Valentin Zeglovsky: more mysteries solved

The photographs by Max Dupain and Sam Hood of Valentin Zeglovsky in the State Library of New South Wales inspired me to discover more of the Ballets Russes’ dancer, the subject of previous posts on dancelines.

I’ve now been able to fill in more gaps in his life story following my meeting in London last month with his son, Leo and Leo’s wife, Anne.

Zeglovsky was the stage name of Valentin Zeglovskis who often maintained that he was born in Riga, Latvia, although in his memoir, Ballet Crusade, he wrote that he was born in Kharkov, Ukraine.

Leo never heard his father mention Kharkov, but he did talk of his early years in Riga.

In an email sent before we met, Leo wrote: “My father’s early life is smothered in obfuscation and half truths. A lot of his book was not altogether truthful as my father was something of a fantasist”.

During our meeting in London, Leo said his father’s first marriage, to a Belarus woman, Mia Arbatova, was “in name only”, allowing Mia to eventually leave Latvia and settle in Tel Aviv.

Valentin married his second wife, Pamela Bromley-Smith, in Sydney where he settled in 1938.

He taught her to dance, although, Leo told me, she preferred to act, and wished her entire career had centred on acting.

Pamela’s father was English, one reason why the couple moved from Sydney to London following their marriage in 1949.

There, in a studio in Pavilion Road off Sloane Square, Valentin taught ballet, often coaching dancers referred to him by other teachers and he occasionally taught in France.

The couple, who lived first at Elm Park House, in Fulham Road, Chelsea, then in Redcliffe Road, Chelsea, had three sons, the eldest, Leo, born in 1954 and identical twin brothers, Mark and Paul, born five years later.

Elm Park House was “full of Russian émigrés”, Leo said, as “Dad thought of nothing but ballet”.

Tamara Tchinarova, who had danced with Valentin, described him as “a very great and talented artist with no staying power”.

Leo himself believed his father was “like a Svengali, who completely overwhelmed his pupil, if female, with a combination of charisma and charm”.

As a child, Leo had no desire to dance as for him, dance “meant unhappiness”. His childhood wasn’t always smooth sailing and he recalled that once he was put into foster care.

Valentin and Pamela divorced not long before Valentin’s death in 1985.

His funeral was held in the Russian Orthodox Church in South Kensington. Leo remembers the scent of the incense and the congregation which was, he said, “predominantly women”.

Pamela died in 1994.