Where US & Russia UNITE: The Remarkable Legacy of Royal Ballet Star Sarah Lamb

March 1, 2022

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Where US & Russia UNITE:

The Remarkable Legacy of Royal Ballet Star Sarah Lamb

Sarah Lamb in photo by Francesco Guidicini

I’ve lately been enjoying a series of interviews with ballet dancers I discovered resulting from the COVID phenomenon, hosted on the platform Ballet Icons Gala by Olga Balakleets, a concert pianist turned international gala event organizer.

Olga appears to be a sort of ambassador for the high arts – particularly ballet, the beauty of which she admires enough to dedicate herself to bringing the world together through its channels of talent… Olga is able to create and surround herself with an exalted reality in which she chooses to exist, and it seems many benefit from this endeavor.

I found Olga’s interview with Sarah Lamb particularly interesting, largely because of Sarah’s exceptional ballet legacy.

Today, a celebrated premier dancer with The Royal Ballet in London, Sarah talks about her serious training which started in Boston, Massachusetts at age 12, with heavy-weight classical dance educator Tatiana Nikolaevna Legat.

Tatiana Legat is the widow of the great Russian dancer Yuri Soloviev (1940–1977).

A member of the famous Legat family, Tatiana recalls that dance and theater goes way back to her great-great-grandparents – a Frenchwoman who danced at the Grand Opera in Paris and a dancer of Swedish descent – the two met through their career.

Her great-grandfather, Gustav Legat, graduated from a theatre school in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

Notably, Tatiana is the granddaughter of Russian ballet icon Nikolai Gustavovich Legat (in Russian: Никола́й Густа́вович Лега́т).

Nikolai and his younger brother Sergei were prominent dancers, talented character artists, choreographers and ballet masters at the Russian Imperial Ballet, which eventually incarnated into the Mariinsky Ballet, as it is known today. 

Nikolai Gustavovich Legat
young Sarah Lamb with her mentor Tatiana Legat (Sarah Lamb archives)

Sarah talks about her teacher:

It took me time to realize how iconic her family is in the history of dance and Russian ballet and the theatre in Russia. It’s really like being of royalty.

Sometimes it was very rough, she was a very strict teacher, but she gave me so much… she gave us all so much of her passion, her dedication and instilled in us the love of detail and the real discerning eye to think about our technique as being the vehicle through which you can excel and even surpass technique into artistry.

When Olga asks Sarah about the difference in preparation and performance of classical vs contemporary roles, she again refers back to her teacher (Legat), who though usually thought of as a strict classical disciplinarian and not the obvious choice for a contemporary dance coach, brought out the optimal level of ability and expressiveness in her pupil for a contemporary solo in Sarah’s first competition.

Sarah talks about the quintessential nature of a dancer being inextricably connected to “…flexibility… malleability and… chameleon-like quality to take on a new skin… the ability… to… lose yourself in the character” of a story-based ballet or become the “essence [of] what are you projecting” in a more abstract piece, where ”you are the vehicle for this concept.”

The final portion of the interview focuses on the unique project to which Sarah’s family has dedicated itself starting with her grandmother, who established the first [US] camp for children with special needs in 1953.

“It has been every single summer since 1953,” Sarah smiles, until the camp was canceled for the first time ever in 2020 due to COVID related risks. 

Sarah lights up about the entire experience, as she fondly recalls incorporating the ballet segment into the annual play, where she would dance with the campers. “One year we even did an entire Rose Adagio…” 

From Sarah’s display, it is obvious that she sees ballet as a powerful tool with the capacity to build-up our Identity, integrating our mind and body into a powerful unit of creative expression — with multi-faceted benefits — and that this instrument can be applied to a broad spectrum of the human population.

Sarah talks about being a dancer as an “integral part” of who she is: “Anytime I’m not able to dance, I feel like some part of my Identity is missing…” She follows this, tapping into the significance of Identity, emphasizing the importance of ”…making yourself into a fully interesting… fully informed and fully vital human, so you’re not just simply a dancer.”

Sarah’s success story and the values she projects undeniably reflect back to her teacher and the roots of Russian ballet education, which produces world-class dancers, who reach this height of achievement precisely because they are well-rounded, highly-cultivated individuals with a solid knowledge of the fine and performing arts, languages, math, history and literature.

As many attest, a truly extraordinary ballet dancer like Maya Plisetskaya or Rudolf Nureyev, or for that matter, Yuri Soloviev, is a mind that dances, expressing itself through its physical instrument.

Tatiana Legat coaches Mikhailovsky Ballet Principal Dancer, Ekaterina Borchenko; photo by Nikolay Krusser

My non-profit partner and I recently attended several YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix) competitions in the Los Angeles area. While we saw many young dancers with much promise, ardently devoting themselves to this most demanding craft (along with the efforts of teachers, coaches & parents), we observed that what is missing in the scattered studios where ballet education in America predominantly resides is the deeper understanding, the consciousness, of what classical dance truly is.

And this awareness is the foundation of a strong, intelligent dancer, which is really a highly developed human being.

In Russia, there is a centralized system of education for classical dance, which is recognized and supported by the government as not only a serious profession, but a most noble one.

Our mission is to introduce this coveted knowledge and its core values into our system of education, providing young people with a practical method to develop our innate qualities that constitute a well-balanced, strong-minded, purpose-driven individual with a sense of Identity, the ultimate asset that can be applied to any career path.

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The London Trip Day 3: London’s West Side & our first ballet at Royal

London Trip Day 3: West Side & Royal Ballet

The London Trip

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London’s West Side & our first ballet at Royal

This is the day we were going to see our first ballet, Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden!

But before that, it was time to get to know the city, so we booked an excursion with the ever popular Strawberry Tours exploring London’s West End and Westminster district.

With our ‘mostly on-hiatus’ actor as our guide (we found this to be the case with many of the Strawberry Tours chaperons) – who by the way was able to remarkably channel his expressive talents towards our group – we made our way past world famous statues, monuments and landmarks in this government centered division of the regal European city.

After a quick change of attire back at our place, we headed for our ballet venue, and with a bit of  time on our hands, ventured into the indoor Covent Garden Market with an array of specialty shops and booths.

This is where I spotted the sketch of an artist who for me, taps into an ethereal quality of feminine beauty with a surprising element of innocence. I was able to take a photo of this piece (see it below!) but then was shooed away by a neighboring pit bull shopkeeper (or perhaps an assistant) from taking another that really caught my eye – a black and white sketch of a female form in a bodice exuding the likeness of a ‘nymph meets femme fatale’.

I’ve since visited the artist’s website and found a piece that somewhat approximates what I believe I saw on that day of May 11th. I’ve included it in the gallery below 🙂 

By the way – turns out this sketch girl has a PhD in Astrophysics, topped off with what is called a Zeldovich Medal for excellence and achievements in the field.  “For me art and science are a natural pair,” she says. This immediately also clicks for me because it’s what essentially defines classical ballet. 

And then it was time for the performance! –which did not disappoint! It even impressed with the display of talent exhibited by the Royal principal who happened to be dancing that night. The American-born, Russian-trained export from Boston, Sarah Lamb, won me over in the final act where she not only technically delivered, but was truly able to pull out the emotional energy making the scene of Romeo dancing with the lifeless body of Juliet genuinely work. 

Also worthy of mention is the beyond-the-norm athleticism and artistry of the company’s 1st Soloist Marcelino Sambé (recently promoted to principal) who was in the role of Mercutio that night.

So there it is, Day 3 of our London Trip in a nutshell!

Duke of York Column commemorates Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany who is perhaps most known for his lack of military prowess and character defects summed up in England’s famous nursery rhyme "The Grand Old Duke of York"
Bronze relief of Queen Elizabeth meeting people of London during World War II (located on The Mall road along our route from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace)
Walkers Of Whitehall alley entrance
sculpted by John W. Mills, “Monument to the Women of World War II” is a British national war memorial that was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in July 2005 on Whitehall road in London
statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square sculpted by Philip Jackson; Parliament Square in Westminster is famous not only for its collection of government buildings and statues, but also as the place for many demonstrations and protests
Arch into Royal Opera House shopping Arcade (below it, buggies in Covent Garden offering old-world rides)
at Royal Opera House gift shop: Margot Fonteyn as Aurora in Act II of “The Sleeping Beauty” (1951); Roger Wood Photo Collection
memorial statue of Queen Elizabeth (between two bronze reliefs paying tribute to her monarchical rule (located on The Mall road)
Walkers Of Whitehall: the last stop on our London West tour, we peeked into this ye olde pub with a history dating back to 1694 (when it started out as a bank) en route back to our flat to prep for the ballet
Walkers Of Whitehall
Cabinet Office building responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the United Kingdom (located off Whitehall)
Westminster Abbey: this Gothic abbey church is the final resting place of historical figures including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and more recently the ashes of Stephen Hawking
Portcullis House in Parliament Square area opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 members of parliament and their staff
My discovery by artist by Diana Shaul
Lilac tree which I believe I captured just steps away from the medieval St James's Palace on Marlborough Road, the giveaway is the ancient brickwork pattern that matches the St. James castle
The other bronze relief panel commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s work
London Trip Day 3: West Side & Royal Ballet
“Monument to the Women of World War II” displays 17 individual sets of clothing and uniforms as well as a nursing cape, a police overall and welding mask around the sides, symbolising the hundreds of different jobs women undertook in World War II
“Monument to the Women of World War II” … view from the side
crowds gathering for the Horse Guards Parade from Whitehall with the Queen’s Household Cavalry guarding the entrance arches
Broad Sanctuary Houses, next to Westminster Abbey
this Abraham Lincoln statue, known as "The Man" or "Standing Lincoln", is located on the west side of Parliament Square outside the Supreme Court; it is a replica of the original in Chicago
my take on ‘nymph meets femme fatale:’ an ink and graphite pencil drawing by Diana Shaul

Romeo & Juliet Curtain Calls

Marcelino Sambé, as “Mercutio” in Romeo and Juliet (left)
Sarah Lamb as “Juliet” and Royal Ballet’s principal, Russian dancer Vadim Muntagirov as “Romeo” emerge for curtain call
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov acknowledge each other
inside the Royal Opera House: view of stage from orchestra section
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov greet the audience
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov return for another curtain call
Marcelino Sambé and fellow artists bow to a cheering audience
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov turn to head backstage
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov final farewell to audience as they turn to go backstage
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