Sunday 4 March 2012

Diaghilev and Lady Ripon

I had a sudden thought this morning, early before I had even properly awakened.

I had a sudden sense of proximity to czarist Russia. A strange thought to have, perhaps, but then of course we all are the result of history, and so perhaps it is no surprise that sometimes we feel as if we are much closer to distant historic events or personages.

My sudden realisation this morning was that over the last couple of days, I don't quite remember where, I had heard it mentioned that Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe had been brought to London thanks to the patronage of someone that I had recently pause to come to know about. I hadn't quite realised that she was such an important patron of the arts, as I had come to know whom she was in a rather different context.

I remember reading about Diaghilev many years ago, and being fascinated at the way in which his company of dancers had been so radical in their approach to dance and choreography.

Modern ballet and dance still owes a great deal to the work of this company, which visited England very early in the 20th century. The Ballet Russes came to London in 1911, where I believe the patron behind that visit was Lady Ripon. This is supported by the existence in the library of Harvard University in the United States of scrapbooks created by Lady Ripon of dancers from the ballet.

Sadly, Lady Ripon died in 1917, many years before the death of Diaghilev in 1929. This was when the ballet was disbanded, although many of its artists, including perhaps the most famous male dancer of that century. Vasily Nijinsky, toured in America only briefly before Nijinsky stopped dancing in 1919, when he entered a sanatorium in Switzerland suffering from schizophrenia. Nijinsky died in 1950, and although initially buried in London, after three years he was reburied in Paris.

My connection with Diaghilev and his ballet is very slight, but it seems that Lady Ripon as a great patron of the arts was responsible for bringing that company to London in 1911. Lady Ripon is the person to whom my recent special edition of my first collection of poems is respectfully dedicated, since she had also been significantly involved with the Establishment in 1915 of the George V Hospital in London, which was the first point of rehabilitation and healing for thousands of wounded soldiers from the Great War.

A bust of Lady Ripon stands in one of the hallways of the present hospital, which relocated to Worthing where I live in 1933.

Although she died sadly in 1917, she is still respectfully remembered for her critical involvement in the foundation of this Hospital, and of the development of the policies by which it operated then, and no doubt still operates today.

My involvement is simply that my first collection of poems, 50 x 50 - Useful Poetry For Troubled Times - is to be sold in a special edition by the Hospital as a fundraising means.

This is a great honour indeed for me, as I am unable to earn any  royalties from sales, and in any case it is likely that the sales of my poetry will be that much greater by its association with such a worthy cause.

The current hospital is an extraordinary model of quality care, and it is the home to servicemen aged between 22 and 100. As I live just across the road from the Hospital, I have attended the past two Summers open days, on doing it I have met with history by meeting with Dame Vera Lynn, who is a great supporter of the hospital.

It is this meeting which I think gave me the confidence to even consider offering my volume of poetry as a potential fundraising tool, because I included an essay about my meeting with Dame Vera Lynn in the hardback edition of my poems, a copy of which has been included within the County Council's prestigious Local History Collection thanks to the importance of the Hospital and of Dame Vera Lynn to the history of the County.

By being made part of that Local History Collection my poems are now rubbing shoulders with works by Shelley, Kipling, and Balzac.

Undoubtedly, it is reflected glory in which I am basking. But if sales of my poetry do as intended for the Hospital, and all proceeds from sales will be donated to the Hospital, it won't do my reputation any harm at all.

And so, since the dancers of Diaghilev's ballet came from the Russian czar's own patronage of ballet in Russia, it seems as if I have discovered that I am strangely intertwined in the threads of history.

Of course, anyone that subscribes to the idea that we are all inevitably connected in the great Chain Of Being will not find this at all surprising.

It is just rather wonderful to realise that without consciously realising it when I made the dedication in my special edition to be used by the hospital, I had absolutely no knowledge of the extent of Lady Ripon's engagement with the arts.

This feels particularly satisfactory to me, since when I was able to work, I worked within the professional arts, never as an artist, but rubbing shoulders with some of the finest musicians and composers of this and the last century.

I will include in this entry for my blog the link to where my special edition can be viewed online at no cost, and indeed from where it can be purchased, and thus support the Queen Alexandra Hospital Home for Soldiers in Worthing. A very worthy cause indeed.

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