Carina Ari was a well-known dancer, choreographer and sculptor.
Carina Ari was born in Stockholm on 14 April 1897. Her parents were Emma Maria Danielsdotter Sundberg and August Jansson. Her father worked variously as an ironworker, foreman and fitter, spending much of his time travelling. Her maternal uncle’s daughter Elsa also lived with the family. August Jansson’s absence contributed to her mother’s often having another man in the home, “Uncle Johansson”, who Carina sometimes suspected was her real father.
Carina Ari lived her first ten years in a flat at Smala Gränd 13A, in a poor part of Stockholm. In 1906, her parents separated and Carina Ari and her mother moved to the Old Town (Gamla stan). Her mother supported them by keeping in a little greengrocer’s, and Carina Ari had to help her by working there from an early age. She sold vegetables and bunches of flowers out in town and sometimes even had to look after the shop since her mother was often ill. Despite having work and school to cope with, Carina Ari left elementary school with good results.
Carina Ari nourished the dream of becoming a ballet dancer after having seen photos of some ballerinas, and she was accepted by the Royal Theatre Ballet School (Kungliga Teaterns Balettskola) in 1906, at the age of nine. Her days were long, what with school, working in the shop and dancing classes. Ballet school pupils also had to participate in opera performances some evenings, which meant a small income. During her training, Carina Ari had the opportunity of having lessons with the famous Russian dancer and choreographer Michel Fokine, who was in Stockholm for a guest appearance in 1913–1914.
Carina Ari’s mother died in 1913 and her father had long since disappeared. At the age of 16, Carina Ari was appointed as a dancer at the Royal Theatre. It was possible for some dancers to increase their small incomes by taking parts in films, and Carina Ari took part in Mauritz Stiller’s Balettprimadonnan in 1916. Carina Ari was however absolutely determined to develop her artistry further, and despite being appointed as a soloist, she resigned from the Royal Opera in 1918. Michel Fokine and his wife had fled from the revolution in Russia and settled down in Copenhagen that same year, where they also opened a ballet school. Carina Ari left the Royal Opera during the season of 1918–1919, when the Swedish Opera Ballet gave successful guest performances at Det Ny Teater in Copenhagen. They performed a Fokine programme consisting of Les Sylphides and Scheherazade. The Swedish dancers made a great success and the visit had to be prolonged. The year before, Carina Ari had also enjoyed successful guest performances in Copenhagen.
Carina Ari remained in Copenhagen when the other dancers returned north. She started having lessons with Michel Fokine who taught privately in his home. His fee was no joke, but Carina Ari succeeded in persuading Axel Hirsch, a wealthy ballet patron who was happy to benefit theatre and ballet, to give her a loan of 5,000 kronor. Michel Fokine was very demanding but Carina Ari learned a tremendous amount from him: “He demanded that each little exercise should be a sculptural masterpiece”, she recalled, and continued: “With Fokine I learned to work choreographically, and that opened the portals of the realm of dance for me.”
In the autumn of 1919, Carina Ari returned to Stockholm, where she started teaching to earn her living, amongst other things, ballroom dancing. The year after, she was asked by Mauritz Stiller if she would like to dance the main role in his film Erotikon, since she would suit it perfectly with her dark, exotic appearance. Carina Ari also offered to do the choreography for the role and asserted: “I have a testimonial from Fokine that I am a gifted choreographer.”
In 1920, Carina Ari and a number of other Swedish dancers from the Royal Opera travelled down to Paris, under the leadership of the art collector and entrepreneur Rolf de Maré. He called the troupe Les Ballets Suédois and the dancers had three-year contracts. Carina Ari became the prima ballerina in 1921 and received great attention for her various roles. The troupe’s choreographer Jean Börlin presented a varied programme in different styles. Carina Ari had a broad register, basically trained in the classical style that was later developed by Fokine with a new language of gentle, flexible movements for the arms and upper body. One of Les Ballets Suédois’ most acclaimed works was De fåvitska jungfrurna, a fresh humoresque in Swedish folk style, with choreography and costumes by Einar Nerman and music by Kurt Atterberg. Carina Ari celebrated her greatest triumph of all in the work Anitras dans, created by Jean Börlin with music by Edvard Grieg. Les Ballets Suédois completed several successful tours, in France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, England and Austria. They also toured Denmark and Sweden in 1922.
After three years with Les Ballets Suédois, Carina Ari left the troupe in 1923. She returned to Stockholm and created choreographies for a children’s performance on Children’s Day (Barnens dag) at Stockholm Stadion in September. She had the same assignment in 1929 and 1930. In 1925, Carina Ari married Desiré-Émile Inghelbrecht. He had been a conductor at the Théâtres des Champs Elysées and had been invited to join Les Ballets Suédois in 1920. In 1924, he became maitre de chapelle at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Carina Ari created eight dances, Scènes dansées, for the Opéra-Comique and danced them herself in 1925 with a large orchestra under the leadership of her husband. The dances were a great success and she also performed them on tours of France, Sweden and several other countries in Europe. Carina Ari was described in the Paris newspapers as “one of the finest, most soulful and original dance artists of our time”.
In the summer of 1927, Carina Ari was given the honour of creating a ballet for a jubilee at the presidential palace, and the result was Ode à la Rose. The year after, she was offered the opportunity of setting up a ballet at l’Opéra de Paris, the national stage. Carina Ari belongs thereby to the highly exclusive group of women choreographers to set up a ballet there. She herself danced in the première of her ballet Rayon de lune, that she called “a choreographic poem”, with music by Gabriel Fauré. It was the first time a Swedish ballerina performed at the Paris opera since the days of Marie Taglioni during the first half of the 1800s. Carina Ari also danced the main role when the ballet was again set up in 1934.
In 1930, Carina Ari was appointed as director of ballet and her husband as opera director at the opera in Algiers. Her husband soon left his appointment after having landed in a conflict with the influential but conservative circles there. Carina Ari stayed on there for a longer time. She had contracted a number of dancers from Copenhagen, and she created six new ballets and new choreography for the operas in the repertoire. After that she returned to Paris where she and her husband were offered permanent employment at the Opéra-Comique in 1932. They did not remain there for very long, and in the mid-1930s, Carina Ari was back in Stockholm where several of her ballets were produced in 1935–1938.
The director of the Paris ballet, Serge Lifar, planned in 1938 to create a ballet based on the biblical Song of Songs, Le Cantique des Cantiques, a modern ballet with both classical steps and elements of free dance. Carina Ari became Serge Lifar’s dance partner, and the ballet has been called his strangest work. Carina Ari’s final appearance as a ballerina was at the Opéra-Comique. In March 1939, at the age of 42, she performed her own Scènes dansées for the last time.
Sometime later, Carina Ari visited the spa at Aix-les-Bains. Her marriage was heading for divorce since her husband had started a relationship with another woman, and she needed to rest. There she met the Dutchman Jan Moltzer, the heir to the liqueur company Bols and a multimillionaire. Before the second world war broke out, he moved his company to Buenos Aires in Argentina. Carina Ari and Jan Moltzer were married in 1942 and moved to Buenos Aires. The marriage was happy, but Jan Moltzer died suddenly in 1951. Carina Ari inherited a great part of his fortune, mostly in the form of shares in the Bols company.
After her dance career had ended, Carina Ari started on her path as a sculptor. She studied in New York among other places, and became skilled at making portrait-like busts. Her bust of Dag Hammarskjöld stands in the United Nations Building in New York, and another bust of him stands in Uppsala. Her portrait art is also represented at the National Museum in Stockholm. Carina Ari remained in the couple’s beautiful home in Buenos Aires, but kept on her atelier apartment in Paris and regularly visited Stockholm as well. Carina Ari had no children, and at the end of her life, she started a foundation as her universal heir, the Carina Ari Memorial Foundation. Its aims are to award scholarships to young, promising dancers for their continued education, to support older dancers especially in case of ill health, and to promote research in the field of dance. In 1961, the scholarships started being awarded. Carina Ari donated funds to a Carina Ari Library as well, today northern Europe’s most extensive research library on dance. It was inaugurated in 1969. A medal for good service was also minted, to be awarded to persons who had “honoured Swedish dance”, the so-called Carina Ari Medal.
In the autumn of 1970, Carina Ari suffered a fracture of her femur, which refused to heal on account of her diabetes, and generally weakened health. Carina Ari died on the morning of Christmas Eve 1970. She lies buried beside her husband Jan Moltzer in the Netherlands.