The Ballet. A review of The Dance: An Historical Survey of Dancing in Europe, by Cecil J. Sharp and A. P. Oppé; and Mudrās: The Ritual Hand-Poses of the Buddha Priests and Shiva Priests, by Tyra De Kleen
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[ 581 The Ballet A review of The Dance: An Historical Survey of Dancing in Europe, by Cecil J. Sharp and A. P. Oppé London: Halton and Truscott Smith, 1924. Pp. xv + 54; 75 plates. Mudrās: The Ritual Hand-Poses of the Buddha Priests and Shiva Priests, by Tyra De Kleen. Introduction by A. J. D. Campbell London: Kegan Paul, 1924. Pp. 58; 60 plates.1 The Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 3 (Apr 1925) 441-43 The late Cecil Sharp was a scholar of many services to the study of English ballads, English dance, and English music, and it is a pleasure to observe that this book, which is in a sense a memorial to him, has been produced as such a book ought to be. Mr. Oppé has performed his work well, and carried out the design of Mr. Sharp by providing a number of illustrations which are of great interest in the history of dancing, and which the publishers have had beautifully reproduced. The text of Cecil Sharp makes us admire his erudition and deplore his premature death. It should have been much longer. Short as it is, it shows the result of years of study.2 When so much has been said – for the volume is a precious one – there are several qualifications to be made by the critical mind. Sharp was an historian , but not a philosopher or an anthropologist: consequently his brief notes are not only inadequate, but are even conducive to error. For to the study of the dance, including its highest forms – the ballet and the mass – several interests and qualifications are necessary. Anyone who would penetratetothespiritofdancing –and,therefore,anyonewhowouldcontribute to our imagination of what the ballet may perform in the future – should begin by a close study of dancing amongst primitive peoples – vide the Australian ceremonies described by Spencer and Gillen and Hewett;3 of dancing amongst developed peoples, such as the Tibetans and the Javanese. He should have, furthermore, a first-hand knowledge of the technique of the ballet from bar practice to toe work. He should frequent the society of dancers, musicians, choreographers, and producers. He should have studied 1925 582 ] the evolution of Christian and other liturgy. (For is not the High Mass – as performed, for instance, at the Madeleine in Paris – one of the highest developments of dancing?)4 And, finally, he should track down the secrets of rhythm in the (still undeveloped) science of neurology. This ideal critic of the dance – who should combine the learning of Rome, Cambridge, and Harley Street5 – does not yet exist. We cannot reproach Cecil Sharp for not fulfilling this ideal. But it is not irreverent to the dead to observe that Cecil Sharp’s limited knowledge – and of course limited interests – lead him to a very partial view, and to very doubtful conclusions. It is obvious that Sharp had never really understood the modern ballet (such as that of Diaghilev). He did not, for one thing, analyse the essential difference between “dancing” and “acrobatics .” This is a capital point, for it calls into question both his judgment and his sensibility. The difference between acrobatics and dancing may be observed in any music-hall: it is a difference of total effect, of the faculty to which the performer appeals. The acrobat, however bad or good, appeals to the mind rather than to the senses. We admire his skill, we say, that is difficult, and, we could not do that – or we are pleased by mere surprise or novelty (this includes the pot-house patron as well as the reader of these lines). There are acrobats, such as Rastelli, whose juggling appeals to our sense of beauty of form; but this is an added gift.6 The primary appeal of acrobatics is to the mind. In dancing, the physical skill is ancillary to another effect. You must have the skill, or you cannot produce this effect; but the appreciation of skill is for the trained critic alone, not for the general audience. An ignorance of this distinction gives to the writing of Cecil Sharp a somewhat smug, Margaret Morris, Chelsea-cum-Golders Green flavour.7 He is all against “acrobatic virtuosity” and “toe dancing.” Why? I fear that some prejudice, unworthy of the serious student of an art, is operative. And Cecil Sharp is a confirmed – and I must say dangerous – radical. For he seems to have wished to substitute for the traditional ballet a native ballet (another “protectionist fallacy,” when the ballet...