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Posted in Dance, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 16 May 2013
This edited article about the Battle of Waterloo originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
Napoleon had returned! The news sped throughout France during the early spring of the year 1815, bringing back hope to a people suffering the bitterness of defeat.
Just a year before, the Emperor had abdicated after his disastrous defeat at Leipzig and a new king was put in his place. The Allies who had defeated him were generous enough. He was allowed to retain all his titles and a large income and was given the island of Elba off the Italian coast.
But Elba was too small a kingdom for a man who had dominated all Europe, and in February, 1815, he left. On 1st March, he landed near Cannes, in the south of France, and three weeks later he was in Paris. The people acclaimed him joyously and the famous Hundred Days had begun.
Soldiers and civilians alike expected Napoleon to hurl the foreigners out of France and re-establish the Empire, now that the puppet king had gone. The Grand Alliance which had defeated Napoleon was weakening. Only Prussia and England were prepared to overthrow him again, and their armies were separated, the Prussians being based on the Belgian town of Liege, and the English, under Wellington, on Brussels, over 100 miles away.
Moving secretly and swiftly, Napoleon marched northward from Paris and defeated part of the Prussian army. Facing him now was only Wellington’s army, half the size of his own and composed of raw troops. Wellington himself thought little of it – “the worst army ever brought together”, was his opinion – but it was all he had until the Prussians could re-form and join him. He fell back on Brussels and waited.
On the night of Thursday, 15th June, the Duke of Richmond gave a great ball in Brussels. The fashionable city was crowded with high society, apparently indifferent to the menace of the French army only a few miles away.
The thought of dancing must have been very far from Wellington’s mind, but he went, if only to keep up appearances. He seemed “preoccupied throughout the ball”, one of the young girls present confided to a Mr Creevy, a loquacious diary-writer who was in Brussels at the time.
At the height of the evening, Wellington received firm news that Napoleon was intending to give battle, but he stayed at the ball, after giving discreet orders to his staff officers who were there with him.
One by one these officers were quietly approached and a few words were exchanged. The music went on but, all over the ballroom, ladies found themselves politely escorted off the floor by partners who then bowed, apologised, and went out into the night.
At last Wellington felt that he, too, could leave, and went to his headquarters. At 2.30 in the morning, Mr Creevy, in his lodgings, noted in his diary, “The girls just returned from a ball at the Duke of Richmond’s”.
But, mingled with the sound of carriage wheels and gay laughter in the streets of Brussels, was the steady tramping of soldiers, marching out of the city into the country and down the roads that led to the little village of Waterloo.
Posted in Dance, Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Wednesday, 27 February 2013
This edited article about Pavlova originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 163 published on 27 February 1965.
There is sunshine, but it is also autumn, and a strong wind is blowing through the public park, deserted save for a solitary man strolling among the falling leaves. Because he is a poet, and therefore no doubt a sentimental man, he is prompted to pick up a dying chrysanthemum which he finds lying in his path. A little sadly, he lays it by a fountain, hoping that it may live longer there.
The autumn wind, which has temporarily abated, suddenly blows again and the leaves scud and dance before it. The chrysanthemum, inevitably, is lifted from its resting place and is hurled among the whirling, sodden leaves. The poet rescues it again, only to find it is now quite dead. Suddenly seeing his fiancee, the poet drops the flower and hurries towards her.
As they disappear from sight, the curtain falls and a great burst of applause comes up from the audience, who have just seen the premiere of Autumn Leaves, a new ballet by Anna Pavlova.
It has to be said that despite all the tremendous applause, no experienced ballet-goer in that audience could seriously consider Autumn Leaves as a major work of art. What they were really applauding was Anna Pavlova, one of the great ballerinas of her time, who had danced the role of chrysanthemum.
Anna Pavlova. Even now, thirty-four years after her death, her name is a legend, and known even to those who are not keen students of the ballet. Why should she have remained such a legend after all this time, when there have been so many other great ballerinas since?
The question is answered by a film that rests in the archives of the British Film Institute. It was made in Hollywood in 1924, and consists of a number of solo ballets, including the immortal Dying Swan. Although it is a primitive piece of film making by today’s standards, a great deal of Anna Pavlova’s rare qualities as a dancer shine through.
In the solos she dances Pavlova displays a rare quality of feeling that communicates itself to an audience, even through the medium of this ancient piece of film. Her interpretation of the role of a dying swan is as moving today as it must have been to those who actually saw her dance the role.
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Posted in Art, Artist, Dance, Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Thursday, 21 February 2013
This edited article about ballet originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 150 published on 28 November 1964.
The scandalous Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, when Nijinsky beat time with a stick in the wings, by Andrew Howat
The queen’s sons were growing up and beginning to take an interest in affairs of state. This upset the queen, for she would let no one, not even her sons, share her power. What was needed, she decided, was something to take their minds away from serious matters that did not concern them – a sort of hobby that would take up all their time and interest.
She sent for her chief valet, who also happened to be the finest violinist living, and confided in him. The outcome of their discussion was the creation of a new art form – the ballet.
The queen, Catherine de Medici, had brought with her from Italy to France the idea of performances in which dancing, acting, speeches, songs and music all played a part. Such divertissements had existed since the days of ancient Rome.
But now the valet, Baltasar de Beanjoyeux, suggested dances which by movement and mime alone told a dramatic story. The performances would be given by the princelings and their courtiers.
Beaujoyeux at once got to work and devised the first-ever dance entertainment that can properly be termed ballet. It was called Le Ballet Comique de la Reyne and the first performance took place before the French court in 1581.
It was the beginning of many expensively-costumed ballets of that time and the queen’s sons took such an interest in them that they no longer pried into their mother’s schemes.
Those first ballets had all-male casts, but later a wedding celebration ballet was written in which the ladies of the court took part. They formed the first corps de ballet in history.
Over the next few years, so many artists and musicians showed such keen interest in ballet – and of course in the royal patronage that went with it – that the new “royal art” was soon firmly established in France.
Louis the Fourteenth of France became the top dancer of his day – a sort of Nureyev by all accounts. He created hundreds of r√¥les between 1651 and 1670. The King was so keen that if a new ballet had several very good r√¥les he would insist on dancing them all himself in various disguises. His most esteemed Field-Marshal, de Bassompierre, danced with him between military campaigns – and he, too, was so enthusiastic that he actually worded battle dispatches in ballet terms. Dancing had become as important an accomplishment for a man as horseriding or swordsmanship.
Only when Louis the Fourteenth got too fat to dance did the ballet craze die down at the French court. But by then he had established in Paris the still-flourishing National Academy of Music and Dancing, and the ballet tradition was firmly rooted.
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Posted in America, Dance, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 2 January 2013
This edited article about Isadora Duncan originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 802 published on 28th May 1977.
This female dancer engraved after a mural at Pompeii could have inspired Isadora Duncan’s modern dance style as much as her Classical Greek counterparts did
On 27th May, 1878, a little girl was born in San Francisco who, although she never took a lesson in her life, became internationally famous as a dancer and for the dancing schools she established for children. Her name was Isadora Duncan and she believed that dancing was the key to happiness.
Having taught herself to dance. Isadora gave her first public performance in Chicago in 1899. It was a complete flop.
Deciding that Europe would be more appreciative of her art, she saved up her fare to Greece. She was impressed by the ancient Greek friezes and statues which she saw in museums. From these graceful remains of the past she developed her whole idea of dancing. It had to be free and happy, and it had to be more than mere physical movement – it had to be art.
Soon she made her European debut and before long, critics were raving about the “poetry of her dancing”. Her most famous performance was during the First World War when she developed a dance to show the spirit of the French people triumphing over defeat.
The life of Isadora Duncan was often tragic: her two children were drowned in the Seine in Paris. But always she held on to her dream of establishing schools where she could pass on her style of dancing to a new generation, a style that helped breathe a new life into every sort of ballet.
Using all her savings, she did start schools at various times in Paris, Berlin and Moscow. Despite the large sums she earned, the schools took all her money and often she was hard pressed to buy the food for her pupils.
On 14th September 1927, she held a Press Conference to announce the founding of a new school of dance at Nice. When it was over she stepped into a motor car and within a minute she was killed in an accident.
Posted in Dance, Historical articles, Music, Theatre on Thursday, 13 December 2012
This edited article about Marie Ann de Camargo originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 797 published on 23rd April 1977.
Canova’s La Ballerina seems to owe something to La Camargo, though she died when he was just a teenager
One of the tragic things of life is how quickly people who have made great names for themselves can be forgotten, even in their own lifetime: such a person was Marie Ann de Cupis de Camargo. After her death on 20th April, 1770, only one admirer – a young man who remembered her from her dancing days – bothered to follow her hearse to the Paris cemetery. Yet a few years earlier her name had been a household word; she was a leader of fashion and the foremost ballet dancer in Europe.
Marie was born on 15th April, 1710, and by the time she was 14 she had made her name as a dancer at Brussels and Rouen in France. Two years later she appeared in Paris and took the city by storm. Everyone was raving about the 16-year-old girl who had transformed the rather stilted ballet of the day into something alive and magical.
Soon she was known for her dress design as well as her dancing. In those days the dresses of ballerinas reached the floor and made anything but the simplest steps very difficult. Marie, wishing to try more adventurous steps, introduced the shortened ballet skirt, much to the indignation of many prudish people who thought it very immodest.
Despite their protests the short ballet skirt remained and the art of dancing took a giant stride forward. Designers copied Marie’s stage costumes and soon she found herself a leader of fashion.
Immediately after the opening of one of Marie’s ballets, dressmakers would work through the night on dresses based on what she wore so that rich customers could show off their latest “Camargo creations” the next day. Marie went from success to success. Altogether she appeared in 70 ballets and operas, and earned herself a great deal of money. But she could not keep it. She loved to live in style and to entertain lavishly. So when she found that she was getting too old to dance she also found that nearly all her fortune had gone. She died a forgotten and lonely old woman.
Posted in Dance, Historical articles, History, Theatre on Tuesday, 13 November 2012
This edited article about Anna Pavlova originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 784 published on 22nd January 1976.
Anna Pavlova at a fancy-dress ball at the Savoy Hotel
Almost as one, the audience of the London Palace Theatre rose to its feet, clapping and cheering. On the stage in the spotlight stood a slight figure in a ballet costume.
Again and again the curtain swept across the stage, only to be pulled back yet once more when the audience continued their wild applause. Each time, the ballet dancer bowed gracefully, her eyes sparkling with joy.
Next morning, the reviews in the newspapers were full of praise for the dancer, Anna Pavlova.
Born in Russia on 31st January, 1885, as a young girl Anna studied dancing at a ballet school. Soon she gained success on the stages of the great Russian Theatres, and from there she travelled to the various capitals of Europe. She was considered a great exponent of the ‘Russian school’ of dancing. Later she was hailed as the greatest of all classical ballerinas.
In 1909 she came to London, where she established her reputation at the Palace Theatre. She liked England and made it her home in between the extensive tours she made to other parts of the world. She died on 22nd January, 1931. Her most famous role was that of the swan in the ballet The Dying Swan.
Posted in Art, Artist, Dance, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 16 October 2012
This edited article about Dame Laura Knight originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 769 published on 9th October 1975.
Nijinsky, whom Laura Knight had seen dance with the Ballets Russes
The middle-aged woman standing in the circus ring with a sketchbook in her hands remained unperturbed as the zebra reared up in front of her, its hooves lashing the air, dangerously near to her head. “It’s all right,” she said calmly, when one of the attendants came to her aid. “It’s upset because I trod on its tail by accident.”
In due course the zebra act in Carmo’s circus continued with the rehearsal, and it says a lot for the circus people that the woman, whose name was Laura Knight, was allowed to remain in the ring, especially as there had been another incident in which she had nearly been trampled upon when she had got in the way of some Liberty horses as they had galloped out of the Big Top. It might be thought, in fact, from those two incidents alone, that the circus people would have seen Laura Knight as something of a nuisance whose early departure from their midst would have been welcomed with cries of joy.
But as it happened, they saw Laura Knight, not as an unwelcome intruder, but a close friend who was almost as much a part of the circus life as they were. She had, after all, travelled all over the country with them, sharing their problems and lives in a way that few outsiders had done before.
But surprisingly, although she was used to seeing her friends stripped of their tinsel and glamour, nearly all her paints of circus life were essentially a romantic view of life under the Big Top. Just occasionally, as with her drawing of Goliath the Dwarf, did she capture something of the sadness that often lay beneath the greasepaint.
As her fame grew, so the honours came; first she was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and then in 1929 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire. She had come a long way indeed from those days when she had gone hungry in Nottingham, the youngest of three sisters whose early widowed mother, an art teacher, had struggled to put her through the Nottingham School of Art. There had been hardships too when she had eventually married an artist, and was so poor that she had to make her wedding dress out of a linen sheet which had been part of her mother’s trousseau, and further hardships in London, where they had tried to sell their paintings without much success to largely indifferent art dealers. But now all that was behind her for good. Now, she was probably the best known woman painter in the world, courted by all the galleries.
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Posted in Dance, Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Tuesday, 22 May 2012
This edited article about Nijinsky originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 709 published on 16 August 1975.
Diaghilev seeing Nijinsky for the first time
In the recently recaptured Hungarian town of Sopron, a Russian officer had taken over an office in the Town Hall and was awaiting the reports of the troops who were making a high speed check on the locality. It was Easter, 1944, in World War Two and the retreating German army was just ahead.
The door of the office opened and three young infantrymen came in, cradling their submachine guns. They had found a middle aged couple in one of the houses. They spoke perfect Russian, one of the soldiers reported. The man seemed to be sick, but perhaps the Comrade Major would like to see the woman? She claimed to be a refugee of some kind, but one had to be on the lookout for spies.
Nodding, the officer ordered the woman to be brought to him.
“You say your husband is sick. What is his profession?”
“He was an artist. A dancer.”
“And your name?”
Nijinsky? Nijinsky! The Russian officer ran from the room to spread the news. The impossible had happened. After all this time the great dancer was still alive, and what was more, had been found by his own countrymen!
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Posted in Dance, Historical articles, Music, Scotland on Friday, 18 May 2012
This edited article about bagpipes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 707 published on 2 August 1975.
A Scottish piper plays the bagpipes to accompany a Highland dancer
“Hark. Can ye hear the pipes?” Weary soldiers have been reinvigorated by its stirring call to battle. Victorious revellers have danced to its rousing reels and strathspeys. And for 50 hours, time keepers at Aberdeen University listened to its drones and chanter as four players, one after the other, thrust the sheep skin bag under their arm and piped vigorously.
The four pipers, William Donaldson, Donald Grant, John Lovie and William Wotherspoon, set up their bagpipe playing record on 21-23 April, 1969, filling the ancient edifice with sound which overspilled into the town and caused a resident to comment, “Thank God there’s nae smell.”
The Highland bagpipe they were playing had been famous for three centuries as the national instrument of Scotland. Before the 18th century, warring clans followed the sound of the pipes as they marched to battle. And in later wars, the piper’s playing gave hope to the soldiers of the Highland and other Scottish regiments who showed the enemy that the army behind the pipes was invincible.
A bagpipe consists of a windbag to which three or four reed-tongued pipes are attached. One of these is the chanter on which the melody is played. The others are drones which sound fixed notes in the lower register.
The combination is a sound which stirs Scottish hearts with its evocative music.
Posted in Dance, Historical articles, History, Music on Monday, 23 April 2012
This edited article about Margot Fonteyn originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 693 published on 26 April 1975.
Dame Margot Fonteyn
Margaret Evelyn Hookham was born on 18th May, 1919 in Reigate, Surrey.
The path that was to lead her to become one of the greatest dancers the world has ever known as Margot Fonteyn began at the local dancing school.
It was in London that she was for the first time deeply impressed by a dancer on the stage. After watching Alicia Markova’s performance at the Vic Wells Ballet Company, young Peggy, as she was nicknamed, turned to her mother and said: “That’s what I want to do!”
Soon after this, Peggy’s family moved to Shanghai where she continued to have formal ballet lessons. Then in 1933, when she came back to London, she was taught by Markova’s teacher, Princess Seraphine Atafiera.
It was not long before it was decided that Peggy should go along for an audition at the Vic Wells Ballet, run by Ninette de Valois. She was accepted, and after only a year became the youngest member of the corps de ballet. It was also at this time that she changed her name to Margot Fontes – the surname Fonteyn did not come till sometime later.
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