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Monday, 28 January 2013

On the power of women

Saturday, January 28th., Fulham Park Gardens, London.

The hypnotised audience, crowded tier above tier of the dark theatre, held itself strained and intent in its anxiety not to miss one gyration, one least movement, of the great dancer Adeline Genee - that dancer who had enslaved not only New York and St. Petersburg but Paris itself. Swaying incorporeal, as it were within a fluent dazzling envelope of endless drapery, she revealed to them new and more disturbing visions of beauty in the union of colour and motion. She hid herself in a labyrinth of curves which was also a tremor of strange tints, a tantalising veil, a mist of iridescent light. Gradually her form emerged from the riddle, triumphant, provocative, and for an instant she rested like an incredible living jewel in the deep gloom of the stage. Then she was blotted out, and the defeated eye sought in vain to penetrate the blackness where but now she had been ...

Dame Adeline Genée DBE (1878 – 1970) was a Danish/British ballet dancer.  Born Kirstina Margarete Petra Jensen in Århus, Denmark, her uncle, Alexandre Genée, gave her dancing lessons from the age of three. When she was eight, Alexandre and his wife adopted her. As well as changing her last name to Genée, she changed her first name to Adeline in honour of the Italian opera star Adelina Patti. Genée's debut was with her uncle's touring company at the age of ten in Oslo (at that time called Christiania). In 1895, she became the principal dancer at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen. Subsequently, in 1896, she danced with the Berlin Court Opera Ballet and the Munich Opera Ballet. In 1897, she accepted a booking for six weeks in England. She gained such success that she stayed for ten years. While dancing with the Ballet of the Empire Theatre in London, she was so admired for her classical style that she was offered the position of Prima Ballerina at the same theatre. She performed in The Press, Les Papillons and the British premiere (1906) of Coppélia. The Edwardian period probably represents the lowest point in the history of English ballet. It consisted of short dances in variety programs. Genée did much to raise the status of ballet by reviving earlier productions and creating an audience for more elaborate works. She was versatile enough to dance light musical hall roles and in more severe classical roles. Slender and elegant, she was often described as like "Dresden china". In one respect she was very backward-looking, preferring a style of costume that belonged to the 1830s.

It was a marvellous and enchanting performance. Even the glare of the electric clusters and the gross plush of the descending curtain could not rob us all at once of the sense of far-off immaterial things which it had evoked in our hearts. We applauded with fury, with frenzy; we besieged the floor with sticks and heels, and clapped till our arms ached .... At length she came before the footlights, and bowed and smiled and kissed her hands. We could see she was a woman of thirty or more, rather short, not beautiful. But what dominion in the face, what assurance of supreme power! It was the face of one surfeited with adoration, cloyed with praise.

While she was humouring us with her fatigued imperial smiles, I happened to look at a glazed door separating the auditorium from the corridor. There, pressed against the glass, was another face, the face of a barmaid, who, drawn from her counter by the rumour of this wonderful novelty, had crept down to get a glimpse of the star's triumph.

Of course I was struck by the obvious contrast between these two creatures. In a moment the barmaid had departed, but the wistfulness of her gaze remained with me as I listened to the legends of the dancer - her whims, her diamonds, her extravagances, her tyrannies, her wealth. I could not banish that pale face; I could not withhold from it my sentimental pity.

The Empire Theatre opened on 17 April 1884 as a West End variety theatre on Leicester Square, as well as a ballet venue. Its capacity was about 2,000 seats. In 1887, the theatre reopened as a popular music hall named the Empire Theatre of Varieties. From 1887 to 1915, the designer C. Wilhelm created both scenery and costumes for (and sometimes produced) numerous ballets at the theatre, which established a fashion for stage design and were much imitated. George Edwardes managed the theatre around the start of the 20th century. The dancer Adeline Genée and the theatre's ballet company, working under composer-director Leopold Wenzel, did much to revive the moribund art of ballet in Britain, which had declined in the 19th century. In March 1896, the Empire Theatre played host to the first commercial theatrical performances of a projected film to a UK audience by Auguste and Louis Lumière. The film programme ran for 18 months. Over the next few years the theatre began to offer a programme of live performances with short film shows.

Later, I went up into the immense gold refectory. Entrenched behind a magnificent counter of carved cedar flanked on either side by mirrors and the neat apparatus of bottles and bon bons, the barmaid stood negligently at her ease, her cheek resting in the palm of one small hand as she leaned on the counter. I noticed that she had the feeble prettiness, the voluptuous figure, the tight black bodice inexorably demanded of barmaids. In front of her were three rakish youths whom I guessed to be on the fringe of journalism and the stage. They talked low to her as they sipped their liqueurs, frankly admiring, frankly enjoying this brief intimacy. As for her, confident of her charms, she was distantly gracious; she offered a smile with a full sense of its value; she permitted; she endured. These youths were to understand that such adulation was to her an everyday affair.

In the accustomed exercise of assured power her face had lost its wistfulness, it was the satiated face of the dancer over again, and so I ventured quietly to withdraw my sentimental pity.

Nicholson, "Barmaid - any bar"
THE girls who serve behind the bars of restaurants and buffets, also behind the bars of theatres, hotels, and railway stations, consider themselves a step above ordinary barmaids namely, the girls who serve in public-houses. They are all young ladies of course, but the former are designated "the young ladies at the bar," while the latter are "young ladies in the public line of business." They work in shifts, coming on early in the morning, and working with stated intervals until midnight. One Sunday in the month is considered ample time for recreation. Yet the girls prefer this life to domestic service. They think it more "genteel" to be a barmaid than a servant. They are seldom allowed to sit down, and they say if they might only have sliding seats to draw back from the bar-rather high, so that they could rest without appearing to sit-they would be less often on the doctor's books. But their employers, with a few exceptions, will not hear of this. It is impossible for any manageress, be she (as the girls say) "ever so much of a cat," to watch all that goes on at the bar. So the girls cheat the customers if they dare not cheat their employers ; and many an innocent customer swallows "waste" while the barmaid drinks his order for spirits. "Waste" is whatever is left in the glasses. This is, by order of the employers, put into the glass measures behind the bar. Each measure has a colour white for brandy, blue for gin, green for whisky, and red for rum. The " waste" is kept in the measures and served to the customers, for, as the girls say, "We wouldn't touch that muck." So the customers swallow "waste" and the girls drink their orders for spirits. Barmaids have other ways of getting more than their legitimate ten-pennyworth; but they dare not water the spirits, for if they did, it would certainly be found out. Barmaids are obliged to put up with a great deal, for if they call in a policeman they are generally bound to charge some one, and this brings disgrace on the business. So they wink at many things, and try to keep their customers in good humour, merely making a few slight objections when a man jumps across the bar to give them a kiss, or wishes to act as an amateur hairdresser. Among barmaids there are of course many fast girls, as there are everywhere else; but all who know them well are aware that a large number of them are quiet, modest women, who work hard, who neither flirt nor drink. But they must make themselves agreeable, or they are dismissed, and sometimes at a moment's notice. Many managers will only have girls who flirt. Again and again we have heard of girls turned away because they arc too steady; and of others who are dismissed because managers think it well to exhibit new faces. "Men get tired of always seeing the same women at the bar," and managers wish to please their customers. It is not the same everywhere, but in the greater number of places fast girls are preferred, and no questions are asked about what they do when away from the bar - where they get their smart clothes and jewellery. Drinking is the fatal sin of barmaids. They are surrounded by temptations; their hours are long, and their food is bad. It is difficult for them to resist spirits. "We are most of us half-seas over when we go to bed," said a barmaid who lives in a well-known restaurant. Employers do not seem to have any conscience about barmaids. The public ignore them altogether, if we except the hangers-on, who pester them with inane compliments, and the fast men, who decoy them to their ruin.

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