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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Midsummer Mayerling in LA

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Midsummer Mayerling in LA

streets of LA

There are few things that can get a long-time local to make the drive into hectic downtown LA.  What got me to do it? Seeing the Royal Ballet perform their signature repertoire piece at The Music Center.

Yes, this past weekend I made the trip to Dorothy Chandler Pavilion which typically hosts the dance events at the landmark performing arts complex.

Since it was my first time visiting, I gave myself some x-tra, x-tra time to get there, and arriving with plenty to spare, I took a walk down the streets of angel city capturing the shots below.

The Music Center

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s raw, unapologetic portrayal of the agonizing cage of human existence – no matter how rich and mighty you are – through the true life drama of Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolf and his teenage mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera, which ended in the couple’s successfully executed suicide plan in 1889, Mayerling did not disappoint!

But it was dance historian Elizabeth Kaye’s talk prior to the performance that took it to another level, as her talks so often do.

I have come to greatly appreciate the rare aptitude of Ms. Kaye to transport us to another space and time no matter where we are in the moment, and in so doing elevate the entire artistic experience.

enjoy the snaps & check in soon!

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photo above: Elizabeth Kaye prepares to talk

Colburn Performing Arts Complex
concert on Grand Ave
view of LA's famous Angel's Flight railway
downtown LA view from 350 Grand Ave
fountain in courtyard near Colburn School
banner with LA Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel
view of courtyard with reflecting pool from Colburn School
The Music Center
"Nureyev" statue in reflection pool of Dorothy Chandler lobby
Mayerling cast & LA Phil conductor take bows after performance
Mayerling marquee at Disney Concert Hall
LA architecture
close-up of LA's famous Angel's Flight railway
long oval reflecting pool behind MOCA
The Broad contemporary art museum
The Walt Disney Concert Hall on 111 Grand Ave
The Music Center entrance... up the stairs
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Lobby
dance talk space at Dorothy Chandler
wall art installation at upper level of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
curtain call for Sarah Lamb in role of Mary Vetsera
MOCA: Museum of Contemporary Art
landscapes around Bunker Hill area of downtown LA
view next to Angel's Flight
MOCA Museum courtyard view
Colburn School courtyard entrance
Colburn School CAFE
The Founders wall at Dorothy Chandler
"Ballet Shoes" statue on opposite side of Nureyev statue in lobby of Dorothy Chandler
during intermission.... dance lecture hall at Dorothy Chandler
curtain call for Matthew Ball in role of Prince Rudolf