Amazing articles on just about every subject...

The Golden Age Of Dancing

( Originally Published 1924 )

LOUIS XIV brought public interest in the ballet to a point of eager excitement; indeed, the influence of a monarch's consistent patronage, including the foundation of a national academy, added to the example of his prominent participation in about thirty allegorical dancing spectacles, could not fail to be powerful.

With the growth of public interest and intelligence, the ballet and the technique of dancing developed commensurately.' The two enthusiasms of public and artists reacted on each other to the advantage of both; in the uninterrupted enrichment of the ballet the public never failed to find, its attention repaid in ever-increasing fascination. Dancers, composers and directors, on their side, abandoned themselves to their work with the zeal that comes of certainty that no good thing will pass unnoticed.

Such conditions bring good results more than can be foreseen even by those actively engaged. As, in fiction, the miner in trying to loosen a nugget usually uncovers a vein, so it may occur in the arts. For instance, Camargo found that her entrechat was difficult and in-effectual under the weight and length of the fashionable skirt of the period. She therefore had a skirt made reaching midway from knee to foot. A simple solution? Certainly. But it was thought of only after centuries of submission to clothes that considered fashion and disregarded the problems and possibilities of the dancer's art. And it represented the species of decision that risks acting counter to an accepted, unquestioned institution. It was not an effort to draw attention by means of a spurious originality. Camargo's work explained the change. The public understood and approved. The ballet was directed toward its costume; a long journey lay ahead of it, but it was rightly started.

Liberty of movement so attained at once put a premium on higher and more open steps; technical invention was set to work as never before. The ballone, various pas battes and ronds-de-jambe that followed immeasurably enhanced the scope of the ballet as an instrument of ocular-orchestral expression. New enchainements, striking in the contrast of little work with big, soon made the court dances—which for a period had constituted the ballet's working material—look old-fashioned. The stage now required considerable elevation, decided contrasts, increasing scope. And, what-ever the cost in skill and energy, there were dancers eager to expend the energy and to give the needed years to acquiring the skill.

Since the days of the Roman Empire, masks had been worn to identify characters. Not a bit of cloth to cover the face, merely; but cumbersome things with plumes, wings, metallic spikes (i. e., the rays of the sun worn by Louis XIV in the Ballet of Night) or what-not, so extended that they restricted the action of the the arms, so heavy as to interfere with steps. It was a clumsy convention, but it was as integrally a part of stage representation as scenery is to-day, and the few who wished its abolition were outvoted by a cautious majority. At last, according to her custom of helping an enterprise that is doing well, Fate took a hand. Auguste Vestris failed to appear for a certain performance as the time for his entrance drew near, the anxious stage director asked Gardel to "go on" in Vestris' part. Gardel, an until-that-time ineffectual rebel against the mask, consented; but with the condition that the mask be omitted. In default of arrangements more to his satisfaction, the director consented. The public at once saw the advantage of the change, and were pleased with Gardel's appearance. So began the end of the dominion of the mask.

Of the notable personalities that the early rays of the eighteenth century illuminated, the aforementioned Auguste Vesstris was the interesting son of a more interesting father. The latter was a genius of the very first water, with a conceit. so incredibly exaggerated that it is almost lovable. "This century," he was accustomed to observe, "has produced but three great men—myself, Voltaire, and Frederick: the Great." He sometimes signed himself "le Diou de la Danse"; himself a Florentine, the relation of French spelling to pronunciation was contrary to his ideas. The phrase as he put it had a special merit, and as "le Diou de la Danse" he was known through his long life. A lady, having stepped on his foot, expressed a hope that she had not hurt him. "Le Diou" depreciated the hurt to himself, but informed the lady. that she had put Paris into a two-weeks' mourning. Of his son's leaps he said that if Auguste did not remain in the air forever, it was because he did not wish to humiliate his comrades.

The foundation of the Opera was another of the impulses to act favourably, if indirectly, upon the interests of dancing. Its modest beginning had been made a few years after that of the ballet academy. The two arts at once combined to produce a new variety of musical spectacle, namely, opera. Great music came to the fore in response to the added encouragement—but digressions must be repressed.

Contemporary with Camargo and Salle was a dreamer of dreams too great to be realized in his own time, but whose ideas take place among the lasting good influences in art. Garrick called him "the Shakespeare of the Dance"; his name was Noverre.

To the post of ballet-master at the Opera he brought the experience of years in similar service in Stuttgart, Vienna and St. Petersburg. His work he regarded with the broad vision of cultivated understanding of painting, music, story, acting and dancing, and the functions of each. His genius was, above all else, constructive; his ideal was to bring the arts into a harmonious union, to which each should contribute its utmost, while all should be informed with and dominated by a single esthetic purpose.

The obstacle always blocking his path was not in-competence of aides and artists, not lack of money, nor any of the betes noires to which more recent idealists are accustomed. His enemy was the inert, impalpable and almost invincible force of custom, paradoxically persistent despite the public's demand for new things. It was custom that the composer of a ballet should always arrange for the introduction of the specialties of the several principals, irrespective of motives. Custom obliged him to arrange entrances in the inverse order of the artists' relative ranks—he of least rank "going on" first, the star being the last to appear. Noverre broke up this usage, and characters thereafter entered at times consistent with' plot-development. Plots had been crippled by accepted' beliefs that certain dance sequences were unalterable;' a Gavotte, for instance, had to be followed by a Tambourin and a Musette; the sequence had not been questioned. Noverre saw the possibilities of dancing as an instrument of expression; he insisted that steps and enchainements should be composed to intensify the motive of the passage.' Scenery, he held, should contribute in the same way, to the mood of the act it decorates. Pretty it had been, and executed by capable painters; but Noverre found its composition lacking in consideration of proper relationship to the other elements of the production. With himself he associated Boucher and one or two other decorators of lesser name; under his comprehension of the scene's dramatic intent, settings were designed that reasserted in line, form and colour the argument of the scene's plot, music and dance. In this department he was less successful than in others. Boucher made beautiful sketches, some of which are extant. But one has only to consider opera in his own day to realise that any influence Noverre exercised toward the unification of scenery with music and plot, was not strong enough to last. Stories taken from leg-end, set among surroundings as realistic as skill can paint them; tragic scenes among architecture and foliage coloured in the key of care-free frivolity—to enumerate the familiar discrepancies is unnecessary. Tradition specifies a bright first-act "set" for Carmen, and grey for the prison interior in Faust. But the profound correlation of colour and line with the explicit mood of the piece has remained for the Russian, Leon Bakst. In the recent volcanic renaissance of dancing effected by his fellow-countrymen, M. 'Bakst and his ideas have been a force second only to the marvellous work of the dancers themselves. His scenery strikes the note of the drama, attunes the spectator with its mood, at the rise of the curtain. His knowledge of pictorial composition he has extended to the designing of costumes; his broad artist's intelligence he has applied to the composition and direction of ballets! It is his happy role to realise Noverre's dream.

In music Noverre worked with Gluck, in certain productions at least; and happily. "Instead of writing the steps on prescribed airs," in a free translation of his own words, "as is done with couplets of familiar tunes, I composed—if I may so express myself—the dialogue of my ballet and had the music made for each phrase and each idea. It was just so that I dictated to Gluck the characteristic air of the ballet of the savages in Iphigenia in Tauris; the steps, the gestures, the expressions of the different personages that I designed for him gave to the celebrated composer the character of the composition of that beautiful bit of music."

The abolition of the mask was among Noverre's de-sires; its fortuitous accomplishment at a later time al-ready has been described. In his ideals for costume reform in general he was only partly successful. What he strove for seems to have been costuming in some-thing of the sense of its present-day interpretation by the Russians; garments wholly in character with the beings represented, in regard to race and period, yet conceding enough in line and colour to enable them to be used as part of the material of abstract interpretation. At the beginning of his administration of the Opera he found each performer dressed, for the most part, according to individual choice : either the drawing-room costume of the period, or the same with shortened skirt, a la Camargo. To this was added the mask, an enormous wig (unrelated to the character) and some such symbol as a leopard skin, a wreath of flowers, or more likely a property such as a bow and quiver of arrows, or a pair of bellows. In the order mentioned, such articles represented' a bacchante, Flora, Cupid, and Zephyrus. Excepting the superadded marks of identification, artists provided their own wardrobe. The lack of consistent supervision, and its natural consequence is exemplified in an anecdote of a member of the corps de ballet in Le Carnaval et la Folie: in the performance she exhibited a series of gowns of Adrienne Lecouvreur, which she had thriftily picked up at a sale of the recently deceased tragedienne's effects.

In the ballet of The Horatii, of Noverre's own composition, "Camilla wore a huge hooped petticoat, her hair piled up three feet high with flowers and ribbons. Her brothers wore long-skirt coats, set out from their hips by padding." And so forth.

It is to be noted that Roman and Greek mythology lived and flourished, but no longer excluded other lore from the composer's use. A list of Noverre's ballets d'action includes The Death of Ajax, The Judgment of Paris, Orplieus' Descent into Hell, Rinaldo and Armida, The Caprices of Galatea, The Toilette of Venus and the Roses of Love, The Jealousies of the Seraglio, The Death of Agamemnon, The Clemency of Titus, Cupid the Pirate and The Embarkation for Cythera. His work of permanent value; still read by composers and ballet-masters, is his book Letters on the Imitative Arts. For his light composition, Les Petits Riens, the music was by Mozart.

Notwithstanding his failure to accomplish all he hoped in the several departments of his organisation, and in spite of his rather pessimistic opinions of early eighteenth-century conditions affecting the ballet, the dance was entering its golden age. Pantomime—largely owing to the enrichment he had given it out of the fruits of his study of Garrick's, methods—had exponents who could touch the heart. Writings began to show intelligent and explicit criticism, and that of a nature to prove that choreographic execution had reached a high point. The added scope afforded by new acquisitions of material in the steps allowed artists to go far in development of individuality. Camargo charmed by perfection of technique; "she danced to dance, not to stir emotion." Her special steps are enumerated: besides the entrechat, she shone in jetes battus and a frictionless entrechat coupe. About her work there was a healthy public controversy, a vigourous minority protesting against idolisation of one who they asserted had virtuosity only. And the protests show analytical understanding of the dance.

Salle's more deliberate, probably more feeling work, has been noted in an earlier chapter. Her popularity hardly could have been less, all told, than that of her rival.

Mlles. Allard and Guimard were two stars who followed a little later in the same period. The former combined extraordinary vigour with pathetic pantomime. The work of Guimard was delicate, pretty, light. "She, is a shadow, flitting through Elysian groves," one of her contemporaries wrote of her. Certainly she had the art of pleasing, on the stage or off. The list of eminent competitors for her affection is eloquent not it its length, but in the number of occupants of high station including three princes of the Church. With a passion for theatrical and political intrigue she combined a spirit of the utmost generosity. To her the painter David owed- his professional beginnings; he was an art student without means to study, and engaged in house-painting for a livelihood, when Guimard secured him a pension that afforded him study at Rome. Some of Fragonard's best decorations were made for her establishments.

Her refusal to have any rival about her kept the Opera in an uproar. Perfectly appointed little theatres in both her country and city homes enabled her, with her taste, means, and popularity among the people of the stage, to give performances for which invitations were most highly prized. For these performances she made a practice of setting dates to coincide with court receptions, knowing from experience that the best wit and most of the elegance of Paris would make excuses to the court. From this estate she was reduced, partly by the storm of the Revolution, to a condition of miserable poverty lasting until her death; which was delayed until her seventy-fourth year.

Men did not fall short of women in merit and recognition. Beside the Vestris, father and son, fame touched Javillier, Dauberval, and the comedy dancer Lany. Maximilian Gardel, he who substituted for Auguste Vestris on condition of appearing without the mask (Apollo, in Castor and Pollux was the role), was a composer of note as well as a dancer. His brother Pierre added to these qualities skill as a violinist.

The progress of the ballet was halted by the Revolution.' Garde l headed an effort to keep it in motion with the aid of a spectacle La Marseillaise as vehicle; but the people were on the streets, dancing la Carmagnole, and nobility were as far from Paris as possible. It is probable that the ballet was set down as an aristocratic institution. Napoleon included a corps de ballet in the equipment of the campaign in Egypt; but it signified nothing to the advantage of the art. Immediately after the Terror, eighteen hundred dance-halls were opened in Paris, to furnish, seven nights a week, relief for fever and frenzy. Even England was too preoccupied to offer the ballet a dwelling; its organisation, for the time being, was lost.

But only for the time being. History records a bit of international negotiation indicating Europe's readiness to return to the realities of life and the happiness thereof. In 1821 an ambassador of a great power acted officially as an impresario of dancers.

England, whose best public taste never has been satisfied with the work of her own people, was, within a few years after the peace, again seeking dancers in France. Efforts to get the best were handicapped. The national character of the French Academy makes its pupils and graduates wards of their government, in effect; government permission is and was necessary as a condition to leaving the country. Negotiations therefore were put into the hands of the British ambassador, less formal dealings apparently having failed to produce results. The agreement was incorporated in the form of a treaty, France agreeing to lend England two first and two second dancers, England in return agreeing not to attempt to engage any others without the Academy's consent.

M. Albert and Mlle. Noblet were the first two artists to be taken to London under the new arrangement, at salaries of £1700 and £1500 respectively. During the same period, and for years after, Her Majesty's Theatre had the services of Carlo Blasis, one of the most capable ballet-masters of his time, father of several virtuosi, and the writer of books of lasting value on the subject of his profession. Dancing reached a popularity that would seem the utmost attainable,' were it not for disclosures to be made in the years soon to come.

Beauty and its appreciation will carry a public to a condition of ecstasy. If to this be added the incessant discussion attendant on a controversy, with the hot partisanship that, accompanies the coexistence of rival stars, the devotional flame is augmented by fuel of high calorific value. Not without cause were the hostilities of Pylades and, Bathyllus, of Salle and Camargo, associated with great public enthusiasm. To artistic appreciation they added the element of sporting interest.

In Marie Taglioni and Fanny Ellsler, Europe had the parties to a years-long competition that was Olympian in quality and incredible in its hold on the sympathies of the public. Both goddesses in art, their personalities and the genres of their work were at opposite extremes. In Pendennis Thackeray asks, ",Will the young folks ever see anything so charming, anything so classic, any-thing like Taglioni?" Of Ellsler, Flitch quotes words equally enthusiastic—and less coherent—from the pen of Theophile Gautier, who was an incurable maniac and copious writer on the subject of dancing: "Now she darts forward; the castanets commence their sonorous clatter; with her hands she seems to shake down clusters of rhythm. 1 How she twists! how she bends! what fire! what voluptuousness of motion! what eager zest! Her arms seem to swoon, her head droops, her body curves backward until her white shoulders almost graze the ground. What charm of gesture! And with that hand which sweeps over the dazzle of the footlights would not one say that she gathered all the desires and all the enthusiasms of those that watch her?"

This referred to a Cachucha that she had brought from Spain; a dance whose steps have been recomposed under other names, its original name forgotten except in association with the name and the art of Ellsler. It was a perfect vehicle for the exploitation of the ardent qualities that the little Austrian was made of, and on her rendering of it was based a great part of her fame.

Taglioni, in contrast, was a being of spirit, innocent of mortal experience, free from ties of the earth. Her training was strictly within the bounds of the classic ballet; during her career she greatly amplified its range, yet she always kept. within its premise. Though born in Stockholm, her father was an Italian ballet-master, and two of her aunts were dancers of reputation. Her achievements represented a triumph of choreographic inheritance and training over an ill-formed body; in child-hood she is said to have been a hunchback. With training her figure became normal in strength, and attained a quality of form in keeping with her selected roles. But overstrong features deprived her of the dancer's adventitious aid of facial beauty. Her triumphs were achieved by art alone.

Vienna she conquered at the age of twenty, in 1822, the year of her debut. Paris was not so readily moved; but a success in that capital was a practical necessity to a great career, and Taglioni never rested until she se-cured its approval, expressed in terms that penetrated Europe. Business generalship was not the least of the attributes of the Taglioni, -father and daughter; they recognised 'the propitious hour for an engagement in London. The contract included pensioning a number of their family, and £100 a performance. Results more than justified the terms; ticket sales for Taglioni's nights usually were of the nature of riots. It is as fair to connect with this box-office success, as with any quality of the artist herself, the story of her "holding up" a performance until the management of the theatre should make a substantial payment on an account due. It is unlovable in an artist to keep an audience waiting, and put a manager to the necessity of making explanations. It is unlovable in a coal dealer to discontinue supplies until a debt is settled.

Taglioni paid as heavily for the excellence she put into her work as ever did miner or merchant for the goods he put on his scales. Her training began in early child-hood, and covered probably twelve years before her debut. Her professional career, with its inevitable anxieties, in nowise reduced the rigour of study, discipline, and precaution. Under her father's eye she practiced hours daily. She went to the length of having installed in her London lodgings a stage built to duplicate the slope of the stage in the theatre.

Apart from the possession of ideals of sheer execution that undoubtedly were higher than any that her predecessors had dreamed of, and whose attainment involved almost superhuman effort 'and patience, Taglioni was a productive inventor of new steps. Flying brises and other aerial work make their first appearance in her work, according to Mme. Genee's historical programme of ballet evolution. We infer that her effort was directed toward the illusion of flight; a writer of the period refers to an arabesque that conveyed that sensation with striking reality. The great addition she made to elevation may naturally be attributed not to any interest in that property for its own sake, but rather to an endless search for lightness. And that, above all others, was the quality she made her own. La Sylphide (not the composition recently popularised by the Russians) was the part with which she was most unified in the minds of the public. Her work appears always to have had the creation of fairy fantasy as a definite purpose. In pantomime she was limited. She had none of the stage artist's familiar tricks devised to capture the audience, nor did she avail herself of any vivid contrasts in her costume. She dressed her hair in Madonna fashion, surrounded by a wreath of little roses; further adornment she deliberately avoided.

Ellsler was six years the younger; and, at some sacrifice of time in the acquisition of fame, she reserved Paris as the last of the great cities in which to appear. Taglioni therefore was well established when her destined rival first showed her steps to the Parisians. In fact, she occupied a box at Ellsler's first Paris performance, where it is said she silently wept before the end of the other's first number.

The Swede had succeeded almost in spite of circumstances; Ellsler's natural endowment contained almost everything the gods in a generous mood can give. The perfection of proportion of hands, feet, wrists and ankles were hers, as well as a Greek perfection of figure. Though her legs were of steel, and her strength in general that of an athlete, not a line suffered in sculptural grace nor a movement in freedom. Her face had a beauty that captivated an audience at the moment of her entrance on the stage, and a range of expression covering the moods of the human mind. Her training, like Taglioni's, had begun early. Mozart, for whom Ellsler's father Worked as copyist and otherwise, had interested himself in her to the extent at least that her early years were not misspent. With her technical tuition—whatever it may have been—she absorbed stage experience almost from the days of infancy. She danced in a children's ballet in Vienna when she was six years old. Before appearing in Paris she had succeeded in Naples, Berlin and London. The audience of l'Opera there-fore saw her first at the full maturity of her art and equipped with ample knowledge of how to present it to the best advantage.

Her success was not in doubt for a moment. The opening number was a riotous triumph, the morning papers were undivided in praise of the newcomer. Taglioni felt that Ellsler had been brought to Paris expressly to undermine her, and the appearances are that Ellsler lost no time in putting herself on a war footing.

London theatre-goers soon were in a position to question whether, after their elaborate provisions to get good dancers, they had not made a rather embarrassing misplay. Ellsler had danced at-Her Majesty's Theatre; the public had enjoyed her work, but, owing either to her lack of a great continental reputation or their own misgivings about the soundness of her work, had refrained from very hearty demonstration. On the first night of the engagement, the manager of l'Opera—who was in London to form an estimate of the Austrian's work—signed her for the following season.

Contrary to the metier of her rival, Ellsler's art consisted of a romantic glorification of life's physique. One gathers that she gave, instead of an ordered and consecutive poem, a thrill of delighted astonishment. She was of a newly forming romantic cult that worshipped the torrid, the savage, the violent. Her most pronounced success was on her rendering of the dances of Spain; she used her hips and her smile, and men—more than women—went into rhapsodies. Gautier, who had seen the best dancers in Spain, wrote that none of them equalled Ellsler. Which is credible, with reservations and conditions. If the sole aim of Spanish dancing is to express fire and temperament, to astonish and in-flame, it is more likely to be realised by a clever Northerner than by a Spaniard. The headlong enthusiast is not bothered by delicate considerations of shading, development, and truth of form; seizing the salient and exotic, an exaggeration of these and the elimination of all else is sure to produce a startling result. Execution at an abnormally rapid tempo will conceal inaccuracies from all eyes but those trained to the dance, and backed by a knowledge of its true forms.

All this by no means intends to assert that Ellsler was not a dancer of a high degree of skill, and perhaps of some degree of greatness. It is significant, however, that her encomiums concern themselves only with that which, boiled down, amounts to praise of a beautiful woman, performing evolutions at that time novel and surprising, and frankly—withal in a perfectly clean manner—appealing to sex. The quality that might be called decorative truth does not appear to have been an impressive element of her work. Assuredly that is the foundation of dancing entitled to any consideration in connection with the quality of greatness. Temperament, expressing what it will, of course is as necessary to animate the form as true form is to begin with; but temperamental exuberance cannot take the place of I a proper substructure. Granting the in-adequacy of data, and speculating on a basis of indications only, one is justified in wondering if Ellsler coming to life to-day could repeat her impression on Paris, with its present knowledge not only of Spanish dancing, but also of feats of supreme virtuosity.

Years only augmented the heat of the feud between the two goddesses. Europe divided itself into acrimonious factions of Taglionites and Ellslerites. The latter were shocked, however, when, to bring to a flat comparison the question of merit, Ellsler announced her intention to play La Sylphide. Taglioni had made the part her own; for another to undertake it was at least an act of doubtful delicacy. Nor was the idea better advised on grounds of strategy. La Sylphide in its composition was a tissue of, the ethereal, even if Taglioni had not made it so by association with herself. Ellsler was insistently concrete. Effects followed causes. Her most ardent partisans could not say after the performance that the attempt spelled anything but failure.

America's first vision of a star dancer was the direct consequence of Ellsler's vexation over the fiasco. Our fathers and grandfathers unharnessed the horses from her carriage; and counted it an honour to get a hand on the rope by which the carriage was drawn; carpeted the streets where the carriage was to pass, strewed flowers where the divinity was to set her foot, and in all ways comported themselves as became the circumstances, during the period of two years that she stayed on this side of the Atlantic.

Ellsler's professional collapse was connected not with art, but politics. After her return from America she danced several seasons in Milan. The ballet academy of la Scala had been founded in 1811, interest in the art ran high, and was fed by the Austrian government as a hoped-for means of distracting the public mind from the revolutionary sentiment of the mid-century. In 1848, on the occasion of a performance especially provided to smooth over a crisis, it was arranged that the people of the ballet should wear a medal recently struck, representing the pope blessing a united Italy. Ellsler conceived a suspicion that the idea represented an intent to insult her as an Austrian; she refused to go on unless the medals be taken off. Meantime the corps de ballet had made its entrance, wearing the medals. They were removed at the first opportunity, and promptly missed at the ballet's next entrance. The explanation of the change travelled through the house; the premiere, when she entered, was received with hisses. Tense with political excitement, the audience saw in her only the representative of the power that controlled the Italian sceptre. Her efforts received no answer but furious insults. She fainted.

After three comparatively uneventful years she re-tired, rich and—in the main—popular. Her contributions to religion and charity had been impressive and so continued until her death in 1884. Her wealth was estimated at one and a quarter million dollars. Taglioni's end was in miserable contrast; during part of her latter years she held a petty position as teacher of deportment in a young ladies' school in England. She died lonely and forgotten, after a most unhappy old age.

Among the many dancers brought out by the period of enthusiasm were three women of whose work the records have only the highest praise. To Carlotta Grisi, Gautier gave the credit of combining the fiery abandon and the light exquisiteness of the two great luminaries of the day. Fanny Cerito and Lucille Grahn were ranked with her. For 'Queen Victoria there was arranged a pas de quatre by Taglioni, Grisi, Cerito, and Grahn. That performance, in 1845, represents one of the climaxes of ballet history, including as it probably did the greatest sum total of choreographic ability that ever had been brought together.

But it was the milestone at the top of a high mountain, from which the road turned downward. Except in England, Taglioni's prestige was dimmed. Queen Victoria's reign, however uplifting in various important respects, undeniably was depressing in its influence on all the imaginative arts; and it was an influence that reached far. . Furthermore, the elements that constituted opera began to assume. new relative proportions. The voice of Jenny Lind called attention to the factor of singing. In the present day of subordination of the dancer to. the singer, it is almost incredible that opera of seventy years ago assigned to the dancer the relative importance that the singer enjoys now; especially difficult is this conception to any one whose acquaintance with opera is confined to its production in America. General indifference has reduced operatic ballet in this land to a level compared to which its condition in continental Europe is enviable. Though reduced from past importance, in countries that support academies it has at least retained standards of execution.

But, the strictly modern interpretation of opera, minimising choreography, has been accepted. New operas are written in conformity with the altered model. It is likely that the present renaissance of dancing, though no less vital than any that have gone before, will effect little change in the art's importance in opera structure, which has become a distinct organism to be heard rather than seen. Aroused interest and intelligence inevitably will force improvement on old organisations, new appreciation will justify it from the box-office point of view. But the American dance-lover's hope lies in the new-old form of ballet pantomime. This is the expression that the great new romantic movement has taken, as though in express recognition of those of us to whom the use of ears has not atrophied eyes.

Against the suddenly discovered passion for singing, the art of Grisi, Cerito, Grahn and their colleagues could not hold public attention. Steadfastly the French and Italian academies held to their creeds of choreographic purity. Upon their fidelity to ideals the latter nineteenth-century reign of artistic terror made no impression; to their preservation of the good is due the ability of the present romantic renaissance to come into its complete expression without the intervention of a century of rebuilding. Russia and Austria too had founded national academies for instruction along the lines made classic by Paris and Milan. Others followed. But it appears that the technical virtuosity of Taglioni had set a pace that. was both difficult and misleading. Being a genius, perfection meant to her a means of expression. During a period in which no great genius appeared, efforts to win back the lost kingdom took the form of striving for technique as an object. The public was unjustly damned for failure to respond to marvellously executed students' exercises. With equal lack of justice, it became fashionable to include the whole school of the ballet's art in the accusation of stiffness and artificiality.

The half-century ending about 1908, during which the stage was given over to all the flashy choreographic counterfeits that mediocrity could invent, was saved from complete sterility by the dances that are rooted in the soil. Jigs and Reels, Hornpipes and Tarantellas held their own like hardy wild flowers in a garden of weeds; like golden, opulent lilies, the Seguidillas 0f Spain held their heads above malformation and decadence. This is a fitting point at which to consider the nature of some of these ancient expressions of the heart of men who dwell away from courts.

Home | More Articles | Email: