- A Commentary (Jan 1925)
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[ 567 A Commentary The Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 3 (Jan 1925) 161-63 The Ballet and Serge Diaghileff The ballet is a form of art which has a tradition three hundred years old. That tradition was kept alive and developed by the great schools of training in Italy and later in Russia. Of the great masters of dancing in these three centuries the only name known to the public of to-day – even to a very small public – is that of Cecchetti;1 but we owe the ballet to the continuous and virtually anonymous effort of innumerable men. At the present time the ballet appears to depend almost wholly on Mr. Diaghileff. There are other ballets, and meritorious ones. But the others, so far as I know of them, all fall short in one or more of several essentials; and to lack any of these essentials is, for a ballet, to be incapable of carrying on the tradition. The perfection of physical form and technical training is essential ; the assistance of dancers of exceptional genius is essential; the co-operation of the same company over a long period of time is essential; a brilliant choreographer is essential; and the Director is essential. It is deplorable that Mr. Diaghileff has no longer the support of several of those dancers who played such important parts in the successes of several years ago; it is deplorable that dancers of genius should withdraw to the ordinary music hall turn.2 A dozen little troupes of self-directed dancers may tour the halls; but their efforts are wasted. It is necessary that there should be one ballet, and one school to supply it, and one man at the head of it. If dancers disperse, they diminish the importance of their art. It is, for all of these considerations, a public obligation – on that part of the public which professes to care for ballet at all – to continue to support Mr. Diaghileff ’s ballet, and use our efforts so that on his next visit to London he may have the facilities for producing the Sacre and the newer work of Stravinski. Mr. Diaghileff is admittedly a great producer. We have lately been reminded by Mr. Bennett that the English stage never quite recovered from the Closing of the Theatres.3 It is more than possible that the future of the ballet depends upon the success of Diaghileff. 1925 568 ] The Return of Matthew Arnold The last few years have shown a revival of interest in the prose works of Matthew Arnold; an interest more critical and judicious, I believe, than the academic estimate of Arnold as Literary Critic which prevailed some twenty years ago. At one time it seemed that Arnold was assured for perpetuity , in literary manuals, the place of the ultimate English literary critic. We realise now that Arnold was neither thorough enough, nor comprehensive enough, to make any fundamental alteration of literary values: he failed to ascend to first principles; his thought lacks the logical rigour of his master Newman; his taste is biased by convictions and prejudices which he did not take the trouble to dissect to their elements. The best of Arnold’s criticism is an illustration of his ethical views, and contributes to his discrimination of the values and relations of the components of the good life. ThetruesignificanceofArnold’sproseiswellexhibitedbyMr.Somervell’s selections, which form a very useful 185 pages of text.4 I observe, on first reading, only one regrettable omission: the passage on Oxford in Culture and Anarchy. The other famous paragraph on Oxford (in the Preface to Essays in Criticism) is included;5 but the omitted passage is still more eloquent of the importance which Arnold has for the present time. We have not won our political battles, we have not carried our main points, we have not stopped our adversaries’ advance, we have not marched victoriously with the modern world; but we have told silently upon the mind of the country , we have prepared currents of feeling which sap our adversaries’ position when it seems gained, we have kept up our own communications with the future.6 This is the Arnold who is capable of being a perpetual inspiration. His “party” has no name, and is always, everywhere and inevitably, in the minority. Were he alive to-day he would find Populace and Barbarians more philistinised, and Philistia more barbaric and proletarianised, than in his own time.7 The greatest, the only possible victory for Arnold and...