11 FEBRUARY 1938, Page 34


This is, I believe, Mr. Beaumont's fiftieth book on ballet. He is, for the most part, a monument of accuracy and of painstaking research, while the ease and stilted fluency of his style belongs to the common-Victorian dignity of his thought. All phenomena, whether extraordinary or banal, are treated by him in a careful, reserved but untroubled manner. He is neither in danger of probing too deep nor of foundering in shallow waters. Were it otherwise, the present work, for instance, would have failed. It is fortunate, I mean, that his categories are simple and his penetration limited by concrete facts. For no one will ever know, in any profound sense, what old ballets were like, any- more than in the future would they know what modern ballets were like from Mr. Beaumont's descriptions. In both cases he has given us the scenarios and a host of interesting facts. In this way we do at moments reach a kind of comprehension of those ballets even if it is a severely limited one ; and certainly from this marathon book, as from no other, the balletomane gains a certain confused perspective of his subject. Under the headings of chore-. graphers we are given the scenarios of some hundred ballets of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (it is a pity that Noverre and Gardel are omitted), and almost as many scenarios of our own epoch. In addition there are notes on first performances drawn from the Press, as well as biographical details of choregraphers and of some dancers. ,These data are well presented.

Here are some of the considerations that they have sug- gested to me. First, the feebleness of the old Press notices are well matched by those of our own day. It is astonishing how minute is the expenditure on ballet of analytic power. Of one dancer after another, we read of her vivacity, her agility, her magnificent mime, her ethereal lightness and so on. We can rarely visualise their more subtle distinguishing traits any more than we can those of the ballets in which they appeared. For the truth is that only when analysis takes as its object the music-movement interrelationship, may the essence of a dance be conveyed by words. This approach has rarely been attempted. The result is that all causerie on ballet clings to the same old props, such as wixt - Sarah Bernhardt said on a therefore famous occasion, some remark concerning the thirty-two fouettes in Swan-Lake, or one to the effect that Giselle is Hamlet among ballets. Moreover, lack of real knowledge concerning the past causes our basic distinctions to be most hazardous. Thus, we confidently contrast the " Romantic ballet " of Taglioni's period with the ballets before her time, supposedly dedicated to classical mythology. There is some ground for this- contrast but it is not great. Spirit figures belong to only some of Taglioni's ballets, while the pastoral-cheated-love theme appears to be perennial, characteristic both of the late eighteenth and of the nineteenth century from beginning to end ; and so also are the exotic mises-en-scene for such plots. One more instance. It is always assumed that the classical ballet achieved a unique state of stereotyped manufacture in the days of Petipa ; and this is assumed for two reasons only. One is that Fokine led a revolt against it, another that we have in this case some copious data of how Petipa and Tchai- kowsky constructed a ballet. But we do not know how old or how prevalent such methods were.

Mr. Beaumont's immense labours are founded on these piteous foundations. Invalnable as is his research, he cannot himself be said to have advanced the aesthetics of ballet. Zeus has nodded rarely. An account of the all-important (for an estimate of Massine) Cimarosicma is lacking : an enchain- ment that belongs to the fourth part of Presages has been trans-

posed by Mr. Beaumont- to the third. ADRIAN STOKES.