Audree Thomas, Pioneer BC Ballerina

Posted by Murray Walker on Jul 9, 2021

THOMAS, Audree Ruth (b 1925, Vancouver BC; d 2014 Gettysburg PA) was the ballerina for whom Ballet Bay, on Nelson Island, is named. She was the daughter of Harry and Margery (Midge) Thomas who settled on 25 acres on a small bay on the south side of Blind Bay. The name was given by Midge when they first arrived there in 1941, and became official in 1950. 

Audree studied ballet with June Roper, the inspiring and demanding teacher who launched professional careers of several young Vancouverites,1935-1940.  In January 1940, at age 14, Audree auditioned for the dance legend, Léonide Massine, choreographer for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, while the company was on tour in Seattle. He hired her on the spot as an apprentice. Five months later, with the stage name, Anna Istomina, Audree was off on an 18-year dance career. Her career included several seasons with the Ballet Russe (and later with Massine’s Ballet Russe Highlights) and Broadway productions of Song of Norway, 1944, and La Vie Parisienne, 1945. She performed several seasons as Guest Prima Ballerina with both Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and the Ballet Nacional de Venezuela. During her career Audree danced among some of the world’s best including George Balanchine, Maria Tallchief, George Zoritch, Frederic Franklin, and Vancouver’s own, Rosemary Deveson.

Throughout her travels, Audree made regular visits to her parents’ home in Ballet Bay. As a young Vancouver girl who had achieved international stardom, Audree was a favourite in local media. She was also an ardent angler. During the 1940s and ‘50s several photos of her appeared in Vancouver newspapers, on her father’s dock proudly displaying princely catches of salmon.

In 1948 Audree married Russian dancer, Sergei Ismailoff, who had escaped war-torn Europe and settled in New York City. The two had danced together in the Ballet Russe and on Broadway. They had two children. Tony, born in 1949, became a police officer in White Plains, New York; Greg, born in 1956, became a ballet dancer and enjoyed a successful career before dying tragically of AIDS at age 30.

Retiring from performance in the late 1950s, the Ismailoffs opened several ballet schools in the New York City area.  Following Sergei’s death in 1969, Audree continued with their school in White Plains, NY until 1985 when she retired to West Vancouver to be close to her aging father, now in his late 80’s. 

In 2012, in her late 80s herself and suffering from lymphoma, Audree moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to live with her son, Tony. She died there in 2014. In September of that year her ashes were scattered in Ballet Bay. Our thanks to Murray Walker for contributing this entry.