Eva Brigitta Hartwig was born in Berlin, Germany. Her parents were professional singers. As a child, she lived in a small coastal town in Norway. She was educated at the Lyceum for Girls in Berlin and received her dance training from the famous Olga Preobrajenska and Nicholas Legat. She began performing at a young age: at 12, she was cast by Max Reinhardt in his 1929 film A Midsummer Night's Dream and in the 1931 film Tales of Hoffman. After a performance at the Gaiety Theatre in London, she was accepted by the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1933, and took the stage name Vera Zorina. In 1937, while she was performing in the London production of the musical On Your Toes, she was spotted by Samuel Goldwyn, who signed her to a film contract at MGM. She appeared in a number of Hollywood movies between 1938 and 1946. In 1938, she married George Balanchine and danced in productions he choreographed, both on the stage and screen; the couple divorced in 1946.
In the 1970s, Vera Zorina was appointed director of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. In later years, she directed operas at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico. In 1986, she published her autobiography, Zorina.