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- Canvas Issue 21 by Judith Mackrell
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- Bloomsbury ballerina - Charleston Trust
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Yet these anecdotes reveal very little detail about Lydia herself. They could not know that when journalists flocked to her wedding with Maynard in , it was Lydia who was the main draw.
I wanted to know why with the exception of biographies of Keynes so little had been made of her. Two main factors emerged from my research. Living in increasingly contented seclusion in Tilton, the house in Sussex where she had lived with Maynard, she stubbornly refused to write her memoirs, to speak to journalists or to be feted in any formal way by the ballet world. When a commemorative exhibition of the Ballets Russes was held in London in Lydia refused to go to the gala opening, but was later spotted queuing up for entrance among a troop of boy scouts.
She herself was so effective in erasing her fame that even within ballet circles few now remember that there was a time when Lydia meant as much to her public as Margot Fonteyn or Darcey Bussell subsequently did to theirs. Duncan, Vanessa, and Roger Fry might have painted her; Clive Bell, during a brief balletomane phase, might have composed an essay about her dancing.
David Garnett was always fascinated by her, and so eventually was E. When Maynard first introduced Lydia to his circle in the surprise and consternation that ensued was not simply on account of his having finally fallen in love with a woman. It was that Lydia was so very obviously different. Uneducated — and a foreigner. The following anecdote is revealing. She did not enjoy herself.
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Her fellow guests were a dauntingly select group of Cambridge and London intellectuals, and Virginia Woolf, who was among them, observed with detached amusement how miserably Lydia squirmed against being patronised. Then she flies into a rage and says she is … a seerious wooman. Especially diverting to her was an incident through which Lydia caused drastic offence to the household, discarding a used sanitary towel in a fireplace. Soon the Cook herself requested to speak with the lady.
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There was such a scene … rages, tears, despair outrage. She had to be allowed comic licence. Lydia was certainly the daughter of a poor man, but Vasili Lopukhov had been a great deal more than a hotel porter. He won four of them places at the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg, from which Fedor, the oldest son, would go on to become artistic director of the Mariinsky Ballet later the Kirov ; Evgenia, the oldest daughter, to starring roles in Russian musical theatre; and Lydia herself to a career that would be ranked by critics alongside those of Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina.
From the age of nine she was dancing child roles at the Mariinsky, for the pleasure of the Tsar.
Canvas Issue 21 by Judith Mackrell
She had left Russia as an eighteen-year-old junior in the corps de ballet, but in Paris she was elevated to the status of ballerina. By the end of the summer she was being feted almost as enthusiastically as Nijinsky or Karsavina and was surrounded by theatrical agents competing to lure her onto the stages of London or New York.
She chose New York and, led by a mixture of courage and fecklessness that would typify her career, she abandoned her family to spend the next five years in America. But Lydia was also easily bored.
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She and her colleagues were barricaded into a Lisbon hotel for three days during the Portuguese revolution; they routinely had to dodge German U-boats on Atlantic crossings; they endured poverty, exhaustion and the threat of Spanish influenza; and during much of this period they were also gripped in anxious speculation about the fate of their families back in Russia, as the Bolsheviks seized power in and the world in which they had grown up was ripped apart.
Yet there was also intense creative excitement.
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She became close to these men, Picasso in particular, and also Igor Stravinsky, with whom she had an affair. Virginia would use Lydia twice for her own literary purposes, observing her as a rather unsympathetic character model for Rezia, the little milliner in Mrs Dalloway; then in requesting her help in checking the accuracy of the Russian chapters of Orlando. The fact that Lydia was not taken seriously as a fellow artist underlies, I believe, certain truths about the cultural register of Bloomsbury, in particular its very English aesthetic and sensibility. Certainly ballet itself did not rank highly within Bloomsbury.
Clever Billy outwits a Terrible Beast who wants to eat her woodland friends. The characters are enterprising, the text surprising and the layout engaging, with paths that wind across the page and changes of perspective; and the pictures are humorous, not least the worried face of a fox….
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