Born in Paris, Manuel Legris trained at the Paris Opéra ballet school and joined the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1980. In 1986 he was appointed danseur étoile by Rudolf Nureyev, who was the Ballet Director of the Paris Opéra at the time. He danced the great roles of the classical and modern repertoires and appeared in numerous premières. In May 2009 he gave his farewell performance as danseur étoile of the Paris Opéra His repertoire at the Paris Opéra Ballet included leading roles in the classical productions and in works by Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Nacho Duato, Mats Ek, Michail Fokin, Harald Lander, Serge Lifar, Kenneth MacMillan, Rudolf Nureyev, Roland Petit, Angelin Preljocaj, Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, Rudi van Dantzig and other prominent choreographers. Important choreographers have created roles for him: Twyla Tharp (Rules of the game), Pierre Lacotte (Paquita), Maurice Béjart (Arepo, Phrases de quatuor), Trisha Brown (O Złożony / O Composite) William Forsythe (In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Woundwork), Jiří Kylián (Doux Mensonges, Il faut qu’une porte), John Neumeier (Magnificat, Sylvia, Spring and Fall, Cinderella Story), Patrice Bart (Coppélia). Recent appearances include Die Fledermaus in Beijing with the National Ballet of China and in Japan, the pas de deux from Onegin in Tokyo in the Tokyo Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Gala, further appearances at Shanghai Grand Theatre, and in the annual Nureyev Gala in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018, dancing ballets by Roland Petit Petit, John Cranko, John Neumeier, Angelin Preljocaj, and creations by Patrick De Bana.
From 2010 to 2020 he was the Director of the Wiener Staatsballett and the Artistic Director of the Wiener Staatsoper Ballet Academy. In Vienna he staged Pierre Lacotte’s La Sylphide and several productions by Nureyev: Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Raymonda, and Don Quixote, which he later staged also for the National Ballet of China and the Hamburg Ballett. In March 2016 he presented his first full-length story ballet at the Wiener Staatsoper, Le Corsaire, which later went on tour to Madrid and Japan and entered the repertoire of the Latvian National Opera and Ballet, and of the Polish National Ballet in Warsaw. In 2018 he created for the Staatsoper his own version of Sylvia, in co-production with the Teatro alla Scala, where it opened the Theatre’s Ballet Season in December 2019 as, achieving great success and the Danza&Danza Award as best classical production of the year.
Since December 2020 he has been appointed Ballet Director of the Teatro alla Scala, where he has often performed throughout his career, starting in 1987, the year in which he danced Basil in Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quixote alongside Elisabetta Armiato. In 1989 he was James in Pierre Lacotte’s La Sylphide with Monique Loudières and the Tokyo Ballet. He starred in Nureyev’s Sleeping Beauty (in 1994 with Viviana Durante, then with Alessandra Ferri in 1995 on tour in Tokyo and in 1996 at La Scala) and in L’histoire de Manon (in 1994 and 1998), again with Alessandra Ferri, with whom he also danced MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet (in 1996 on tour at the Teatro Regio in Turin), Carmen and Notre Dame de Paris by Roland Petit (in 2001 and 2002 respectively).
His prizes and awards include the gold medal at the Osaka Ballet Competition (1984), the Prix Nijinsky (1988), the Benois de la Danse (1998), the Nijinsky Award (2000), the Prix Léonide Massine (2001); he is Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (1993), Officier des Arts et Lettres (1998), Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite (2002), Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (2006), Commandeur des Arts et Lettres (2009). In 2016 he received the Public’s Prize for his performance as Ulrich in a pas de deux from Roland Petit’s Die Fledermaus in the Gala of the XV Dance Open International Ballet Festival at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.