Dance

The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Illustration of Josephine Baker by Serge, reproduced in The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson), pp. 279-280

Text: Saturday, 13 February 1926, Berlin

Dinner-party at home for Mme Mayrisch and her daughter, Hugo Lerchenfeld with wife, the Willy Radowitzs, Horstmanns, Lancken, Simolin, and Hannah Wangenheim.

At one o’clock, just as my guests were gone, a telephone call from Max Reinhardt. He was at Vollmoeller’s, and they wanted me to come over because Josephine Baker was there and the fun was starting. So I drove to Vollmoeller’s harem on the Pariser Platz. Reinhardt and Huldschinsky were surrounded by half a dozen naked girls, Miss Baker was also naked except for a pink muslin apron, and the little Landshoff girl (a niece of Sammy Fischer) was dressed up as a boy in a dinner-jacket. Miss Baker was dancing a solo with brilliant artistic mimicry and purity of style, like an ancient Egyptian or other archaic figure performing an intricate series of movements without ever losing the basic pattern. This is how their dancers must have danced for Solomon and Tutankhamen. Apparently she does this for hours on end, without tiring and continually inventing new figures like a child, a happy child, at play. She never even gets hot, her skin remains fresh, cool, dry. A bewitching creature, but almost quite unerotic. Watching her inspires as little sexual excitement as does the sight of a beautiful beast of prey. The naked girls lay or skipped about among the four or five men in dinner-jackets. The Landshoff girl, really looking like a dazzlingly handsome boy, jazzed with Miss Baker to gramophone tunes.

Volmoeller had in mind a ballet for her, a stay about a cocotte, and was proposing to finish it this very night and put it in Reinhardt’s hands. By this time Miss Baker and the Landshoff girl were lying in each others’ arms like a rosy pair of lovers, between us males who stood around. I said I would write a dumb show for them on the theme of the Song of Solomon, with Miss Baker as the Shulamite and the Landshoff girl as Solomon or the Shulamite’s young lover. Miss Baker would be dressed (or not dressed) on the lines of Oriental Antiquity while Solomon would be in a dinner-jacket, the whole thing an entirely arbitrary fantasy of ancient and modern set to music, half jazz and half Oriental, to be composed perhaps by Richard Strauss. Reinhardt was enchanted with the idea, as was Vollmoeller. We fixed on the twenty-fourth of this month for dinner at my apartment to discuss the matter, the two of them and the Landshoff girl, Miss Baker coming later. Vollmoeller asked me to invite Harden too. It was past four when I left.

Comments: Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany. Josephine Baker (1906-1975, born Freda Josephine McDonald) was an African-American entertainer, renowned for her appearances in revue in Paris in the 1920s. Among the names included in this description of a private performance by Baker are the Austrian theatre producer Max Reinhardt, his playwright collaborator Karl Vollmöller, and the actress Ruth Landshoff (Vollmöller’s mistress), known for her appearance in Murnau’s film Nosferatu (1922). Nothing came of Kessler’s proposed dumbshow based on the Song of Solomon.

Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean

Source: [John Rickman], Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, on Discovery; performed in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779 (London, E. Newbery, 1781), pp. 142-143

Text: As soon as dinner was over, which admits of no ceremony, we were conducted to the theatre, where a company of players were in readiness to perform a dramatical entertainment. The drama was regularly divided into three acts: the first consisted of dancing and dumb shew; the second of comedy; which to those who understood the language was very laughable, as Omai and the natives appeared highly diverted he whole time; the last was a musical piece, in which the young princesses were the sole performers. There were between the acts some feats of arms exhibited. The combatants were armed with lances and clubs. One made the attack, the other stood upon the defensive. He who made the attack brandished his lance, and either threw, pushed or used it in aid of his club. He who was upon the defensive, stuck the point of his lance in the ground, in an oblique direction, so that the upper part rose above his head, and by observing the eye of his enemy, parried his blows or his strokes by the motion of his lance. By his dexterity at this manoeuvre he turned aside the lance, and it was rare that he was hurt by the club. If his antagonist struck at his legs, he shewed his agility by jumping over the club; and if at his head, he was no less nimble in crouching under it. Their dexterity consisted chiefly in the defence, otherwise the combat might have been fatal, which always ended in good humour.

These entertainments, which generally last about four hours, are really diverting; their dancing has been much improved by copying the European manner. In the hornpipe they really excel their masters: they add contortions of the face and muscles to the nimbleness of the foot, that are inimitable, and must, in spite of our gravity, provoke laughter; their country dances too are well regulated; and they have dances of their own, that are equal to those at our best theatres; their comedy seems to consist of some simple story, made laughable by the manner of delivery, something in the style of the merry andrews formerly at Bartholomew fair; and their singing is very simple, and might be much improved. Had Omai been of a theatrical cast, he doubtless might have very much improved their stage; for their performers appear inferior to none in the powers of imitation.

The play being over, and night approaching, our commanders took their leave, after inviting the king and his attendants to dine on board the ships. We were conducted to the water-side in the same manner as we approached the palace, and were attended by the king and royal family.

Comments: John Rickman (1737-1818) was Second Lieutenant on the explorer Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage, 1776-1780, to New Zealand, the Hawaiian islands and the Bering Strait, in covert search of a North West Passage. Cook was killed on their return to the Hawaiian islands. Rickman kept a log of the journey which was published anonymously in 1781. This passage comes from the visit paid by Cook’s two ships, Resolution and Discovery, to Tahiti in August 1777 (the official purpose of the voyage was to return the Pacific islander Omai, who had been to England, to his home). Cook had first visited Tahiti in 1769, and again in 1773-74.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Memoirs of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Source: William Theobald Wolfe Tone (ed.), Memoirs of Theobald Wolfe Tone, written by himself; comprising a complete journal of his negotiations to procure the aid of the French for the liberation of Ireland, with selections from his diary whilst agent to the Irish Catholics (London: H. Colburn, 1827), vol. 1, pp. 212-215

Production: François-Louis Gand Le Bland Du Roullet and Christoph Gluck, Iphigénie en Aulide and François-Joseph Gossec, L’Offrande à la Liberté, Théâtre des Arts, Paris, 13 February 1796

Text: In the evening at the Grand Opera, Theatre des Arts; Iphigénie. The theatre magnificent, and I should judge, about one hundred performers in the orchestra. The dresses most beautiful, and a scrupulous attention to costume, in all the decorations, which I have never seen in London. The performers were completely Grecian statues animated, and I never saw so manifestly the superiority of the taste of the ancients in dress, especially as regards the women. Iphigénie (La citoyenne Cheron) was dressed entirely in white, without the least ornament, and nothing can be imagined more truly elegant and picturesque. The acting admirable, but the singing very inferior to that of the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. The French cannot sing like the Italians. Agamemnon excellent. Clytemnestra still better. Achilles abominable, yet more applauded than either of them. Sang in the old French style, which is most detestable, shaking and warbling on every note: vile! vile! vile! The others sang in a style sufficiently correct. The ballet, L’Offrande à la Liberté most superb. In the centre of the stage was the statue of Liberty, with an altar blazing before her. She was surrounded by the characters in the opera, in their beautiful Grecian habits. The civic air “Veillons au salut de l’Empire” was sung by a powerful base, and received with transport by the audience. Whenever the word, esclavage was uttered, it operated like an electric shock. The Marseillaise hymn was next sung, and produced still greater enthusiasm. At the words, “Aux armes citoyens!” all the performers drew their swords and the females turned to them as encouraging them. Before the last verse there was a short pause; the time of the music was changed to a very slow movement, and supported only by the flutes and oboes; a beautiful procession entered; first little children like cherubs, with baskets of flowers ; these were followed by boys, a little more advanced, with white javelins (the Hasta pura of the ancients) in their hands. Then came two beautiful female figures, moving like the Graces themselves, with torches blazing; these were followed by four negroes, characteristically dressed, and carrying two tripods between them, which they placed respectfully on each side of the altar; next came as many Americans, in the picturesque dress of Mexico; and these were followed by an immense crowd of other performers, variously habited, who ranged themselves on both sides of the stage. The little children then approached the altar with their baskets of flowers, which they laid before the goddess; the rest in turn succeeded, and hung the altar and the base of the statue with garlands and wreaths of roses; the two females with the torches approached the tripods, and, just touching them with the fire, they kindled into a blaze. The whole then knelt down, and all of this was executed in cadence to the music and with grace beyond description. The
first part of the last verse, “Amour sacré de la patrie” was then sung slowly and solemnly, and the words “Liberté, Liberté cherie” with an emphasis which affected me most powerfully. All this was at once pathetic and sublime, beyond what I had ever seen or could almost imagine; but it was followed by an incident which crowned the whole, and rendered it indeed a spectacle worthy of a free republic. At the repetition of the words, Aux armes, citoyens! the music changed again to a martial style, the performers sprung on their feet, and in an instant the stage was filled with National Guards, who rushed in with bayonets fixed, sabres drawn, and the tri-colour flag flying. It would be impossible to describe the effect of this. I never knew what enthusiasm was before; and what heightened it beyond all conception was, that the men I saw before me were not hirelings acting a part; they were what they seemed, French citizens flying to arms, to rescue their country from slavery. They were the men who had precipitated Cobourg into the Sambre, and driven Clairfait over the Rhine, and were, at this very moment, on the eve of again hurrying to the frontiers, to encounter fresh dangers and gain fresh glory. This was what made the spectacle interesting beyond all description. I would willingly sail again from New York to enjoy again what I felt at that moment. Set the ballets of the Haymarket beside this! This sublime spectacle concluded the ballet: but why must I give it so poor a name? It was followed by another ballet, which one might call so, but even this was totally different from what such things used to be. The National Guards were introduced again, and, instead of dancing, at least three-fourths of the exhibition consisted of military evolutions, which, it should seem, are now more to the French taste than allemandes and minuets and pas de deux. So best! It is curious now to consider at what rate one may see all this. I paid for my seat in the boxes one hundred and fifty livres, in assignats, which, at the present rate, is very nearly sixpence sterling. The highest priced seats were but two hundred livres, which is eightpence. I mention this principally to introduce a conjecture which struck me at Havre, but which seems much more probable here, that the Government supports the theatres privately. And, in France, it is excellent policy, where the people are so much addicted to spectacles, of which there are now about twenty in Paris, and all full every night. What would my dearest love have felt at the “L’Offrande à la Liberté?

Comments: Wolfe Tone (1763-1798) was an Irish republican who led the Irish rebellion of 1798. He went to Paris in February 1796 to persuade the revolutionary government to assist in an invasion of Ireland. Chrisoph Gluck composed two operas on the classical legend of Iphigenia, Iphigénie en Tauride and Iphigénie en Aulide. The latter had a libretto by François-Louis Gand Le Bland Du Roullet and was seen by Tone at the Théâtre des Arts, later the Théâtre National de la rue de la Loi, in Paris. ‘La citoyenne Cheron’ was the actress Anne Cameroy or Anne Chéron (1767-18??). François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) was a French composer. His L’Offrande à la Liberté was one of several works he wrote in celebration of the French Revolution.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Philip Hone

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. “Madlle. Fanny Elssler in La tarentule.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1840. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/2678e780-9d9b-0131-9bb0-58d385a7b928

Source: Bayard Tuckerman (ed.), The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851 (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1889), vol. 2, p. 28

Text: Many and many a night has passed since the walls of the Park have witnessed such a scene. Fanny Ellsler [sic], the bright star whose rising in our firmament has been anxiously looked for by the fashionable astronomers since its transit across the ocean was announced, shone forth in all its brilliancy this evening. Her reception was the warmest and most enthusiastic I ever witnessed. On her first appearance, in a pas seul called la Cracovienne which was admirably adapted to set off her fine figure to advantage, the pit rose in a mass, and the waves of the great animated ocean were capped by hundreds of white pocket-handkerchiefs. The dance was succeeded by a farce, and then came the ballet “La Tarantule,” in which the Ellsler [sic] established her claim to be considered by far the best dancer we have ever seen in this country. At the falling of the curtain she was called out; the pit rose in a body and cheered her, and a shower of wreaths and bouquets from the boxes proclaimed her success complete. She appeared greatly overcome by her reception, and coming to the front of the stage, pronounced, in a tremulous voice, in broken English, the words “A thousand thanks,” the naiveté of which seemed to rivet the hold she had gained on the affections of the audience.

All the boxes were taken several days since, and in half an hour after the time proclaimed for the sale of pit tickets the house was full, so that when we arrived, which was a full hour before the time of commencing the performance, placards were exhibited with the words “Pit full,” “Boxes all taken.” This wise arrangement prevented confusion. The house, although full in every part, was not crowded, and a more respectable audience never greeted the fair danseuse in any country she has charmed.

Comments: Philip Hone (1780-1851) was an American businessman and diarist, who was Mayor of New York 1825-1826. Fanny Elssler (1810-1884) was an Austrian ballerina, considered to be one of the finest dancers of the Romantic ballet period. After much success in Europe, she toured the USA for two years from 1840, with her dancer sister Therese.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Sylas Neville

Source: Basil Cozens-Hardy (ed.), The Diary of Sylas Neville 1767-1788 (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 44-45

Production: William Shakespeare, Richard III, Drury Lane, London, 29 September 1768

Text: Thursd. Sept. 29 … Hearing about 7 o’clock that Garrick did Rich. III, one of his very capital characters which he has not done these 7 or 8 years, resolved (if I could get in to see him) to bear the abhorred sight of that woman-like painted puppy, the King of Denmark. After one unsuccessful attempt got into the Pit with the greatest difficulty after the 3rd Act. Garrick is inimitably great in Richard & very different from the other Richards I have seen; his expression of the dying agony of that wretch is beyond description. Some actors speak with as strong & loud a voice in that scene as if they had received no wound & were not dying. One, Lloyd, who waits on Garrick sometimes, observed that he himself says he never acted better in his life, modestly observing that something must be allowed to the improvement of his judgment. During the Dance (for there was no Farce) I was within a yard of the Danish tyrant. O Heaven! what an instance of the corruption of mankind that a great nation should submit to the will – nay, the absolute will – of a puny vicious boy, unfit to govern himself & made for the distaff (like Sardanapalus) not for the rod of power!

Comments: Sylas Neville (1741-1840) was an English gentleman of unclear origins, who had studied medicine but spent much of his adult life travelling while being continually short of money. His surviving diary frequently mentions visits to the theatre in London. David Garrick appeared in Richard III at Drury Lane on 29 September 1768. At the end of the play there was a comic dance. Christian VII, King of Denmark, attended the performance. Sardanapalus, a legendary Assyrian king, was a byword for decadent living.

Letters written during a short residence in Spain and Portugal

Source: Robert Southey, Letters written during a short residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol: Printed by Bulgin and Rosser, for Joseph Cottle, and G.G. and J.Robinson, and Cadell and Davies, London, 1797), pp. 9-13

Text: Letter II. Tuesday Night.

I am just returned from the Spanish Comedy. The Theatre is painted with a muddy light blue, and a dirty yellow, without gilding, or any kind of ornament. The boxes are engaged by the season: and subscribers only, with their friends, admitted to them, paying a pesetta each. In the pit are the men, seated as in a great arm’d chair; the lower class stand behind these seats: above are the women; for the sexes are separated, and so strictly, that an officer was broke at Madrid, for intruding into the female places. The boxes, of course, hold family parties. The centre box, over the entrance of the pit, is appointed for the magistrates; covered in the front with red fluff, and ornamented with the royal arms. The motto is a curious one, “Silencio y no fumar.” Silence and no smoaking.” The Comedy, of course, was very dull to one who could not understand it. I was told that it contained some wit, and more obscenity; but the only comprehensible joke to me, was “Ah !” said in a loud voice by one man, and “Oh!” replied equally equally loud by another, to the great amusement of the audience. To this succeeded a Comic Opera; the characters were represented by the most ill-looking man and woman I ever saw. My Swedish friend’s island of hares and rabbits could not have a fitter king and queen. The man’s dress was a thread-bare brown coat lined with silk, that had once been white, and dirty corduroy waistcoat and breeches; his beard was black, and his neckcloth and shoes dirty: but his face! Jack-ketch might sell the reversion of his fee for him, and be in no danger of defrauding the purchaser. A soldier was the other character, in old black velveret breeches; with a pair of gaters reaching above the knee, that appeared to have been made out of some blacksmith’s old leathern apron. A farce followed, and the hemp-stretch man again made his appearance; having blacked one of his eyes to look blind. M. observed that he looked better with one eye than with two; and we agreed, that the loss of his head would be an addition to his beauty. The prompter stands in the middle of the stage, about half way above it; before a little tin screen, not unlike a man in a cheese-toaster. He read the whole play with the actors, in a tone of voice equally loud; and, when one of the performers added a little of his own wit, he was so provoked as to abuse him aloud, and shake the book at him. Another prompter made his appearance to the Opera, unshaved, and dirty beyond description: they both used as much action as the actors. The scene that falls between the acts would disgrace a puppet-show at an English fair; on one side is a hill, in size and shape like a sugar-loaf, with a temple on the summit, exactly like a watch-box; on the other Parnassus, with Pegasus striking the top in his flight, and so giving a source to the waters of Helicon: but, such is the proportion of the horse to the mountain, that you would imagine him to bet only taking a flying leap over a large ant-hill; and think he would destroy the whole oeconomy of the state, by kicking it to pieces. Between the hills lay a city; and in the air sits a duck-legged Minerva, surrounded by flabby Cupids. I could see the hair-dressing behind the scenes: a child was suffered to play on the stage, and amuse himself by sitting on the scene, and swinging backward and forward, so as to endanger setting it on fire. Five chandeliers were lighted by only twenty candles. To represent night, they turned up two rough planks, about eight inches broad, before the stage lamps and the musicians, whenever they retired, blew out their tallow candles. But the most singular thing, is their mode of drawing up the curtain. A man climbs up to the roof, catches hold of a rope, and then jumps down; the weight of his body raising the curtain, and that of the curtain breaking his fall. I did not see one actor with a clean pair of shoes. The women wore in their hair a tortoise-shell comb to part it; the back of which is concave, and so large as to resemble the front of a small bonnet. This would not have been inelegant, if their hair had been clean and without powder, or even appeared decent with it. I must now to supper. When a man must diet on what is disagreeable, it is some consolation to reflect that it is wholesome; and this is the case with the wine: but the bread here is half gravel, owing to the soft nature of their grind-stones. Instead of tea, a man ought to drink Adams’s solvent with his breakfast.

Comments: Robert Southey (1774-1843) was a British poet, historian and biographer, serving as Poet Laureate for the last thirty years of his life. He travelled to Portugal and Spain in 1795, staying with an uncle who was chaplain to the British community in Lisbon. Southey’s account of his stay was his first published prose work.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Diary, sketches and reviews, during an European tour, in the year 1847

Source: Robert Dodge, Diary, sketches and reviews, during an European tour, in the year 1847. Printed for his friends (New York, 1850), p. 104

Production: Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 3 July 1847

Text: 3rd. — Morning called on Mrs. R. Afternoon at home writing. Evening at Her Majesty’s Theatre to hear Jenny Lind. Of course, the house was crowded in every part. The Queen, Prince Waldemar, and great numbers of the nobility were there. Jenny performed Amina in Somnambula. She is handsomer than the pictures. Her tones are inexpressibly sweet; her action the finest I ever saw; so apparently natural, and con amore, and yet so lady like. “Ah non ginnge,” was encored 5 times, and in it she displayed wondrous power. Grisi and her power fade away in comparison; but the Company and the Orchestra are very ordinary. Gardoni, the tenor is all that is worthy of praise. Her whispered singing of “Oh! come lieto e il popolo,” and “al tempio ne fa scortea,” and of “Ardon le sacre tede,” and “0! Madre Mia m’aita,” and “non mi sostiene il pie,” and “al mio,” &c., was overpoweringly fine. In fact, none can resist being swept off into raptures, with her matchless performance. Carlotta Grisi danced La Esmeralda superbly.

Comments: Robert Dodge was an American whose diary of his European tour of 1847 was printed privately. This diary entry is from 3 July 1847, during his time in London. Jenny Lind, born Johanna Maria Lind (1820-1887) was a Swedish opera singer. Revered as the ‘Swedish Nightingale’, she was highly popular across Europe and America. She visited London for the first time in 1847. Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899) was an Italian ballet dancer.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust