on 15 October 2012
Lydia Lopokova. Unpredictable and impulsive, vivacious and charming she is one of the greatest Imperial Russian dancers ever known. This is the story of how a top Ballerina in the Diaghilev Company achieved international fame, starting from the very beginning of her life at the start of a career.
Lydia unexpectedly married British economist and Bloomsbury member John Maynard Keynes, thus linking Ballet with the Bloomsbury group including war and revolution. Encounters with Picasso and Virginia Woolf were a part of this dancer's extraordinary life and her leap to the top. This tale is about a captivating, fascinating woman who was not just eccentric but devoted to her husband and her career. This is an honest, insightful and fascinating account about a remarkable individual who will never be forgotten, for both her talent in the world of dance and her singular life that was full of color and spark. Judith Mackrell brings a much loved and cherished character from out of the wings into centre-stage, with such enthralling vigor that you loose yourself within her story whilst unable to put the book down. Lopokova is an important individual, who should be remembered and revered, and valued for the incredible person that she was. This masterpiece is a delightful biography of truth, well-researched detail and of such a high caliber that you can only commend it for being confidently told. Lopokova's life was encompassed by the beauty of ballet, the powerful Russian revolution and the Bloomsbury group who all impacted upon her direction in the paths that she chose to take. Skillfully and intricately woven this book combines both art and experiences to produce something so absorbing, that you are unable to turn your eyes from as you take the journey from the very beginning. This is a person who deserves to be under the spotlight once more and as a fan of hers I cannot thank the author enough for doing this. She greatly impacted upon the world of Classical Ballet, being an icon and an inspiration for many.
This fantastic book is adorned with photographs of Lydia, those distinctive people who had great impact in her life (such as her husband Maynard, Slavinsky and Woizikovsky and the Ballet Russes) and those photographs of her performing in various ballets and productions. It gives the reader a look at the Russian Ballet from its foundations and Diaghilev's (1872-1929) company that revolutionised early 20th-century arts and which continues to influence cultural activity today. Fans of dance and of history will love this biography, that should be treasured for years to come.
Judith Mackrell's Bloomsbury Ballerina is Lydia Lopokova, a Russian prima ballerina, who was born in St Petersburg in 1891, and began her training at the Imperial School of Ballet, but later went to Paris with Sergei Diaghilev when he formed the revolutionary Ballets Russes. After Paris came America, where Lydia unwittingly married a bigamist, Randolfo Barocchi; later she had an affair with Igor Stravinsky; and when she came to London, she met the economist and one of the core members of the Bloomsbury Group, Maynard Keynes. Although not initially particularly enamoured with Lydia and predominantly homosexual, Maynard later became absolutely enchanted by her exoticness and her idiosyncratic command of the English language, and soon the pair had embarked on an intimate relationship.
However, although Lydia had danced in major roles with Nijinsky and Massine and had become hugely popular with the London balletomanes, who were taken with her exuberance and vivacity, Maynard's Bloomsbury friends (which included: Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf) were not impressed, finding her noisy, gauche and unintellectual, and did not hesitate to make her feel an unwelcome interloper. And it was not just being snubbed by Bloomsbury that caused Lydia problems, there was Maynard's lover, the Cambridge graduate, Sebastian Sprott, with his long limbs and floppy brown hair, with whom she also had to contend. Faced with such opposition, many women would have backed away, especially as Maynard had been drawn almost exclusively to other men for practically the whole of his adult life, but Lydia already familiar with bisexual men, such as Nijinsky and Massine, used her "erotic ingenuity and emotional determination to break that pattern."
In 1925, after Lydia had divorced Barocchi, she and Maynard married, and in addition to their London home, they also happily spent time in East Sussex where, despite Bloomsbury's disapproval, Maynard took the lease on Tilton, a farmhouse, near to Vanessa Bell's and Duncan Grant's beautifully decorated country home, Charleston. At Tilton, they walked on the South Downs up to Firle Beacon, played tennis on their tennis court (Lydia even took lessons with a Mr Perry - who may have been the legendary Fred) and entertained guests such as: George 'Dadie' Rylands, the Fabians Beatrice and Sidney Webb, dancers and choreographers Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton, and the composer Constant Lambert.
Weaving together interesting information about ballet and about life in Bloomsbury and beyond, author and dance critic, Judith Mackrell, has written a well-researched, scholarly and sympathetic account of the now generally little-known, yet original and imaginative ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Having an interest in both the ballet and in the Bloomsbury Group, I found Ms Mackrell's attractively presented biography an informative and entertaining read and, as such, is one I find easy to recommend.
on 5 July 2010
Mackrell is well-known as a dance reviewer in the UK, but here she wears her learning very lightly. Instead, she gives us a sparkling and intimate portrait of an extraordinary woman who lived through extraordinary times. Ballet scholars and historians will not be disappointed, the standard of research is examplary, but it's Mackrell's human touch - her sympathetic account of the bullying and snobbishness Lydia endured at the hands of the self-regarding Bloomsbury set, for example - which lifts this exceptional biography into a class of its own.
on 14 July 2015
Although this book is quite long, and occasionally felt it, I was sorry to reach the inevitable end of such an unusual life. I read the book because of the connection to the Bloomsbury group and Maynard Keynes, but became fascinated by Lydia herself. She did not have an easy passage through life, and possibly did not always make the best decisions, but she eventually achieved success in both her personal life and career. I am now keen to read the new Maynard Keynes biography.