Monday, April 26, 2010

Colin Russell-Jones and the Legat Legacy

Not unlike Billy Elliot, the Welch-born Colin Russell-Jones, the son of a railroad shunter, wanted to study dance in his hometown of Stafford, but not one of the town’s dance schools would take boys. By the age of 11, his family had moved to London where he saw a performance by the International Ballet and fell in love with the art. At 17, he walked three miles each way, three days in a row, to have an audience with Madame Nadine Nicoleava-Legat, a distinguished teacher and member of the celebrated Legat Ballet family. The Legat School was considered one of London’s finest. Mme Nicoleava-Legat was not in the first two times, but Russell-Jones found her there on the third try, and she accepted him as a student. In time, his studies led to a career that took him to several countries in Europe and then the United States.

Agnes De Mille, the famed choreographer described him as “An unusually fine pantomimist and comedian, and a well-trained dancer.”

Over the course of his career, the now 79-year-old Russell-Jones, also studied with Dame Marie Rambert, Stanislav Idzikovsky, and Lydia Kyact. He danced with the Royal Winnipeg , Yugoslav National, Irish National, Harlequin, Legat, and Royal Swedish Ballets, and with Peninsula Youth Ballet, Dancers Repertory Theatre, and in 23 musicals. His vast repertoire includes Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Coppélia, Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Carnival, Harlequin Serenade and Les Sylphides. He has taught at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, Connecticut College, Louisville College and Notre Dame, and Tanz Akademie in Marburg, Germany. He has directed the Icelandic National Ballet, the Israeli Bat Dor Dance Company, and has taught dance and theater in Bay Area high schools.

When a rent hike recently forced Russell-Jones to move to a smaller apartment, he decided to donate a substantial portion of his personal library to the Art and Music Center of the San Francisco Public Library. Among the nearly 200 books and other items donated by Russell-Jones are ballet music scores, Benesh Dance Notation books, Cecchetti, Vaganova and Bournonville curricula guides, biographies of notable British, U.S. and Soviet-era dancers, ballet programs in Russian, books on Modern, Folk and Jazz Dance, and a collection of caricature-like sketches of the demi-monde of the Early 20th Century London dance scene by Nikolai Legat. A selection of these, along with photographs, will be on exhibit during National Dance Month from April 23-May 31 on the Library’s Fourth Floor.

Mr. Russell-Jones will give a talk about the Legat School on Friday, April 30, at 1 p.m. in the Koret Auditorium.

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