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No. IX. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 5, 1828.
"Something alone yet not alone, to be wished, and only to be found, in a friend."-SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE.
REMARKS ON FRENCH OPERA-DANCING RESUMED. DANCING IN GENERAL, WITH A WORD ON OUR ENGLISH BALLS.
DANCING is either the representation of love-making, or it is that of pure animal spirits, giving way to their propensity to motion. It is the latter most probably that strikes out the first idea of it, as an art; the former that completes, and gives it a sentiment. The rudest savages dance round a visitor. Politer ones treat him with a dance of the sexes.
But French opera-dancing is neither the one nor the other. It pretends both, only to shew how little it has to do with either. There is love in the plot; there is mirth in the stage-directions: but you find it nowhere else. Think of a man making love, with no love in his countenance! of a girl as merry as a grig, but destitute of the least expression of it except in her toe! A French ballet is like a rehearsal, with the emotion left out. There is scenery; there are dresses and decorations; some story is supposed to be going on; but the actors are really apart from all this; wrapped up in themselves; and anxious for nothing but to astonish 9
with their repective legs, and fetch down applause from the galleries with a jump.
Enter, for instance, two lovers, with a multitude of subordinate lovers to dance for them while they rest. The scene is in Turkey, in Italy, in Cyprus; but it might as well be in the dancing master's school-room, for any thing it has to do with the performers. Forward comes the gentleman, walking very badly, like all dancers by profession. He bridles, he balances himself, he looks as wooden in the face as a barber's block, he begins capering. That there is no meaning in his capers but to astonish, is evident; for in his greatest efforts he always pays the least attention to his love. If it is love-making, it is the oddest in the world, for the lady is forgotten, the gentleman capers by himself, and he expresses his passion by seeing how many jumps he can take, how often he can quiver his feet before he comes down, how eminently he can stand on one leg, and finally how long he can spin round like a tee-totum, as if he had no brain to be made giddy with. Suddenly he stops, like a piece of lead; and having received his applause for being a machine, stalks off as proud as a peacock, curving out his arms, holding his head up, and turning his toes east and west, as if it were a grace to be splay-footed. All this is certainly not "the poetry of motion."
It is now the lady's turn. She presents herself, equally alone and enamoured; she looks grave and anxious, not at her lover, but the pit; no other emotion is in her face; but then her toes are very lively, and she begins by standing upon them. She seems to say, "You see what it is to love and be merry; it is to look like a schoolgirl before her master, and to have insteps as pliable as Indiarubber." She then moves onward a little, and careers hither and thither; prettily enough, as long as it resembles any real dancing; but this is not her ambition. On a sudden, she stops like the gentleman, balances herself, tries her arms and legs, like a young crane learning to fly, then jumps up and down as high as she can, quivering her calves (those only seats of emotion), and finally gives a great spin round, as long as possible, looking like a bust and a pair of legs with an inverted bowl for a petticoat. This she puts an end to by the usual leaden stop, as if rooted with fright; the
tribute of applause is received with the due petrifaction of countenance, or a smile no less unmeaning; and off she walks like her enamorato, equally pompous and splay-footed, to stand cooling herself in the back-ground, and astonish the inexperienced with the shortness of her drapery and the corpulence of her legs.
Those legs are a sight, unquestionably. If any two balustrades of a bridge were wanting, here is the remedy. There is a fair dancer now at the opera, who from a principle well known to the metaphysical, seems to be ostentatious of two phenomena of this kind, in the exact proportion that she ought to conceal them. She appears to consider them as prize-calves; and makes as great a shew of her favourites, as an Essex grazier. The simile is not handsome; but we forget the bearer is a woman when we look at such legs. Not that very true women may not have legs a little superfluous. Madame Pasta has them. Mrs Jordan's legs were handsome rather as a man's than a woman's; and yet who ever doubted that she was a very charming female ? It is not the leg, but the spirit with which it is worn; and upon this principle, a woman with thick ankles may step about our imaginations like a fairy, and another with thin ones trample them, as if they were lead. If a woman has grace at her heart, her movements will be graceful and her step soft, let her legs be what size they may. If she has not, the downwardness of her spirit will put a vulgar weight in her feet, let them be naturally as light as a zephyr's. She shall shake the room as she walks, like an ale-wife. But huge legs in a female are not particularly valuable for their own sakes, as our fair friend at the opera seems to think. Dancing tends to make them so; but this is not what we go to see dancing for. Here, however, lies the secret. Body is every thing in opera-dancing, and mind nothing. To shew a limb, they think, is-to shew a limb. So it is; and nothing else. But this is a stretch of the intellectual to which they cannot arrive. The audience instinctively know better; and though they stay the afterpiece to admire more than they pretend, are at once amazed and disappointed; amazed at the beauties lavished upon them, and disappointed to find that the effect is not more
beautiful. This is perhaps as it should be, everything considered; but then it is not dancing. There might be a great deal less display, and a little more sense; and then people might think of those they loved, and have their imaginations not unseasonably touched for grace is the link between body and soul; and a sprinkle of that attic salt on the public mind is not without its use. At present, whatsoever their inclination to the contrary, the spectators, before the scene is half over, feel only that there is a glare and an impertinence; that a few half-naked-looking people are walking about, and twirling, and looking stupid; and that if this is voluptuousness, it is a very indifferent thing. The young may be amused with the novelty, and the imaginative may try hard to be kind to it; but if there are other persons present, who have no greater ideas of what is elegant and attractive than the scenes they meet with in French opera-dancing, they are in as fair a way as can be of being the commonest and weakest people in the world, and realizing as little true pleasure as the wooden faces they look at. Now and then there is a single figure worth seeing; sometimes, though rarely, a whole ballet. Des Hayes used to come bounding on the stage like a deer. Angiolini was interesting in Flora; and even Vestris (as long as you did not see his face) had an effect beyond that of his twirling, when he touched her round the waist as Zephyr, and took her with him up in the air. But there was poetry in the story. The air blew from the fields of Ovid and our childhood. The best opera-dancer we ever saw was a female at Turin, of the name of De Martini. She united the activity of the French school with the grace and fervour of the Italian; and did not make her bounds and her twirlings for nothing. She would come, for instance, from the other end of the stage, in a series of giddy movements, and finish them with pitching herself into her lover's arms. Here was love and animal spirits too, each warranting and throwing a grace on the other. Surely a set of Italian or Spanish dancers would make a revolution in this matter, in the course of a season too, and put an end to a school which must be as little profitable in the comparison, as it is unmeaning and delightless.
How different a French opera dance, and one of their dances on a green of a Sunday evening! We have had the pleasure of seeing the latter; and nothing could be merrier or to the purpose. But there is all the difference in the world between French nature and French art. The one is human nature
Dance, and Provençal mirth, and sun-burnt song;
the other is Paris and affectation, the pedantry of pleasure. French opera-dancing is like French painting,-a petrifaction of art, an attempt to set rules above the relish of the thing; and it ends in the same way, by being a kind of inanimate sculpture. Their dances on the green are as good as the dancing of birds. Spanish dancing is more passionate. We thought when we first saw a bolero, we had never seen dancing before. Those fervid alternations of courtship, and that wild careering of one person round the other, dancing in every limb, and seeming to sweep the very ground as they went with the tips of their fingers, the music fermenting all the while, and the castanets cracking like joints,-it looked like a couple of aboriginal beings newly made out of the whole ardour of the South, and not knowing how to vent the tormenting pleasure of their existence. De Martini made us feel that all this might be controlled into a sentiment; and Italian dancing, we should guess, would be as fine in its way, as Italian painting and music, if properly cultivated. The Germans used to be violent dancers, as became their heavy-laden tables. Of late years, they have taken to the most languid and voluptuous of all dances, as if they had no alternative but to go to an extreme. We must not omit to do justice to one French dance, the minuet, which is the perfection of artificial grace, the dance of the courtier and fine lady, brimful of mutual compliment, arising out of an infinite self-satisfaction. A bow or courtesy is made, as if it were to nothing under a prince or princess. A tip of the finger is presented as if it were a jewel. How proud the deference! How dignified the resumption! What loftiness in the hat! What greater ascendancy in the very sink of the petticoat! What idolatry and self-idolatry of approach! What intensity of separation, the parties retreating with high worship from one another, as if to leave space enough for their triumph to