A History of Legat

Nicolas Legat, upon his arrival from Russia in 1923 opened a studio in London. It immediately became the mecca for every ballet dancer.

Nicolas Legat was born in Moscow in 1869. He had the ability to appreciate and emulate from myriad cultures and teachers, continually inspiring him to perfect the art of dance.

He understood the importance of blending a mix of techniques and methods and through this he came known as the genius behind Russian Ballet.

He was also responsible for introducing this unique art form from Russia to England and the rest of Europe.

As creators of some of the original, most famous classical male variations in the Petipa / Ivanov Repertoire, Nicolas and his brother Sergei Legat, were both given the opportunity as choreographers through their own version of The Fairy Doll, which is still performed today at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersberg and was performed at The London Coliseum in 2017.

On the Jubilee of his twenty five years of service to the Imperial Theatre, he amazed the world of ballet when his entrance at the Imperial Marinsky Theatre as the entire audience, including the Tsar, rose to their feet for an astounding 15 minutes.

His talents exceeded beyond a truly great Premier Dancer and Maitre de Ballet, and included impressive abilities as a pianist and violinist. As an athlete he excelled at horsemanship, skiing, skating and wrestling and as an artist he was a fine cartoonist and an extraordinary mimic.

It was in 1901 that Nicolas Legat began assisting Christian Johansson’s classes at the Imperial Ballet School and it was during this time that he really began to exhibit his abilities as a teacher. He eventually succeeded Johansson to become the Maitre of the Imperial Ballet.

Nicolas Legat 

Russian Ballet Society

Nicolas Legat

Legat’s teaching ability produced some of the most famous dancers of the time, including Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Matilda Kschesinskaya, Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina and Agripppina Vaganova.

He was the Maitre every premiere dancer wanted to have as their instructor. They turned to him for quality and inspiration and in 1909 he inherited the Maitre’s post as Master of the ‘Class of Perfection’ for the Imperial Ballet. His main aim was to preserve the legacy of Petipa.

He married Prima Ballerina Nadine Nicolaeva and together they travelled to  Europe to work with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Following the First World War, Legat attempted to return to Russia, but found that, as a result of the revolution, it was impossible to find work in his beloved homeland again.

In 1922 Nicolas and Nadine Nicolaeva left Russia for the last time and eventually settled in London where Nicolas set up his own classes.  It was in Legat’s studio at 46 Colet Gardens that British ballet was virtually born, since most of our best known dancers, choreographers and teachers were trained there by him. Amongst them, Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of ‘The Royal Ballet’, Phillis Bedells, Moira Shearer, Margot Fonteyn, Dame Alicia Markova, Sir Anton Dolin.

Russian Ballet Society

Anna Pavlova

Russian Ballet Society

Nicolas and Nadine Legat

Later The Legat School of Russian Ballet was founded and became the first residential professional ballet school to be opened in the UK.

After Nicolas Legat died on the 24th January 1937, aged 67, Nadine continued her own growth as a teacher of the Legat system, imbuing it with her own spirit and love of dance. She continued to nurture the growth of the School until her death in 1971. Madame, (as her students fondly referred to her), was succeeded by Leon and Eunice Bartell.

Madame Bartell remained Principal of the school for the next 20 years, embracing the teachings of Nicolas and Nadine until 1990. During her time at the school she was notably supported by Moira Scott who also trained with Madame Legat.  The pupils of Legat School had the additional benefit to experience the teachings of many Legat trained guest teachers, including Leonide Massine, Zbigniew Kilinski and Natalia Krassovska.

During her time there and for years afterwards, Eunice Bartell further developed the work of the Russian Ballet Society and was solely responsible for its expansion and success in many countries. Today the Society still flourishes and has schools and teachers in the United Kingdom, Japan, Malta, Cyprus, South Africa and Greece as well as a substantial presence in Italy and Thailand.

Nicolas Legat and Agrippina Vaganova had worked together on the syllabus for the Vaganova Academy and Nicolas Legat now has a place of honor in the Academy’s history. His bust stands in the main foyer of The Royal Ballet School as an important tribute to his legacy and a collection of his famous caricatures are kept in the Ballet Museum White Lodge, Richmond.

Today the Russian Ballet Society continues to grow and flourish. All our Trustees are former pupils of the Legat School and all truly recognise the importance of carrying on the Legat System.

Eunice Bartell teaching character at Finchcocks

Russian Ballet Society

Eunice Bartell