Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

spoken by a native with all the native asperity. It was not softened, and modified, and adapted, and flavored to different national tastes, as when Ellsler, or Cerito, or Lucille Grahn, or Taglioni danced a Spanish dance. It i8 Spanish, he said, as the Tarantella, danced by a Neapolitan girl upon the shore, is Italian. Bata cosi, amico mio, let us go and see Cubas. It was certainly all that he had said. Years ago, at the old Park Theatre, where we used to be boxed up in those frightful red boxes, and look with eramps and stitches in every limb, and envy in the heart at the free movement of actors or singers, or dancers upon the stage-years ago, Fanny Ellsler came, danced and conquered. She danced Spanish, and Polish, and Italian, and Hungarian dances, and all with such stately grace that the brains ran out of some people's heads, and they became asses, and drew her in a carriage. Jenny Lind made no more intense, although a much more lasting and extended impression upon the public mind than Fanny Ellsler. We had Celeste and Augusta before, and Augusta in the Bayadere was beautiful; but Fanny Ellsler fascinated the town, and triumphed. Remembering this, recalling her in the Cachuca, the Jaleo, and the Haute Arragonaise, there was a curious expectation in the mind of the Easy Chair when he saw the black-eyed Cubas in her gold skirt, dashed all over with huge flaunting black bows, standing at the side scene, and then clicking her castanets, with a few rapid bounds leaping to the front. The coal-black hair, eyes and eyebrows, the glittering grin, and the powerful, rapid, darting, snakelike quality of her movement, amazed rather than pleased the audience. But the dancing was wonderful. Her partner thumped and rang the tamborine, and she rattled her castanets, while she flew and bounded about him with marvelous muscular agility and a litheness like that of a blade of grass. She darted and fled, scorning the ground

580

THE FIERCE DANCE OF SPAIN.

like Shakespeare's lapwing, then erect as a crested snake she glared and glittered at him till you looked to see the forked tongue. It was a fierce pantomime of passion, of jealousy, of scorn, of all the savagery that hides in coal-black coils of hair and the tawny skins that cover dusky natures.

The audience was surprised, repelled, cold. They applauded, but not heartily. They even encored the second dance, but simply as a freak, and when she ran stooping to the front, instead of a louder burst of welcome, the applause died away. The most extraordinary and effective points passed unrecognized. She had none of that responsive fervor of applause which stimulates and intoxicates a dancer. The audience did not help, it hindered her. But she danced magnificently. Fanny Ellsler would have so modified the dances as to enchant the spectators; but she could not have shown so perfectly the dance of Spain exactly as it is danced, and with all the characteristic gypsy ferocity. The coffee of Mocha, when you drink it in Arabia, is thick and muddy, and your little cup is half filled with slime when you have drunk the liquid; but it is sweet and delicious beyond description. The same coffee in Paris is strained to dusky transparency; but it is thin, and metallic and changed. Yet it is French coffee which is thought to be perfect. Nobody shall quarrel with different tastes; but the Mocha berry browned with care, immediately bruised in a coffee mortar, then made almost a paste from which you drink the liquid, is as different from the beverage of the Boulevards as the dancing of Cubas from that of Ellsler.”

Fanny Ellsler's career as a dancer was a short but very brilliant one.

The history of her first engagement in Paris is rather curious. “Fanny, with her sister Therese, was playing at London when her fame reached France, and the manager of the Grand Opera posted over to see on what foundation the rumors were raised. He came,

THE ELLSLER SISTERS.

581

saw, and was conquered. Mlle. Fanny Ellsler was very anxious for an engagement at Paris, but Mlle. Therese was afraid of that city, and these indecisions rendered the manager's negotiations a very delicate affair. While they were vacillating between a small salary, very irregularly paid, at London, and eight thousand dollars and punctuality, in Paris, he gave them a grand banquet at the Clarendon Hotel, and served them up, with the dessert, a silver dish containing forty thousand dollars' worth of jewels and diamonds, which was handed round to the guests as if it contained but so many pea-nuts. The sisters selected each one of the most modest trinkets in the dish—though these bagatelles were worth two thousand dollars a-piece—and, to the gratification of the manager, signed an engagement, after Mlle. Therese's fears had been satisfied by the insertion of a provision that the engagement of three years might be ended at will at the expiration of the first fifteen months. Mlle. Therese did not come to America with her sister, and we are informed that we lost a great deal by her absence, as Mlle. Fanny was never so brilliant as when her sister was at her side. The two different talents completed each other, and made a harmonious group of an exquisite perfection. Both of these eminent dancers have retired from the stage, the possessors of very large fortunes. Mlle. Therese has been the wife (by a morganatic marriage) of the Prince Royal of Prussia, and Mlle. Fanny Ellsler married a wealthy physician of Hamburg."

Taglioni is celebrated as the founder of a more modest and pure style of dancing than that which Vestris had popularized in Europe.

Taglioni, the father—whom we only know in these days through the fame of his daughter-would never allow bis pupils to make a gesture wanting in modesty. He was wont to tell his daughter, “Dance in such a way that any

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

lady and any maiden may see you dance without blushing; take care and dance in a style full of austerity, delicacy and taste." He was "severe to harshness, inflexible to cruelty with his pupils, and especially with his daughter. He made her work three or four hours a day, and her utter exhaustion of body and bitter sobs could not induce him to abate one jot or tittle of her daily exercise. This celebrated name is a new instance of the truth of the vulgar observation of the futility of omens cast in youth, and founded on precocious developments or tardy promises. At the first dancing school to which she was sent, her comrades constantly jeered her. What!' they would say, 'can that little hump-back ever learn how to dance ?' In the course of time the little 'hump-back' founded the most brilliant school of dancing, and was acknowledged, by universal consent, to dance better and differently from all her predecessors; and she numbered as 'her enthusiastic admirers the most aristocratic ladies and the very best society. The nick-name "hump-backed' probably arose from the peculiar narrow and short conformation of her breast. Satirists have said that dancers have no intellect except in their legs. This general rule does not apply to Mademoiselle Taglioni, who is an exceedingly sprightly woman and an adept in playful raillery.”

[ocr errors]

AN INFAMOUS BUSINESS.

583

CHAPTER XXXIX.

The Leg Business.—The Blonde Burlesquers, How they Grew.-History

of the Nude Woman Question in America.—The Black Crook.—The White Fawn. - Ixion. - The Deluge. — Padded Legs Wriggling and Jigging all over the New York Stage.-Obscenity, Vulgarity and Indecency Running Riot. — The Wild Orgies of the Hour. — The Effect on the Theatrical World.—Managers Lose their Senses. – Decent Actresses thrown Out of Employment.—The Temptations of Debauchery. How I came to attack this Shame. — The First Results of My Attack. Abuse, Threats and Contumely; Praise, Encouragement and Words of Cheer.—The Religious World versus the Nude-Woman World.A Despairing Poet.—The Final Results.-Flight of the Foul Birds. — The Stage Returning to its Legitimate Uses.

The “leg business" is a branch of the show business which I have labored with some earnestness to render infamous.

Those who have read my various magazine articles bearing on this question, or my little book entitled “Apropos of Women and Theatres,” (published in New York by Mr. Carleton), do not need to be told what the “leg business” is; but as these pages are expected to fall into the hands of thousands of people who will need the information, I will explain that the “leg business” is a term in common use among theatrical people, and means the displaying in public, by women, of their persons, clad in close-fitting flesh-colored silk “ tights,” and as little else as the law will permit.

Considering it a buruing disgrace to the theatrical profession that there should be in its ranks a class of so-called actresses, whose claim on public patronage lay in their boldness of personal display, I have persistently made war upon them for several years past.

« PreviousContinue »