Her career continued through the Sixties, with Petina reluctantly relocating to Austin in 1974 at the insistence of her husband, Frank Bussey. Once here, though, she came to love the area and gave her final public performance here, in a production of the Menotti opera The Medium at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center in the Eighties. Curiously, her death came just a week after the Austin Lyric Opera production of Candide, a show with which she will forever be linked. Her performance as the Old Lady on the legendary 1956 cast recording is a treasure.