Among the Daughters/Chapter 28
MASTER OF DANCE, MASTER OF LOVE
Walking to Ranna's, Lucy thought of her first meeting with Clem two weeks before. Even though she had asked Vida to invite him backstage she had hoped he wouldn't come. She had told herself her attitude was unsporting. It wasn't Clem's fault that she had believed he could teach her what love is but the thought of seeing him had embarrassed her, as she never had written, and without his help she might still be in Congress. But the meeting had been easy, what with the backstage hubbub and Vida, Semy, and Herold present so she didn't have to be alone with him. He had been tickled, too, at being introduced to Tessie and all the principals as "Mr. Brush, the famous artist." Later, at the Astor, she had been careful how she looked at him and they had all had a gay old time.
It was strange how your idea of a person changed. At first Clem had seemed a nice elderly man; then, the more she was with him, not at all old but grown up and experienced compared to boys like pawing Harry, a man who liked her and could tell her things. Until he had made love. Now, seeing him again after having known other men, you could tell how inexperienced he was with women. They scared him; it was as if he didn't believe in himself as a man with women, you felt it by the begging way he held your hand. Maybe some women don't care about that. He ought to have a nice wife who thinks he's the cat's pajamas. Like Semy thinks he is. It was a lesson in buttering up to watch Semy flatter that horrible Herold. Always pushing himself forward but acting the shrinking violet. It seems to work, everyone likes him but me. The way he behaves reminds me of something—what's the word? Funny, but with Clem and Semy she felt older, more experienced. Yet with Vermillion and Simone she felt too young. With Figente, Vida, and Ranna no age at all.
That was a good thing about working with Ranna. Learning his artistic type of dance it was a good feeling not to worry, as at Master's, because you couldn't compete with kid speed demons of thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen who never tired. Master said one could be a great ballerina without being an acrobat. Not on Broadway, where they expected all sorts of tricks and jazz sur le point. In a recital it would be different: Beman would see she was an artist and would star her in that musical play about a dancer. She was happier than in a long time. At last, she thought, I'm on the right track. All I need now are some ideas for numbers. But what?
After six lessons with Ranna she was getting the hang of the new way to walk and use her arms, though it was still hard to remember how to use her fingers as symbols at the same time. The straight forward step, knees soft and unarched foot, still made her feel off balance. The biggest surprise was that ballet was not a foundation for any different form of art dance. Jazz and taps were a thing apart.
"I wish you had a mirror wall so I can see whether I'm right," she had told Ranna one day when she felt all unrelated appendages.
"No, no. You cannot dance and watch yourself. You must learn to see with sense of touch," he had replied, and she had tried moving with her eyes closed, which was not easy in the furniture-jammed area.
Sometimes he put on a record and danced for her. His finger symbols, the turnings and thrustings of his head, the movement of his eyes, and extraordinary independence of his neck, correlated with the virile angularities of arms and legs, fascinated her as a rhythmic puzzle. His flat torso recalled an Egyptian frieze she had seen at the Metropolitan. What was bewildering was that these gestures had endless meanings depending upon the subject of the dance.
"I ought to write it down so I can study it like a sign language," she had said one day when everything seemed beyond memorizing. They would sit, Lotus position, feet resting on opposite thighs, facing each other, she copying his hand movements, laughing as children in a game.
When it came to her dancing, he had once said, "Not so strong. Your movement must flow as a slowly running river. You must be soft and retiring because you are a woman." His eyes had become shining strong coffee black that made her heart pound.
Another time he had said, after showing her some movements, "Now you must do it alone," and she had danced, self-conscious at the newness of the movement and because of how he looked at her.
But hard as she tried she could not rid herself completely of ballet timing and transitions. Sometimes she would stop to do the dance movement over but he would say, "No, no, do it like that way, it is you, it is charming."
This did not seem right to her but she had learned, and this was another big surprise, that her strangeness was exotic to him, as his strangeness was exotic to her. She never would have believed anyone would think her exotic.
At the end of the first week he gave her a voluminous Hindu skirt of patterned ruby silk and this helped make her feel more at ease though she still had to count to herself to achieve continuity in the foreign movements. But when they danced together she was drawn into his erotic improvisations. This somewhat reassured her as she was not quick at extemporaneous invention, except in jazz. His pleasure at her response was evident and she wondered whether their concord in movement was not a sign that they were well matched for love. She knew it was up to her to keep them from toppling over the brink into lovemaking.
She discovered that as much as lessons she looked forward to their talks which drifted through inconsequential and often playful subjects, mostly their likes and dislikes. He would show her books of Hindu art, or play his records, explaining words and instruments. Through it all she was conscious of his many delicate ways to please her. Master of Dance. Master of Love!
Time passed quickly and it became natural to drop in every day. She never had been so content with a man before and wondered whether she was not learning about art and love together. During the third week he said, "I must see how you look with your hair smoothed back, as a real Hindu princess."
"I'll get my comb." She went to fetch it.
If only, he thought, she did not always push him into work but would be content to play with him driftingly on a paradisal nonself plane. Her laugh was as the ascending trill of a happy but too wide-awake bird. In Kashmir birds trilled thus at dawn unaware of human awakening languors. But this golden girl, with lapis lazuli eyes, made for love, seemed unaffected by Yogi phrases which had had so responsive an effect on other Western women, denying herself to him because of a peculiar Western feminine wish to be considered an artist. It required the patience of a guru to await her submission. She must be taught not to goad him.
When she returned he was pacing the room, whistling softly between his teeth as some men did when impatient for lovemaking. He smoothed back her hair, first with the comb and then with his hands, looking into her eyes. "I will take you to India. Maharajas will send you jewels big as cherries and we will tie them as fruit to the trees in our garden."
His sandalwood scent drugged her. Was it true, as he said, that Hindu men are a unity of man and woman because their religion teaches them about a woman's needs in lovemaking?
"I will wind you in silken veils and teach you the truths of prana, first principle of life and love," he intoned.
A dragonfly thought of resisting lighted and winged away.
"Come, my golden one," he was saying in low melodious persuasion, "let us accept."
It was as if, she told herself later in the bleaching light of the theatre makeup mirror, he wanted to give her pleasure. Hers would be his. He said it was their "love duet." But he was the premier danseur and certainly knew more than the five positions! Marveling again at the variety of his caresses, she conceded his consideration and blamed her lack of ecstasy on the fact that it was a first lesson. He had told her afterward that, according to the Kamasutram of Vatsayama, a Hindu religious book of love, a man unites a woman to him, only then does a woman become truly united to a man. Well, it had been interesting; the next time maybe she would feel love.
There was no time to bead her eyelashes, a black line would have to do, though she hated not having her makeup perfect. No time for warmup.
I'm warmed up enough!
"You'll have to hurry," Cleo ordered.
She tested the tension of the ankle ribbons, tucked in a loose end, stretched her arms, jumped up and ran her hands professionally up the taut pink silk tights, examined her teeth for lipstick, licked her tongue over them, and dashed to make her cue.
"You're late, Claudel," the stage manager snapped as she passed.
She just had time to put right foot forward, raise arms for her entrance, and see Beman watching from the opposite wings.
Dam it! Why does he have to be here when I'm late, and him such a devil for rules, she thought, and missed the first beat of her cue.
"Ilona is having one of her Sunday afternoons and I promised Vida I'd come. I haven't seen Ilona for weeks or her new studio," Lucy told Mae.
"I was hoping you'd go on a date and have some fun. You haven't been out once after the show since I came back. You're always working with Ranna these days. You ought to enjoy yourself more," Mae worried.
She could read in Mother's anxious expression that she was still thinking about Lyle or, if it couldn't be Lyle, why wasn't there another man like him with money and position who would take care of her daughter's comfort so she'd only have to look pretty and be a première danseuse for fun. Mother lived in a romantic storybook world. Talking with her you could hardly believe she had been married, had a child, and been deserted. She was satisfied to stay at home with Huyler's Assorted and her continued stories, even though she was still attractive enough to get a husband. What kind of life was that, to want nothing for oneself? How could one explain to such an innocent darling that these days you couldn't go out with men and not let them make love, sooner or later. Men didn't want friendship. They didn't want to talk to you, most couldn't teach you a thing, and if you wouldn't make love they thought there was something the matter with you. Did they complain too to the girls of Clarissa's society set "I thought you were a good sport!" when they wouldn't, though from what one heard and saw "Everybody's Doing It!" Not that lovemaking isn't fun. It is, but only when a man is a friend too. That's why the boys in the chorus are more fun than Lyle's crowd, if that's all one wants, a good time with a friend. Tessie says lovemaking is good for the glands, but then she is older. It isn't right to marry just to be kept, though maybe she ought to marry for Mother's sake. She never would let herself be kept though without marriage either, unless so much in love it didn't matter. Think of those poor girls in that kept apartment Lyle had taken her to. What will happen to them? They'll have to settle for anyone, or be like those girls in the Crofter Hotel in Denver—because they have given up their careers for those society boys. Be at the beck and call of someone like Horta Cornwallis. That woman with her invitations to cocktails on Athenée stationery scared her. It was lucky to have found Ranna, who was probably just what she had been wanting all along without knowing it. A lover-friend who was teaching her how to be an artist like Simone. But she couldn't tell Mother about Ranna. Not yet anyway.
"I'm having the best time working. I feel I'm not wasting my time. If you want to be a star you have to keep at it," she instructed Mother.
"My goodness, you can't work all the time. You'll be old before your time."
"Well, it's like this. If I go out after the show I'm all in the next day even if I don't drink much. You have to drink some or the men get sore. Anyway I don't feel like it. I'll bring Vida back from Ilona's for supper. Clem and Semy asked if they could come and I said all right, but not that Herold—so maybe Semy won't come. You phone Reuben's for sandwiches, those big specials."
"That'll be nice. Clem's such a nice man. Don't forget to drink a glass of milk before you go—you've got to make up those three pounds."
"You're jealous because you had to let out your clothes in Congress. I'll bet you and Aunt Mabel had coffee and fresh cake every afternoon."
"We did. And then of course for supper we had com every night when it was ripe. You know how I love com on the cob. Vida's mother came over for coffee too in the afternoon, but I don't think anything could put weight on Alma Bertrand because she never seems to enjoy anything, and then he drinks so. But Alma and I became better friends."
"Well, don't you lose an ounce. It's very becoming. You look like my kid sister. Like an ad for Pond's cream. Congress certainly agreed with you."
"I hate to think how you neglected yourself while I was away."
"Vida and I had a high old time. We'd talk all night and at two or three in the morning we had Reuben's send us the special."
"I'm glad to hear you ate something. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I first saw what a good-looking girl Vida is now."
"She's learning to dress too. I think she's beautiful. Brunettes are much more striking than blondes."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that! I wouldn't call her beautiful, but she certainly is attractive now. Her mother wouldn't know her."
Ilona Klemper's new studio was a remodeled brick garage in the West Sixties. One wall was mirrored, as in a ballet studio, the opposite and far walls were hung with monk's cloth. The second floor, reached by perilous iron steps, was cramped with Ilona's living quarters, two dressing rooms, and an office.
"My goodness, how does the studio get air?" Lucy asked practically.
"From a fan over the door and windows behind the drapes. The windows only can be kept open at the top because of the neighborhood kids. They watch and make fun of what's going on if they can look in," Vida explained, laughing.
She noted that Ilona's pupils and friends had drawn away from them to buzz about Lucy whose seductive, well-cared-for appearance made her a creature from another world. They rail against Broadway but are thrilled she is here, Vida thought. Lucy spied Ilona talking to the pianist and waved. The teacher and three pupils were clad in long tight gowns of grey sateen, slit at one side for leg room.
"What's going on?" Lucy asked.
"The première of a new dance. Alfred Vent composed the music," Vida said.
"He's from Arkansas but has been living in Paris. He says American culture stems from the Indians—just as Picasso's painting stems from Africa. He composed a modern city symphony for nine percussions and a fire siren."
Lucy eyed Vida suspiciously but her face was expressionless.
"Is that what Ilona is going to dance?"
"No, he composed something especially for her dance—it's called 'Oestrus'—which she says is a synthesis of American culture stemming from the Indian and modern abstract art."
Lucy wished Vida would give her more of a clue. The last time she had discussed the dance with Ilona she had come away completely baffled by her pronouncements and changeabouts which Ilona explained as "finding herself."
"Body must be disassociated from mind in order to express universal emotions," Ilona had proclaimed. "True dance is abstraction. Ballet is an artificial straitjacket. An artist of the dance thinks only with her muscles. A creative dancer must be receptive however to all influence. You cannot create anything with the brain."
"How can she get away from her mind?" she had asked Vida, and had to laugh at her answer, though she wished Vida would be serious about the dance.
"That should be easy for Ilona."
The room became silent. The dance was to begin.
To an accompaniment of a constant beat of the F-minor chord on the piano against the six-eight of a tom tom, five-eight of two sticks, and three-four of cymbals, Ilona stomped with no effete arched foot nonsense. In the background her three pupils swayed and semaphored.
"Isn't it wonderfully primitive! It really does something to me," whispered an intense fat woman.
Lucy's lips parted as if the better to receive Ilona's meaning and relieve the reverberations on her eardrums. She shifted her eyes to see if anyone else wanted to laugh. The rapt gaze of the neophytes was sobering and she squinted as some bewildered art lovers do in trying to grasp the tangibles of intangible form in non-representational painting. Maybe, she rebuked herself, I just don't appreciate this kind of art. She would ask Ranna what he thought.
She felt embarrassed watching the concluding orgasm of Ilona's virgin imaginings.
Well, for heaven's sake, I should think she'd be ashamed to do that in public, the poor thing. Maybe she doesn't know what she's doing.
She politely joined in the wild applause.
"I had no idea what an acrobatic technique your latest type of dancing is—what does 'Oestrus' mean?" she asked Ilona.
"Frenzy—but the title is unimportant. The pure dance does not have to mean anything," Ilona replied loftily. A Broadway dancer was a fine one to ask about meaning, she thought. "Art does not have to mean anything if it has 'significant form.'"
"If it doesn't mean anything, why call it Frenzy?" persisted Lucy, eager to understand.
"Because my dance is symbolic of Universal Emotion, rooted in the Pelvis."
At "pelvis" the pupils of Lucy's eyes widened to black out what might be reflected in her thought. Ilona Klemper stared defiantly at her erstwhile pupil, a disrupting influence without feeling for true inner beauty.
"I'm really surprised to hear you say that, Ilona," broke in Herbie, a horse-faced young man with a high nasal voice. "To me your great, great dance has a deeper meaning. It's the expression of the purest form of passion. Minus flesh, per se. Beyond good and evil. Without reference to the bourgeois distinctions between men and women for, in the last analysis, the difference between man and woman is inconsequential, don't you think so?"
"How perceptive you are," Ilona said, beaming, "you have sensed perfectly what was in my spirit when I created 'Oestrus.' One must become part of the movement of the spheres."
"Why do you hold your hands so stiff?" asked Lucy, baffled by this exchange but determined to get a basic answer.
"The hands are the last appendages of the body and therefore the least important," Ilona replied coldly.
"They may be unimportant to you but in the Hindu dance the hands and fingers show hundreds of meanings. A Hindu dancer's hands are as well trained as the body. There are religious dances done only with the arm, hands, and fingers. And, let me tell you, it isn't easy," Lucy said, triumphant that at last she could tell Ilona something about dance.
"There are certain eternal symbols. Love, for instance. It is expressed through circular motions. Religious feeling in spirals," Ilona pontificated as she eyed Lucy wonderingly. "I had no idea you were interested in Hindu dance."
"I am studying it with Ranna, the famous dancer. We are going to give a recital."
"The Ranna whose picture is in the book Universal Dance?"
"That's the one."
That Lucy Claudel always mixed in where she didn't belong. Imagine a great artist like Ranna wasting time on her. "You must bring him. I would love to talk with him about the religious aspect of the new dance of today. I'm certain he would be interested." There might be something in creating a modern religious dance, only with arms and hands, Ilona reflected. A true American dance art ought to be an amalgam of everything.
"I'll ask him sometime," Lucy said vaguely, as it was against her practice to mix her friends, especially male. It was gratifying though to see Ilona impressed.
"I can't get over how Ilona has changed since Denver," Lucy remarked to Vida in the taxi. "There she was proud of having studied with Fokine. Then, before you came, she changed her billing to The Klemper School of Polyrhythmics. She phoned one day and said if I was really serious about the art of the dance I would ask Beman to hire her to put on numbers in his show, that she would like to elevate Broadway taste. She had her pupils show me her new type of work. They pretended they were typewriters in one number. I didn't think the audience would get it because she had to explain it to me. In a show you can't explain what you do, you have to do it, and fast. And those costumes they wear would never go in a show. But I never knew until today that she wants to perfom herself."
"Another thing you don't know is that she has a new word for herself. She is an 'Artodaist.' Art—today—ist. Get it?"
"The trouble with you is, you won't be serious about her."
"You said it."
"Maybe we don't appreciate her. But I know I'm not going to let her influence me, especially now when I feel I'm learning something from Ranna. And I'm getting better at Master's."
En route to Master's the next day Lucy decided she would not tell him Ilona's theories because he was apt to get mad fast and besides she didn't know how to demonstrate universal emotion. Every position had to be just so or he hit the ceiling. Working with Ranna was interesting and artistic but a good exact workout at Master's made you feel like a million dollars all over.
Master too was pleased at the change in her. "At last you are becoming serious, Claudel—see that you continue," he had said a few days ago. It was a compliment, for Master rarely praised.
But today, seeing her practice Ranna's walking step before the mirror, he groaned. "What kind for a walk is that? Straighten your knees. Arch! Arch!"
She had to admit the step looked odd in tights. "I was just practicing Hindu technique. I am studying with a great Hindu dancer."
Master was not impressed. For him any other form of dancing was inferior to ballet. "If in the mood you are for work, better to improve your turnout than to learn pigeon toe," he commented acidly.
"But Ranna is a great artist. I will learn a lot from him. In fact we are planning a recital."
"A noble ambition but may I reminding you that your adagio with Arthur today left to be desired much."
"But I'm not going to do adagio."
"How you know in your next show it is not required?"
"I don't want to do the same thing over and over in a Broadway show. I want to improve myself. To be an artist."
Master seemed unprepared for this revelation and looked at her incredulously. Then he shook his finger.
"You know what that means? Slave, slave, slave. An artist is too tired for parties. Also, where will you do this art? At the Opera? Or will you travel from place to place afraid of breaking your ankle on bad stages. Also you must be a Pavlova before in this country people will come and see you. Even for her not. This is not yet a country for a ballet. You're a lucky girl to be a première danseuse on Broadway. Pavlova could do at thirteen what you do now only. If another Diaghilev was here I would say by all means try but there is not. It is my hope on Broadway a man like Beman will give fine ballet a chance. I work with you and the others for this. Perhaps, from my teaching, and maybe other ballet teachers, comes a beginning here. Perhaps when Diaghilev or other ballet companies come it will be possible a renaissance in America of this great art. Not that I wish to discourage you." He patted her paternally.
"My goodness, I don't expect to go on the road or give up the theatre. I just want to give a recital of artistic dances I can't do in a show. Something I create myself. I thought maybe I'd do one Greek number too, like Isadora Duncan, but on the toes. I love those Greek costumes."
The mention of Duncan manifestly annoyed Master. "Isadora is a great personality but not a great dancer. Her technique is child's play. However, so long as you work I do not complain, but do not come to me if with that barefoot Hindu technique your arch falls. For your Ranna it is good but for a ballerina, never!
"You'll see, you'll be proud of me."
She put on her velvet fur-trimmed carriage boots and new grey astrakhan coat and went over to Childs' for cocoa and cinnamon toast and sat looking out on Fifth Avenue reflecting on what Master had said. It seems to me, she thought, refusing to feel dispirited, that every person thinks his idea of art is best so one might as well figure out one's own.
It was only three and she was debating how to spend the remainder of the afternoon and wishing there was someone to talk to when she spied Paul Vermillion. She waved her gloves, hoping he would see her. He did and waited as she had signaled she was coming out.
For weeks Vermillion had slept only fitfully. Mind, eyes, and hand accepted only the release of work to discover new potentialities in the evolution of a personal form begun with the drawing of the city and the painting of the pears. The electric pulsations of the city were catalytic in charging his vision, but he was more and more depressed by the difficulty of earning enough to buy the time in which to develop his images without rushing. The pressure to keep alive had brought into being another school of painting in which hasty incomplete canvases were offered as abstract, subconscious, unconscious—what you will—expressions. A dodge readily accepted these days when unresolved arrangement or resolved derangement was fanatically held to be the painter's prerogative. The hell with that dodge, he thought.
He awakened one morning with fever, chills, and a racking cough. He telephoned his employer that he was ill, and putting on a muffler, overcoat, and hat to supplement the tepid radiator, congratulated himself on wangling a few days in which to paint.
On the third day the weather conspired to taunt him, the sun playing hide and seek in cloudy skies. Finally he threw down his brush, helpless against the exasperating fluctuations of light. The telephone rang, and he did not answer as it might be Simone. What if she took it into her head to come and see whether he really was out, as she had done in Paris too often? She had been wonderful at first. A Sorbonne of love. Enchanting in the beginning when she'd bring the old broken-hinged lunch basket and they'd eat in the Tuileries. Then she had to act the wife-formula and it went sour. It was hard now to remember the fine feeling when he was first with Simone. Its image now wasn't it. Now gives the moment of then a dimension, it is another individual looking at two other fellows in perspective.
It was three, and a walk in the Park might unwind him. It might even snow. New York was an autumn and winter city. Hell in summer. Paris was best in late spring. The suggested proposal that he act as buyer in Europe for that fellow going into art supply importing on a big scale might be a solution to pay passage over in the spring. It sure was cheaper living there.
He was not in the mood for company when he saw Lucy's glove waving in Childs' window, and intended to move on after saying hello.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, suspecting he was going to nearby Simone.
"On a day like this! It feels like snow."
"I like snow."
"I just finished at Master's."
"My ballet teacher. I was having some cocoa and wondering whether to go shopping," she said tentatively. Maybe he'd take the hint that she had nothing to do.
"How about joining me for a walk in the Park?" he asked, surprising himself.
Crossing the street she noticed he didn't squeeze her arm as other men did, only touched her elbow politely. She always had a feeling with him he was keeping her at arms' length.
"Those new six-cylinder Chryslers are the cat's pajamas, but they're cold without side curtains if you're driving to Long Island. I thought of getting a Model T to learn to drive but I never get around to it," she chattered when they reached the opposite curb.
Men had taught her about autos on the side, he thought. He knew only busses and taxis, especially the snub-nosed red taxis of Paris that he had heard had formed a brigade and toot-tooted to the front line to stop the Germans, and which, returning battered, had darted erratically across the city carrying Simone and himself. He had no feeling for machines. He wasn't one of the Dada boys who were touting machines as the art of today. The only machine he was interested in controlling was a hand with a brush.
He stopped to buy peanuts from a Greek, and crumbled the nuts. "Sparrows waste no time being flatterers as pigeons are. They take the nuts and beat it." He pointed delightedly to a sparrow, darting under a pigeon's beak to snatch up half a peanut. "He sure beat that pigeon to the punch." He laughed.
His laugh was infectious. Who would have thought you could feel so good just walking with Paul Vermillion? She could hardly restrain herself from doing a dancestep breakdown because it had become such a wonderful day.
"Listen to the merry-go-round."
"Like a ride?"
"No thank you. I like to get somewhere when I ride. Makes me think of my first auto ride. I was ten and Mother took me to the State Fair—in Colorado—and for a nickel each we got a ride around a race track. I felt as if I'd been on a long trip somewhere, though I'd been on several trains before. Mother and I moved around a lot. Look at the silly ear-to-ear grin on that monkey. Know something? I've seen that grin on a lot of faces. Look, he's flirting with the fat little man with the cigar. They're 'ca-ra-zay,' as Bert Savoy says, about each other."
Her mimicking of the popular female impersonator dissolved his depression. No one could be less like Bert Savoy than Lucy Claudel in her femininity plus a kind of childlike playfulness. Simone had had her kind of playfulness too before she became her version of Camille. He hadn't felt this good in months.
"Do you do this often? I never thought of walking in the Park. I've only ridden through to the Casino or roundabout." She stopped, hoping he didn't think it the route with every man. "Those seals remind me of Figente's Brancusi!"
She had made the rounds, he thought. The observation about the seals was one you would have expected rather from her handsome friend Vida.
"Brancusi would be pleased. He tries to get the easy flow of nature's forms."
"You know him? What's he like?"
"Short, stocky, with long black whiskers."
"Not that old—about forty-five."
"Tell me the truth, are all French artists as crazy as those things at Figente's? I can't tell one from another."
"No. And most of those works at Figente's aren't crazy. Orginals always seem to pick up leeches—copyists; that's why some of the paintings seem to look alike. Like in your show business when someone steals a routine. Take Chaplin's back kick flip. An imitator takes that flip and triples it, but perfectly as he may copy he doesn't convey that nose-thumbing yet somehow elegant gesture which is Chaplin's signature because it is personal to his experience. Originators know what they're trying to say, the copyist imitates the effects—and mistakes—as well. Picasso describes them as the lice in his hair. But lice can get away with it in Paris for two reasons. First, the copyists have a stake in protecting each other. Second, the French are amused by stunts in the name of art."
"Like what?" She was pleased to discover she had at least partly understood what he was talking about, unlike Ilona. Moreover, he wasn't like Figente who acted as if she never could understand.
Vermillion, in his tum, felt unexpected enjoyment in relating what no longer interested him. "Oh—there was a play The Mute Bluejay. A skinny guy with a gas-green wig got up on a stepladder and talked gibberish—like Broadway doubletalk—with a profound air, while a girl, flopped on the stage, went through swimming motions and yelled she was Electra, and a Negro walked in and out with a big club yelling he was Siegfried looking for Wagner."
"Did he find Wagner?"
"Were these people serious?"
"In a way, yes. It's partly the despair and defiance young artists feel when they face what's been accomplished. It is hard to take when you come smack up against mountains like Rembrandt and Mozart. All the talk about new forms, true as much of it is, doesn't get rid of those overpowering mountains—so when you're beginning you try to mask your despair and awe with a jeer. Actually the new forms are part of the so-called old."
"But don't they do anything else in Paris but paint, and have those skits? Did you see any dancing?"
"Except for the German dancers I told you of, there's the Opéra ballet. Reminds me of Degas, only to me his drawings were more interesting. The Diaghilev crowd is still there. As I'm not a ballet addict, their only difference to me—from the Opéra bunch—are the a la mode trimmings of avant-garde music and décor—Picasso, Stravinsky—"
"I don't see how you can say that," Lucy said indignantly. "Why, the Russian Ballet is the highest standard for every dancer. I don't care what you say, the Russian Ballet is great art. Audiences are crazy about it, especially 'L'Apres-midi d'un Faune' which is Greek and very modern."
"Shall we say pseudo-Greek," Vermillion said mildly, "with girls pretending to be flat as vases and a—man—making love to a scarf. Perhaps I didn't catch fire because the first Diaghilev blaze was over before my time. I saw some of its last flickering stages and, except for Tetrouchka,' it was for me as dated as 'Phèdre' in a Victorian corset. Dated, because what is merely new becomes old as you look at it. It isn't what's new in the arts that is lasting, only the art in the new."
Lucy was angry. Just when she liked him better to discover he had no use for dancing—or dancers! "I don't know what you're talking about—everybody else says the Russian Ballet is the last word."
He heard the distress in her voice but felt impelled to take his stand against jargon. "There are no last words in the arts, or even first." The words seemed inconsiderate of her feelings and he tried to reassure her. "Perhaps dance is different because the human body is capable only of movement within its radius and so must repeat itself over and over."
She was not solaced. "Lots of men writers think the ballet is poetic. It takes years of hard work to do. You make me feel I'm wasting my time," she said unhappily.
"I'd be very disturbed if you related what I said—generally—to what you want to do as a dancer. I was merely talking impersonally about my impressions, which are those of one who isn't a balletomane."
"Ilona Klemper hates ballet too."
"I don't dislike it. I enjoy watching the evolutions and balance of its design but I can't get interested in its superimposed stories. Perhaps it's because I wasn't read fairy tales as a child."
She suspected his meaning and couldn't help laughing, though she didn't feel like laughing. "You're fresh."
"So are you."
He didn't mean what she did, but it made her happy the way he said it.
"In a way I agree with you," she conceded. "I got tired of doing the same routine in the show, that's why I am studying with Ranna." She faltered for the briefest pause, separating the lover from the teacher. "In Hindu dancing everything means something, even how you hold your fingers," she recited, hoping Vermillion would not find anything in this with which to disagree. If he did she would leave him here and now because she wasn't going to have anyone who didn't even care about dancing criticize Ranna. His attitude toward ballet was enough already to tell her they never could be friends.
"So I've heard. I've seen something of stylized dance symbols in various countries. A dancer who is an artist uses such symbols as a poet does. There's an old theatre on the Bowery near Chinatown where Chinese act in the stylized form of their drama. The plays go on for hours—five, six. When the players aren't acting they stand and walk around near where the musicians sit, and visit. The props are brought in and out as needed during the action. The audience comes and goes and eats and an old usher in a coolie suit brings steaming cloths for them to wipe their faces. The curious thing is that, after a while, you understand a good deal from the symbolism of the acting. I imagine Ranna similarly performs the legends of his country with its dance symbols."
"I guess we have something like that too. The shuffle in tap dancing from the lazy way Negroes walk."
"This may sound silly—but what you just told me makes it easier to understand what Ranna has been trying to teach me. But what I don't understand is that sometimes when I can't help but do his dance ballet way he likes it."
"That's probably because it is exotic to him, as his way is to you." The explanation struck her as reasonable but she did not accept it. "But I don't want to do it my way, I want to get it just right. We are going to give a recital the end of April—I hope you'll come."
"I expect to be in Europe then, but if I'm not—"
It's Simone, she thought jealously. In Paris they will walk like this. Well, let him go.
"You certainly don't stay put long."
"Something has come up," he said, determined not to be magnetized by the dazzling rays from those probing eyes. He felt drawn to her in a manner he had not felt for anyone but Simone, except that the feeling was almost sexless too in its affectionate protectiveness.
You could tell him everything, well almost, about yourself, and never know a thing about him in return, she fumed. Ranna was "better. He told about himself. Funny, romantic, naughty stories about childhood, boyhood, manhood, a girl and man friend all in one.
Snowflakes began to fall and she shivered.
"I'm cold. My hands are frozen."
"Haven't you pockets?"
What a self-centered inconsiderate man. "Never mind, I'll put my hands in my sleeves. Anyway it's getting late. I have a show, remember?"
He was paying no attention and walked so fast she hardly could keep up. He doesn't care if I sprain my ankles in these high shoes, she grumbled to herself. He only thinks about himself.
"This is the best part of the afternoon, just before twilight. It's a dry snow too, looks as though it would keep up. The first snowfall is always wonderful. Those aspens are late falling, they're the color of your hair."
So he did remember she was there, not that it mattered any more!
"I guess they are," she said, "but I'm not mad about yellow. The only blondes I like are the girls in Marie Laurencin's paintings. Those grey clouds are the plumey way she paints too, especially over there where you can just make out pale pink and lavender, and then that tiny Paris-green patch of grass. I often thought a costume like those girls wear would be attractive. Pastel chiffons, draped, almost Greek with an enormous plumed bonnet, and the pearls, and of course the green somewhere."
"It would become you."
"I haven't black button eyes."
"So much the better, and you could use black eye makeup."
She caught up and gaped at him astonished. "Would it be a good idea for a number for the recital?"
"I don't know how good it is."
"It's just what I want. I don't know why I never thought of it myself!"
"You would have—you actually did."
"Well—I'll have to find some romantic music. I love Schubert's 'Serenade' and the Brahms waltzes."
"I'd think something later—and French," he said.
"Perhaps Debussy's Dances, 'Sacred and Profane.' Hal would probably like to play them for you."
"Imagine you being the one to give me just what I've been looking for!" she exclaimed.
There was such happiness in her voice that he felt embarrassed because of his indifference to this project. He was not however indifferent to her. He did a mental calculation of his financial resources. Fifty-five cents! Not even enough to pay her taxi to wherever she was going, to say nothing of dinner. Get it over fast then.
"Didn't you say you were cold? The snow's really coming down. You'd better let me get you to a taxi." He quickened his step.
He's anxious to get rid of me, he doesn't even care if I keep up with him. She looked at the two slender tree trunks that were his legs, walking positively. She knew his shirt collar was frayed and, as had happened once before at Figente's when she saw the old blue Norfolk, she wanted to do something for him. Except for Mother, and, at times, Vida, she never had felt like this about anyone. It felt good to take care of someone you liked, but sad too when you couldn't, when you were held at arms' length, because you wanted him to have everything he wanted, beginning with snowflake diamonds from heaven. Even Simone.
She got into the taxi and held out her hand. His going away was a weight on her spirit.
"Goodbye, if I don't see you again. Thank you very much for the walk, and the idea for the dance. I'm sorry you won't see it worked out." She tried to sound gay.
"Spring is a long way off," he said smiling and slammed the door. At least he could have said he would see her before he left, she thought. But it was a good thing he hadn't because from now on she would have only Ranna to think of, and the recital.