Balletomania. By Arnold Haskell. (Gollanez. 18s.)
REVIEWERS, to indicate enthusiasm, often declare that they have gulped a book at a single sitting. But it is not often that a reviewer confesses he has read a book from cover to cover carefully, putting it down and taking it up again where he left off. In spite of its horrible title, the present writer read Ballrtomania in this way. Why ? The style is undistin- guished, and the arrangement of the material often awkward and haphazard : yet it holds the attention. For the author manages to infect the reader to a very striking degree with his own mania.
The reader, let us suppose, is one of that numerous circle of ballet-lovers who take every convenient opportunity of seeing ballet, without greatly putting themselves out for ballet's sake. He will lay down this book surprised at his own former tepidity—astonished at himself for not having resigned (as Mr. Haskell has done) all other interests, and followed the Ballet from city to city over the surface of the world, temperamentally incapable of missing a single first-class performance.
There is a great deal to be said for being such a maniac. For the chief thing that makes life worth living is intensity of interest ; and, for intensity of interest, that narrowness which is the first characteristic of mania is essential. Fundamentally it is their narrowness of outlook which makes the lot of saints and martyrs such an enviable one : that congenital fanatic narrowness, which no voluntary effort can ever duplicate. It is this same narrowness which is Mr. Haskell's most blessed possession ; and indeed his temperamental approach to ballet is very much that of an Early Father to the Church. He per- ceives that it is sublime ; and to enjoy the fullest measure of that sublimity he is willing both to surrender all other pursuits, and arduously to train his intelligence to that particular end.
We take this attitude for granted in religion ; we are fairly familiar with it in painting, music and poetry ; but though Mr. Haskell is in fact only one of a glorious company, the true balletomane is a less familiar figure. In this country, at any
rate, there are very few. -English' critio have devoted their lives to the other arts ;. but- they do not sufficiently lose their heads about ballet (gush is not the same thing). They are not ready, in the biblical phrase, to lose their lives in order to save them.
Nor is this damning level-headedness altogether confined to amateurs of the art. That the English nation can produce
great dancers, there are the classical examples of Markova and Sokolova. to -prove : but the very rarity of such great English dancers is symptomatic. Given an adequate physical heritage, and given the natural ability and the technical training, it is the necessary fanaticism that most English dancers lack. One may hear.,even the best of English teachers argue that they do not work their pupils as hard as a Russian would, because they Can obtain the same results without over-tiring them. Technically, and physically, this may be true ; but sufficient work -never made a great artist. Over- work, and monstrous over-wort, is from time to time psycho- logically a necessity. It is as necessary to the artist as persecution was to the early Christian. It alone can conjure the human into the superhuman. A rational training and a careful avoidance of over-fatigue may be the best way of making a fine -athlete ; but to 'make a dancer—as any other artist—the ordeal of blinding over-fatigue is essential.
. The most important thing about Mr. Haskell's book is his general demonstration that the true mania for ballet is
• something 'valuable; but, regarded in detail, it contains much of intrinsic interest. Like all real enthusiasm, his enthusiasm is not blind ; and his criticism is able. Whether his verdicts are sometimes questionable, only a brother balletomane of equal standing has the right to say—but they are never unintelligent, and they appear always at least to attempt pure honesty. Only occasionally does one feel that condemnation could have been more sweeping, or that an inside view of the game possibly to some slight extent has obscured the view. It is the feeling of the present writer, for instance, that some at least of the work of the Vic-Wells Ballet has been treated far more tenderly than it deserves (and there is certainly a considerable body of opinion which ,does not regard Mlle. Ninette de Valois as wholly an. apostle of light). But in dealing with the more important figures —with the mythical Diagheleff, for example, or Pavlova, or Karsarvina—his opinions are both penetrating and well balanced ; and if there is a slight air of controversy in his attitude to Nijinsky, that, in the circumstances, was to be expected. Moreover, classicist as he rightly is in theory, he is entirely free from the frequently attendant vice of a sentimental conservatism. His joy at the resurrection brought about by Colonel de Basil, and his praise of the new stars Toumanova and BarOnova, is unstinted. One could not wish those two young artists a more wholesale blessing than that they may long continue to deserve such praise !
As the, roots of this, the latest of the arts to attain its golden age, spread more widely in England, let us hope that such informed fanaticism as Mr. Haskell's may spread also. May it burn away from the rising generation of dancers that economy of effort which must otherwise prevent their ever becoming great. The present writer recently watched, both in rehearsal and in performance, a series of short ballets which some young pupils had composed and organized on their own. They were exceedingly simple, and at times a little too naively mimetic : but of unquestionable charm and beauty. All the dancing was competent. But there was one young girl who was outstanding. Her every movement, even in the tiresome details of rehearsal, was a keen pleasure to watch. (Her patronymic, whether through coincidence or relationship, is the same as Markova's.) Will she, as one is tempted to prophesy, be one of the great dancers of the future ? Such prophecies are rash to make ; for their ful- filment does not depend alone on the dancer herself, nor does it even depend on the brilliancy of her teaching (in this case, all that could • be desired). It depends ultimately on the pitiless intensity of the mania of those in whose hands she falls for the next few years.
The richest ore cannot give up its metal unless it is sub-