Beauty and the Brain; Supple and in Demand: Lydia Lopokova and John Maynard Keynes

Daily Mail (London), April 4, 2008 | Go to article overview

Beauty and the Brain; Supple and in Demand: Lydia Lopokova and John Maynard Keynes


Byline: Michael Arditti

BLOOMSBURY BALLERINA by Judith Mackrell (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, [pounds sterling]25)

WITH the exception of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, there can have been noodder celebrity couple than Lydia Lopokova and John Maynard Keynes.

She was a prima ballerina who delighted audiences with her delicacy, exuberanceand charm. He was a renowned economist whose intellect made even BertrandRussell feel inadequate, and a committed homosexual along with his friendLytton Strachey.

Their circle responded with derision. One establishment grandee recorded in hisdiary: 'Maynard Keynes marrying a chorus girl.' While Virginia Woolf, never oneto let pass a cutting remark, wrote: 'They say you can only talk to Maynard nowin words of one syllable.' Nevertheless, theirs was a deep and enduring love.

Keynes's career has been widely lauded, but Lydia's has been relegated tofootnotes in Bloomsbury biographies. Judith Mackrell redresses the balance withthis charming and insightful account of a woman who danced with Nijinsky in StPetersburg, married a bigamist in New York, had an affair with Stravinsky inSpain and was instrumental in the development of British ballet.

Lydia was born in St Petersburg in 1891, the daughter of a theatre usher whopushed her towards a life on the stage. After joining the Imperial Ballet, shewas picked by Diaghilev to join his newly formed Ballets Russes, alongside suchluminaries as Nijinsky, Pavlova, Karsavina and the celebrated mime artist, IdaRubinstein, who drank champagne out of lilies and paraded through Paris with apanther.

The young Lydia was so impressed by the sight of Paris that she fainted at theGare du Nord, but she soon recovered and, even in such august company, hertalents shone.

SENSING that her Paris triumphs were unlikely to be repeated in the morehidebound world of St Petersburg, she sailed to New York, where she was muchadmired in such uncongenial settings as vaudeville shows and Broadway musicals.

She later led Diaghilev's American tour, but the ballets unleashed waves ofhysterical prurience, with the Kansas police chief telling 'Dogleaf' that hewould not 'stand for your highbrow immorality'.

After unwittingly contracting a bigamist marriage to Diaghilev's businessmanager, she returned to wartorn Europe and enjoyed two of her greatestsuccesses in Massine's The Good-Humoured Ladies and Parade, although the latterso enraged conservative critics that they demanded its creators, among themPicasso, Cocteau and Satie, be sent to the trenches. …

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