Probably the first dance anyone ever did was a tap dance. Beating the feet on the ground was elementary communication; doing it in time was a pleasure. The tribal dances of sub-Saharan Africa amazed Europeans with their rhythmic exactness as long ago as the eleventh century. The dancing was monitored …
Now that The Artist has whetted our interest in the silent film and the revolutionary impact of sound, it may be time to reconsider the career of the man who made the conversion to sound the basis of a whole new kind of movie, Fred Astaire. Astaire and the difference he made to the film musical add up to more than the story of one career. No other film genre provided as perfect a synchronization of sight and sound or an experience as exhilarating, and that was very largely Astaire’s doing.
If the religion of art can be said to have had saints, Sergei Diaghilev was one. His whole enterprise had about it the odor of sanctity. When he could not pay his creditors or his dancers or his own hotel bills, he ate in truckers’ cafés and closed his astrakhan coat with a safety pin. A diabetic, he was also plagued with boils. His dancers who could not afford to buy clothes wore their costumes. From the beginning, he considered himself and all who joined him bound by the ethic of hard work. “You can’t imagine what it’s like, the Ballets Russes,” Matisse wrote to his wife. “There’s absolutely no fooling around here—it’s an organisation where no one thinks of anything but his or her work—I’d never have guessed this is how it would be.”
Revivals of historic prerevolutionary productions have become a specialty of the Kirov Theater, the Maryinsky of St. Petersburg. Last year, a Silver Age Ruslan and Lyudmila, with designs by Konstantine Korovin and Alexander Golovin and ballets by Michel Fokine, was the hit of the Kirov Opera season in New York.