Friday, 1 April 2005

Discovering Legat at 60

“The Law of Least Effort-nature’s intelligence functions with effortless ease ,carefreeness, harmony and love.”
Deepak Chopra – The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.

The long lineage of the masters of the art of dance that carries the science of movement can be experienced by this seemingly simple law.

Since I have been studying the Russian method as taught by Nicolai Legat with Barbara Gregory, I have become aware of how aligned the teaching and  guidance is to Universal Law ( the study of which I have been much involved in over the last four years ).

Here are just a few of the connections:

The stance is slightly forward from the hips in readiness for movement in any direction. The body is held with a sense of expansion that allows the energy within the body to flow freely. The effort of this can be   likened to the resonant ring of a fine wine glass lightly tapped, making a beautiful ringing sound that continues on for some little while.

Epaulement is refined and subtle being felt from the centre of the back into the shoulders and carried through to the inclination of the head over the front foot, creating a line that gives poise and elegance to the dancer.

Classes are always new and fresh for both student and teacher. All exercises are newly created in each class. Arms and epulement are included to enable the student to simultaneously develop the memory and the artistry.
This involves the use of both hemispheres of the brain which is important in balance of personality as well as physical balance in execution of movement and emotional expression. Exercises include many transferences of weight through which feet and ankles become supple and strong, thus movement becomes more agile.

Attention is given to the balance between tension and relaxation creating muscle tonality and flexibility without the over development of muscle in any part of the body.

Pirrouette turns can be executed with assurity and speed when the impetus comes from the spine, following the law of centripetal force. This gives them the energy for emotional expression of excitement.

The law of least effort is clearly seen in the gentle undulating flow of the arms. This is particularly evident in the arabesque where it is the sense of line that is held in the mind and through the lift of the head, with the eye-line reaching out and beyond, gives the body a feel of continuation. Vibration of the mind, emotions, and body can resonate and flow most effortlessly when the arms are not fully stretched.

Movements rather than steps – like beautifully constructed sentences – are at the core that has flowed down into Legat‘s classes and beyond, through those who were privileged to study with him, and who continue to teach to these same principles.

I was particularly interested to read in “ The Legat Saga “ by John Gregory that Johanssen, with whom Nicolai studied in his Class of Perfection, was given the title of “ dance noble “. This title expresses something of the quality he carried within his mind and exhibited outwardly in his performance and teaching (it is quoted that at 59 he was still improving).

Johanssen taught into his nineties, earning the title of “Methusela of the dance” due to his acknowledged wisdom and artistry, allied to his impeccable style and science of movement; “his teaching and his sense of stile was the philosophy and the backbone of Legat’s whole carrier”.

In 1887 Enrico Cecchetti and his ballerina Limido performed in St.Petersburg and were acclaimed for their technical virtuosity and acrobatic feats; “never had they seen such pirouettes and batterie”
Their impact was to have a profound effect on the evolution of Russian Ballet – and indeed well beyond.

As a result of his technically outstanding performances, Cecchetti was offered the engagement at the Maryinsky Theatre as first dancer and professor of dancing. Soon after he took up the appointment the leading dancers in the school were divided into two groups: those who would study with Cecchetti and those who would continue with Johanssen. Although intrigued by the technical expertise of the Italian virtuoso Legat stayed with the Johanssen fold, but frequently watched Cecchetti at work. They became good friends.

This is where the significant divide began. Virtuosity of steps became separated from movement. The “science of movement” embodying the nobility of form and seemingly effortless freedom, evokes a heartfelt resonance with audiences beyond that created by technical brilliance alone.

The Class of Perfection had its roots firmly in the teaching of great Masters such as Vestris, the Bournonvilles, Petipa, and Johannsen, who handed down the mantle to Legat and those who studied with him. Even before Nicolai graduated as a young dancer from the Class he was noticed by the ballet public. When he appeared with Maria Gorshenkova in Ivanov’s ballet The Enchanted Forest, his partnering of the ballerina was considered outstanding. He had been coached by the handsome Pavel Gert in the art of pas de deux. “His solicitude and care of the ballerina, and the humility with which he suppressed his own ego was most touching. He was fascinated with this art of relationships which he never tired of perfecting”

My classes with Barbara have been an exciting awakening, providing me with the knowledge and understanding of the Science of Movement.

When dance comes with the application of this Knowledge it uplifts both dancer and audience alike.

Valerie Sophia Newsome

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