An Italian ballerina
whose place in history is as the first star of Swan Lake
and the impetus to the development of the great Russian ballet
tradition. She was of unsurpassed technical ability and could spin in the circumference of a rouble
coin. Not only could she spin perfectly, but while doing so she could execute the whipping kick called fouetté en tournant
no less than thirty-two times. This so impressed the choreographers Petipa
and Ivanov, not to mention everyone else who saw it, that they wrote it into the black swan
Odile's spectacular dance to woo the deluded Prince, played by Pavel Gerdt
Legnani went to St Petersburg in 1893, engaged for a single season with the Imperial Ballet, and there she created Cinderella. She stayed on to create Odette/Odile in Swan Lake in 1895 (full version, based on an earlier work), as well as dancing in Coppélia, Raymonda, and Bluebeard; and she remained in Russia until 1901, being named prima ballerina assoluta of the Imperial Ballet. The only other star they gave this distinction was her Russian counterpart Mathilde Kschessinskaya, who learned to do the 32 fouettés and was the first great native dancer of the emerging Russian school.
Born on 30 September 1863, Pierina Legnani studied at La Scala, Milan, and danced there and in London, Paris, and Madrid before moving to Russia. It was in London that she first demonstrated her fouetté skill. After her return to western Europe she continued to dance until about 1910. Not a physically attractive person, she possessed great charm.
The date of her death is given as either 1923 or 1930. The Britannica says 1923, in Italy, but the BalletAlert website cited below gives the exact date of 15 November 1930.
Susan Au, Ballet & Modern Dance, 1988, Thames & Hudson
www.dancer.com/Legnani.html for a picture