Nicolai Legat (1869-1937)
Although I never had the opportunity to study with Nicolai Legat I did get a chance to study with his students. Nicolai was one of the most distinguished teachers of the twentieth century. He was born in St. Petersburg in 1869, and trained with his father Gustav, and at the Imperial school with Christian Johansson and Paul Gerdt. When Nicolai graduated in 1888 and joined the company he became one of the most respected principals of his time. He was an excellent dancer with an impeccable technique. He was skilled both as a classical and character dancer, and appeared in over 70 ballets in 20 years.
When Petipa was forced to resign, Legat succeeded him as ballet master. Like many of us, he choreographed many ballets, but preferred to teach. After Johansson retired, Legat became the director of the Imperial school. A list of his students reads like a Who's Who of Ballet: Olga Preobrajenka, Lubov Egorova, Julie Sedova, Agrippina Vaganova, Tamara Karsavina, Mikhail Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky and Adolph Bolm.
Following the great success of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in France, Legat was enticed to replace Enrico Cecchetti as company ballet master in 1923. Nicolai liked the West so much that in 1926 he opened his own school in London. At this school he trained a new generation of famous dancers: Alexandra Danilova, Lydia Lopokova, Margot Fonteyn, Ninette de Valois, Anton Dolin, and Serge Lifar. After Nicolai's death in 1937, his wife continued to run the school.
Gustav had a second son, Sergei, born in 1875, who also started his ballet training with his father. Later, Sergei followed in his brother's footsteps. Not only did he study with Johansson and Gerdt, but also with his older brother. Sergei joined the Maryinsky Theatre in 1894 and eventually became a soloist. Nijinsky was one of his first students. He married Maria, daughter of Marius Petipa. At the age of 29 he committed suicide.. It was said that the politics surounding the school and company was the cause. Nicolai was a famous teacher, but Sergei was a more talented choreographer.
I would imagine that there have been more than one teacher in the lives of all great dancers, as there has been in mine. If they were as lucky as me, they have had many teacher who paved their way.
(First published May 1994)
If someone asks you what kind of ballet I teach, tell them I teach prehistoric ballet.
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