A History of Legat

Russian Ballet Society

Nicolas Legat had the ability to appreciate and emulate from myriad cultures and teachers, continually inspiring him to perfect the art of dance.

Nicolas (Nikolai) Legat 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 from a mix of techniques and methods and was recognized 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 Legat and his brother Sergei Legat, were both given the opportunity to show their abilities 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.

Nicolas Legat was born in Moscow in 1869. He was stamped with the mark of genius and was soon recognized for his extraordinary talent by being awarded the Charles Didelot Scholarship. On the Jubilee of his twenty five years of service to the Imperial Theatre, he startled the world of ballet when his entrance at the Imperial Marinsky Theatre stopped the performance 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.

Russian Ballet Society

A Legat Group Class

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 talent wanted to have as their instructor. All 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, with his main aim being to preserve the legacy of Petipa.

After marrying his favourite pupil, Nadine Nicolaeva, he travelled with her to Western Europe and worked as Ballet Master and teacher with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, while Nadine performed.

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 at Colet House. Here he trained a new generation of dancers and launched the Legat System and the beginnings of The Russian Ballet Society.

Among his students were: Moira Shearer, Margot Fonteyn, Dame Alicia Markova, Sir Anton Dolin and Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of ‘The Royal Ballet’.

Russian Ballet Society

Anna Pavlova

Russian Ballet Society

Nicolas and Nadine Legat

Later The Legat School of Ballet was founded, in Kent and became the first ever ballet boarding school 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 Legat School and the Russian Ballet Society and in 1967, owing to illness, Madame, (as her students fondly referred to her), was succeeded by Eunice Bartell, a trusted former pupil.

Madame Bartell (Affectionately known as ‘Mrs. B’ by her pupils) remained as Principal of the school for the next 20 years embracing the teachings of Nicolas and Nadine until 1990.

During her time there and for some years afterwards, Eunice Bartell further developed the work of the Society and was solely responsible for its expansion and success in a variety of 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 Caricatures are kept in the Ballet Museum White Lodge, Richmond.

Today the Russian Ballet Society continues to grow with all Trustees being former pupils of the Legat School who recognise the importance of carrying on the Legat System.

Russian Ballet Society

Legat in his Colet studio

Russian Ballet Society

Eunice Bartell

Gallery