Tatiana Leskova on DVD

Some time ago, Tatiana Leskova, former dancer with the Ballets Russes and with a significant career after those experiences, sent me a copy of her biography, Tatiana Leskova. Uma Bailarina Solta No Mundo. It was the original edition written in Brazilian Portuguese by Suzana Braga. Eventually an English edition was released, Tatiana Leskova. A Ballerina at Large, and I gave my Portuguese edition (which I couldn’t read!) to Valrene Tweedie (who could read it). But I kept the DVD that was part of the original edition. As for that DVD, there were moments when English and French were used by Leskova and the people with whom she was dealing, but the dialogue and commentary were basically spoken in Portuguese. But luckily for me there were English subtitles available (although they had not been created in very good English, and they also often featured incorrect spelling).

But a recent major clean-up of my study brought the DVD to light once more and I watched it again. It contains some wonderful images from Leskova’s early career, some footage (mostly fairly grainy) of her performances in works from the 1930s and 1940s as well as footage and images of her later career as a dancer in Rio de Janeiro. There are scenes of her various friendships, including with fellow Ballets Russes dancer Anna Volkova; scenes of her teaching at the school she established in Rio; and interviews with some of the Brazilian dancers she trained.

Dancers in Rio de Janeiro: (left to righ) Lydia Kuprina, Leda Youky, Tamara Grigorieva, Anna Volkova, Tatiana Leskova, ca. 1945. Photo: © Kurt Paul Klagsbrunn. For further information about this image see this link

A number of aspects of the unfolding story stood out for me. I was interested, for example, to hear comments from Sir Peter Wright, who commissioned Leskova in the 1990s to restage Choreartium for Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Wayne Eagling of the Dutch National Ballet for whom Leskova also restaged Choreartium, this time in 2001. Wright said she was ‘fighting for everything and being so passionate about it.’ Eagling said of her work, ‘She demonstrates what feeling should be.’ And they both talk about how she never compromised and was ‘tough’. And many other words of wisdom come from them both.

I was also mesmerised by the way Leskova moved when she was coaching dancers. This was especially noticeable in footage showing her coaching dancers of the Dutch National Ballet. At the age of 79, she wasn’t just demonstrating she was performing with her whole body, and it was easy to see that dance was an inherent part of her being.

Leskova turned 100 in December 2022. It is nothing short of amazing to watch this DVD, which is actually available on YouTube (but with no subtitles). Leskova’s career extends way beyond the Ballets Russes, for which she is so well known in Australia, and I have nothing but respect for her approach to performing, coaching and teaching. She has built a reputation for being demanding and several of those who appear on the DVD say she made them cry with her comments and demands. But the outcomes she achieved are exceptional, especially in her restaging of the ballets of Massine, which she did across the world.

The DVD closes with Leskova saying:

I was born in Paris. French people don’t take me as one. The Russians don’t take me as Russian. The Brazilians don’t take me as one. So, I am a ballerina. Free in the world. 

A DVD well worth making the effort to watch. For more about Leskova on this site see this tag.

Michelle Potter, 13 June 2023

Featured image: Detail of Tatiana Leskova as a young dancer. Image from the DVD Tatiana Leskova. Nos passos de uma bailarina solta no mundo. Full image below. Photographer not identified.

Note: I was unable (for reasons unknown) to embed a link to the YouTube video of the Leskova DVD but it is easily accessible via a web browser.

3 thoughts on “Tatiana Leskova on DVD

  1. Thank you so so much for encouraging us to look for this documentary on Youtube ( I’m glad i persevered because there are two other lengthy docos about Leskova there — but only conversations, and only in Portuguese…but I knew I had to keep searching for what you had talked about).
    I was acutely aware of never having seen a Massine ballet — I’d studied photos and read verbal descriptions of course — but to see Presages and Choreartium actually danced was a revelation, especially the distinctive use of music dynamics in his choreography. What a thrill to see Harry Haythorne alive again, on the sofa with Leskova, and discussing the expressive power of different parts of the dancing body in Massine’s way of setting choreography.
    David McAllister’s story of Australians throwing flowers onto the railway tracks as the Ballet Russe left town is poignant, ballets as ephemeral as flowers, beautiful, then gone. The final transitions in filming dancers in rehearsal then in performance, then from the stage back to the studio, on the upbeat then the downbeat, is a true thrill.
    Readers please take Michelle’s advice and look for this impressive capturing of a remarkable dance artist, the redoubtable Tatiana Leskova..

  2. I’m so glad you persisted with locating the YouTube footage Jennifer. We can all find something to surprise and delight us in it I think, even without the English subtitles. I also loved seeing Harry Haythorne sitting there chatting with Tatiana and giving his opinion about the state of the Australian Ballet. I was working in New York when Tatiana and others were in Australia to stage Les Presages for the Ballets Russes project so missed seeing the production then. But I know Tatiana was not all that thrilled with what was happening at the time. I think she felt she was not being treated with the respect she felt was due to her (at least that’s what she mentioned to me at one stage). But then she has always had very strong opinions about pretty much everything and I think that is something that surfaces throughout the footage. Having said that, in the few times I have met her in person and in every online or other dealing I have had, I have always found her to be a very generous and giving person.

  3. My impression of Leskova in the film certainly echoes yours … and she surely deserved respect for all she had to offer. The ballet world often moves at such a pace that “right recognition” of various contributions is the first casualty when deadlines and opening nights are used as reasons to rush. The best companies in the world of course have such things in fine balance and control. It seems to me that Hamburg Ballet and Cloudgate Dance Theatre are superb shining examples of what’s possible, and of taking responsibility for documenting and archiving their own company histories from their beginnings.

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