Lerska Nata, originally Natalia Lejzerowicz (28.03.1920, Lisichansk - 23.10.2022, Paris) - dancer and choreographer.
Nata Lerska, a Warsaw-based dancer and choreographer, was born on 28 March 1920 as Natalia Lejzerowicz in Lysychansk, Ukraine. She was the only child of Sonia Hajfetz, a seventeen-year-old pianist from St Petersburg, and Stanislav Lejzerowicz, a young engineer working in the Livenhof glassworks.
Shortly after her birth, the family fled west, escaping the advancing Red Army. They first settled in Łódź, where Natalia began her dance training. In the early 1930s she continued her studies at the Janina Mieczyńska School of Rhythm and Fine Arts in Warsaw. Her favourite teachers were Ruth Sorel and Georg Groke.
In her youth, she became a rising star of New Dance, a fashionable style at the time, originating from the Weimar Republic, where it was known as German Tanz, Freier Tanz or Ausdruckstanz. As a teenager, she presented expressive choreography at youth competitions at the Polish Theatre and the Grand Theatre. She also attended the Mary Wigman summer school in Dresden.
In 1939, her solo choreography entitled The Little Match Girl won the gold medal at the International Artistic Dance Competition in Brussels. Lerska recalled in her book:
'Serge Lifar, who was on the jury, called me out and said: you are very talented, expressive and interesting, but you still need to work a lot on your dance technique'[1.1].
After the outbreak of war, Lerska hid with her parents and another Jewish family in Otrębusy near Warsaw. In time, a piano and a ballet bar appeared in the house behind the village, allowing her to survive the years of German occupation without leaving the house.
'My mum played for days and I danced to the music of Chopin, Bach, Poulenc, Albeniz.... I choreographed dances to music and wrote librettos for themes. I worked for days. Only from time to time I would run to the window and look at the road to see whether the Germans are coming for us'[1.2].
'This is how a professional choreographer was born' said composer Zbyszek Rymarz[1.3]. In his view, five long years of living in hiding from persecution shaped her creative working methods and choreographic preferences.
After the war, she presented an étude titled 'The Partisan', which she described in her book as follows:
'I fought heroically, unloaded my desire for revenge for the humiliation and constant fear. At one point, the heroine is wounded, a soldier's cap falls from my head, unfurling a torrent of long black hair, which meant - Jewess'[1.4].
The étude was censored because 'a Soviet partisan cannot die', and Jadwiga Chojnacka of the Main Control Office of Press, Publication and Performances (commonly called The Censorship) told her:
'If you want to keep dancing, find a style that suits your complexion better'[1.5].
Nata Lerska has therefore chosen artistic flamenco - a symbol of the Spanish communists of the Francoist era[1.6].
In January 1948, she left for Paris. After spending a year at the school of the famous dancer Maria del Villar, Lerska returned to Poland, then left for a month-long scholarship to the Gret Palucca school in Dresden, then in German Democratic Republic.
Over the years, she toured all over the country, in duo with her second husband Julian Sztatler (singer, host of the 'Studio under the Stars' programme in a Warsaw cafe). They also travelled to France, Belgium and Israel, as archived press notes attest. After Julian's death, Lerska moved to Paris in 1966, where she married for the third time (with Jakub Kowalski), and founded the 'School of Classical and Characteristic Dance', a refuge for dancers from Poland. She worked with many dancers: Bożena and Feliks Malinowski, Helena Strzelbicka, Krystyna Mazurówna, Halszka Kieszczyńska.
Lerska's speciality was 'stylised dances of various nations, especially Spanish, performed with a sense of their style and a knowledge of their distinctive technique'[1.7]. According to Krystyna Mazurówna's opinion, Lerska created a charismatic stage persona and gained great popularity with her performance of these dances.
Zbigniew Rymarz's private archive contains a number of theatre programmes that she performed, accompanied by instrumental musicians. The diversity of the programme was due to her choreographic talent, as she had the ability to integrate elements from different techniques to create a new, original and attractive form. According to Bożena Malinowska, prima ballerina at the Warsaw National Opera, Lerska knew very well not only classical dance, but also Russian, Roma and Spanish dances, i.e., tango, flamenco and jota. She also knew Charleston, twist and tango, as well as the polka, oberek, mazur and polonez.
In France she learned cancan, modern dance, and jazz[1.8]. According to Malinowska, Lerska was fascinated by pedagogical methods and passionate about using them in the amateur education of children's and youth groups at her Paris school[1.9]. Zbigniew Rymarz, a long-time colleague of Lerska, emphasises her high professional competence:
'She never needed time to think, like others. She was always ready to propose a new deal.'[1.10]
DVDs of audiovisual recordings of her Paris School concerts between 1970 and 1980 are an important source of information on her work. The recordings show numerous groups of young people performing complex spatial unison combinations, creating lines and rotations while moving through space in different directions. The pace of the evolutions is particularly noteworthy, as they are fast, at a pace characteristic of a Charleston, twist or oberek, and their execution is fluid, despite the combination of steps from different techniques.
Lerska left behind an archive - more than fifty notebooks with handwritten notes, the earliest of which is entitled 'Palucca 1948'. In the book, she writes about her childhood love of keeping dance diaries. Sketchbooks from the pre-war period have not survived, but the abundance of post-war notes suggests that this practice was key to mastering and compiling various dance styles into one coherent idiom. This brings Lerska closer to figures such as Mary Wigman and the founders of the German School, who kept systematic records of their work. Zbyszek Rymarz, Lerska's collaborator from 1945 to 1965, became aware of the collection only in 2022, when the author revealed its existence.
A cursory analysis of Lerska's notes reveals descriptions of lessons in various dance techniques, as well as records of syllabuses, interpretations, exercises, often described in balletic language. She placed drawings of poses and movement sequences next to accounts of dance steps. They are sometimes combined with musical notation, and there are also comments on the use of a particular movement on stage. Lerska's notes focus on technical elements, their naming, performance dynamics, and note clearing. Nata Lerska's collection of notebooks, which Rymarz described as a 'golden collection', now owned by her heirs is to go to the archives of the National Institute of Music and Dance.
Nata Lerska died in Paris on 22 October 2022, aged 102.
- Goldbach T., Fascism, Flamenco, and Ballet Español: Nacional flamenquismo, The University of New Mexico UNM Digital Repository Theatre & Dance ETDs Electronic Theses and Dissertations 2014, [online] https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=thea_etds[accessed 22.08.2023].
- Lerska, N., Wspomnienia tancerki - nie tylko o tańcu, Łódź 2001
- Leyko M., Polskie szkoły tańca scenicznego w okresie międzywojennym, Słownik tańca XX i XXI wieku, Łódź 2022
- Mamontowicz-Łojek B., Terpsychora i lekkie muzy, Warsaw 1972
- Preston-Dunlop V., Lahusen S., Schrifttanz: A View of German Dance in the Weimar Republic, 2008
- Różycki J., Album artysty polskiego, Warsaw 1938
- Turska I., Taniec w Polsce 1945-1960, Warsaw 1962
- Wojnicka I., Nata Lerska - historia tancerki, [online] Nata Lerska - history of a dancer (accessed 22.08.2023).
- [1.1] Lerska N., Wspomnienia tancerki – nie tylko o tańcu, Łódź, 2021, s. 7
- [1.2] Lerska N., Wspomnienia tancerki - nie tylko o tańcu, Łódź, 2001, p. 8.
- [1.3] Interview with Zbyszek Rymarz in Iwona Wojnicka's film Nata Lerska - the story of a dancer. 2021.
- [1.4] Lerska-Kowalska N., Wspomnienia tancerki - nie tylko o tańcu, Łódź, 2021, pp. 9
- [1.5] Wojnicka I., Nata Lerska - historia tancerka, [online] Nata Lerska - historia tancerka (accessed 22.08.2023).
- [1.6] Goldbach T. (2014) Fascism, Flamenco, and Ballet Español: Nacional flamenquismo. The University of New Mexico UNM Digital Repository Theatre & Dance ETDs Electronic Theses and Dissertations. https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=thea_etds [accessed 16.11.2023
- [1.7] Turska I., Taniec w Polsce 1945 -1960, Warsaw, 1962, photo 211.
- [1.8] Wojnicka I., Nata Lerska - historia tancerki, [online] Nata Lerska - historia tancerki (accessed 22.08.2023).
- [1.9] Wojnicka I., Nata Lerska - historia tancerki [online] Nata Lerska - historia tancerki (accessed 22.08.2023).
- [1.10] Interview with Z. Rymarz [online] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1s8AqRW59Y [accessed 16.11.2023]