Ballet With Red Flags

I

THE curtain was scheduled to rise at twelve noon. By eleven-thirty, Emily and I were in our seats in Row 2 of the Mariensky Theatre, in Leningrad; for perhaps the only thing that takes place on schedule in Russia is curtain rising.

Emily was a Russian girl, supplied by Intourist as my interpreter; she had been with me a month and we had traveled up from Moscow together. She was twentythree, a graduate of the Moscow University, and an intensely Soviet citizen — so intensely Socialist, indeed, that I had been daily tempted to wring her neck because she refused to believe that my American mode of daily life did not consist in sitting like a great spider, sucking the blood of our exploited workers.

This morning, however, Emily and I were somehow pleased with one another. Obviously, there was not another tourist in the theatre; Emily had been smart to get us invited, and she knew it. This was the dress rehearsal of Partisan Days, the new Soviet ballet, and it was a historic occasion. For the first time in two hundred years, the orthodox, classic Leningrad Ballet Corps (once the Imperial Ballet) was to come down off its points, drape its muscular legs in native costume, and dance a full ballet of folk music.

The fact of the spectacle’s being staged in the old Mariensky Theatre made it the more dramatic, because nothing in Russia is less modern than the Mariensky. High above our heads swung the great crystal chandelier; around its base, painted nymphs pranced elegantly across the ceiling. Our seats were armchairs, upholstered in handsome damask that had faded a lovely, sentimental blue; the (once) Imperial Box was draped in tasseled curtains of the same color. Curly gilt woodwork was lavish everywhere. It was all nostalgic of vanished days, of Sleeping Beauty waltzes, — Rubinstein, Meyerbeer, — of roses flung to adored Italian prima donnas. Only two nights ago I had seen Tchaikowsky’s Swan Lake danced here, and a marvelous thing the Ballet Corps had made of it — an illusion so dreamy and delicious it had been impossible to believe oneself in the harsh, deadly serious world of the U. S. S. R.

‘Nothing Marxian about this place,’ I said incautiously now, to Emily. ‘I love it. I just love it.’

‘Wait,’ she replied, ‘until the curtain rises! To-day you will see no pretty fairy tale.’

I muttered that I knew it, and she need n’t suppose I was going to be taken in by any more Socialist theatre propaganda. Had n’t I gone to the movies every single afternoon in Moscow and seen a whole month of propaganda films? Pretty good films, I had to admit, but, after so much blood and thunder, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty and Onegin had been a relief.

Nevertheless, I was secretly as worked up as anybody over what was to take place this morning. Partisan Days was, I knew, a drama that touched the actual life of every person in the theatre; it was the story of those mad, tragic days at the outbreak of the Revolution in 1917. It was a drama to be danced fervently, or danced not at all. Would the Ballet Corps be able to come down off its skillful, pretty points, emotionally as well as technically?

The theatre was tense, restless. This was an audience of professional artists, — actors, writers, painters, — all of whom were familiar with the libretto of Partisan Days and the controversy that had raged concerning it. The composers of the ballet were here too; from time to time before the overture began, one of them crossed the wooden plank from stage to pit. I watched them curiously — so like, yet so unlike their Broadway counterparts: Asafiev, composer of the music, better known in America by his pen name of Cliebov, middle-aged, baldheaded, his stocky person neatly dressed and necktied; Vasili Vainonen, the young choreographer, small and wild-haired, quick-moving; Dmitriev, author of the libretto and décor, tall, pale, and welldressed, with the stamp of the theatre somehow plain upon him. All of them had that dress-rehearsal look of not having slept for weeks.

All, that is, but Vaganova. Vaganova, pivot of this theatrical battle, sat up in the Director’s box, looking anything but nervous. The only woman choreographer in Russia to-day, decorated by the Government for distinguished work, she has a tremendous following. It was her arrangement of Swan Lake I had seen the other night; she had sent us our tickets for Partisan Days. Everyone knew she had been a solo dancer in the Imperial Ballet, and as such belonged heart and soul to the classic school of dancing. Her presence to-day showed she had not opposed Partisan Days, but what did she really think of it? Would n’t she hate seeing ‘her girls’ in long skirts with fringed Georgian shawls over their heads, and never a fouetté tournant in the whole performance? Everyone watched her now, sitting so straight in her black satin dress and smart tiny white hat, poised as always.

II

Overture. . . . I relaxed into the comfortable, pre-Revolutionary curves of my chair. Why, this was no modern music, shocking one’s muscles into stiffness! Here were no trombones discordant, no shrill economy of horizontal line. Here was melody, supported from below by comfortable, familiar harmony.

‘Emily!’ I whispered. ‘It’s not new at all. It’s Rimsky, all over again.’

‘The composer Asafiev,’ said Emily, stiffly, ‘is a scholar as well as a patriot. Have we not just finished translating two of his books?’

We had, ten minutes before we left the hotel this morning. Sitting in the theatre, however, I had caught the infection of excitement until I had expected revolution from the orchestra as well as from the Ballet Corps. Asafiev’s music certainly was n’t startling, but then a Soviet audience does not desire ‘modern’ or striking effects in music; the national taste in music is far less sophisticated than its taste in theatre. Planning to introduce a propaganda ballet, the Direction had been astute in choosing a conservative composer who could write easy, singable tunes.

Curtain. . . . Here is the ordinary market-place scene of Russian opera, with the people dancing. Cossacks in smart black-and-white, in khaki-andred, girls in graceful Georgian costume, helmeted White Russian officers, and the simple, ubiquitous Russian soldier in blouse and old boots. It is the eve of Nastia’s wedding; celebrations have already begun. Nastia’s betrothed, his Cossack curl over his left brow, his Cossack fur hat at an evil tilt, soon manifests his Georgian temperament when Nastia dances with Kerim, the hero.

Nothing modern about this, either, I tell myself. Peasants, jealous Cossack — why, I’ve seen it fifty times in New York City.

I look at Emily, but Emily is leaning forward, watching the stage. She is waiting for something.

The dancing ceases abruptly as officers appear, swords clanking. Their boots are shiny, their hats are plumed, and one of them carries a banner. Emily draws her breath sharply. ‘Look!’ she says. ‘The eagle! ’

The eagle! The theatre stirs restlessly. Here in Leningrad, doorways and walls are defaced where, in fury and hatred, the eagle has been torn away. It is not permitted to look upon that Imperial emblem. . . . The officers carry placards which they tack to the house walls, and on the placards the black eagle spreads its wings. . . . Instantly the stage is divided. Kerim, with his crowd of peasants and workers, backs away from the placards, to the left. Nastia is dragged reluctantly to the right and stands under the eagle with her father, her betrothed, and the Tsarist officers and supporters. With a fling of his great hairy black cloak, Kerim steps forward, tears the eagle to the ground, and dances defiance.

‘ Ah-h-h! ’ says Emily, her hand clutching my arm, and ‘Ah-h-h!’ breathes the whole audience.

The music quickens, the curtain falls, rising instantly. Across a backdrop of jagged white Caucasian mountains, against a darkening red sky, six horsemen thunder by in single file, their Cossack cloaks flying, their hoofbeats pounding. And the foremost horseman carries a red flag.

At sight of that flag, something extraordinary happens to me, something that turns all my reasoning power to dust. I am no Communist; with all my heart I believe in democracy. Yet that crimson banner tells me a people has risen, 150,000,000 strong — a people that for two thousand years, mute, illiterate, has doggedly endured, too ignorant to plead a cause, too despairing even to dream a flag. . . . And now they ride united, and their leader carries a red banner. . . . The Revolution has begun.

Strange that to-day I cannot remember if the sound that stirred me so was hoofbeats alone, or if the orchestra played full tilt. I know only that hoofbeats pounded to the very roof, that suddenly the curtain fell, lights flared, and here was I, a bourgeoise woman from a hated capitalist country, on my feet and yelling, with both arms tight around Emily and tears streaming down my cheeks.

III

The whole theatre was on its feet. . . . ‘Let’s go find Vaganova,’ Emily said, and had barely said it when Vaganova, having made some magic, instantaneous transportation of herself from box to aisle, was upon us. Tears were in her eyes. ‘Dozens of times I have seen this ballet,’ she said in French. ‘And every time I weep. But you, from a capitalist country, why do you weep?’

She looked at me, and Emily looked at me. ‘Because it’s a good show!’ I cried joyfully. ‘Because the horsemen, the dancing—that flag — Emily!’ I finished helplessly. ‘Say it for me in Russian.’

Vaganova smiled; my speech seemed to need no interpretation. We walked up the aisle; before we reached the artists’ room we were surrounded; everyone wanted to know what Vaganova thought and, because I was an American, everyone wanted to know what I thought. Was I moved? Did this Revolutionary drama make itself felt to a bourgeoise? ‘A couple more acts,’ said I, ‘and if Partisan Days holds up to its promise, I shan’t be a bourgeoise. I shall be as Red as any of you.’

They laughed. In Moscow such a remark would not have been well received; this was May, just before the last purge, and with purges in the air Moscow does not joke on political subjects. But Leningrad is five hundred miles from the Kremlin, and, while these people were ardent Communists, they were also artists.

A tall, thin young man in the last stages of exhaustion came up. I recognized him as Vladimir Dmitriev. His wife introduced him. ‘He has n’t slept for three months,’ she said. ‘ He’s afraid to smile until after the second act.’

Vladimir looked at me with extreme indifference, declared he understood no word of French, German, or English, lit a cigarette from the stub of his old one, and turned away. ‘We can sleep in the Crimea,’ his wife explained. ‘We go on vacation next week, before we take the ballet to Moscow. Is n’t it wonderful that Vaganova approves? We were so afraid of her! She could have wrecked the whole thing with a word. Do you want to meet the Première Ballerina? No, not the one who is dancing Nastia to-day. That’s Kaminskaya. She’s good, too, but we’re saving Anisimova for the opening to-morrow night. That’s Anisimova, sitting over by the wall — the one with smooth black hair and the red fur. . . . She can run across the whole stage without rising an inch between steps. You know that glide, the famous Georgian step the women do while the men dance? ’

Vaganova broke in. ‘Our girls were dreadfully afraid of that glide. They almost mutinied. Classic ballet has nothing approaching that step, and my girls have been trained to certain routine postures for eight, ten years before they dance in public. They said what a terrible humiliation it would be if the Leningrad Ballet, with all its famous technique, should fail in a step every Georgian peasant woman could do. . . . Actually, they did n’t succeed with the step at first.’

‘And then,’ finished Vladimir’s wife (Vladimir, looking more exhausted than ever, was watching us gloomily from a corner through cigarette smoke), ‘we imported a Georgian woman from the Caucasus and she made the girls do it. My husband and Vainonen, the choreographer, spent a long time in Georgia, learning the dances and watching the people.’

I asked Vladimir’s wife bluntly why her husband looked so gloomy when it was evident his ballet was a roaring success.

She shook her head. ‘To-day does not count. The audience are all our friends. To-morrow night will be the test, when the professional critics are here, and the old balletomanes. These balletomanes know every posture and sequence of classic ballet. You have no idea how they hate anything that threatens their tradition. They will be ready to tear us to pieces.’

Looking at Vaganova, I wondered at her obvious pleasure and enthusiasm over her friends’ success. If this kind of dancing proved popular, what would happen to her job? When Vaganova’s attention was elsewhere engaged, I put this question to Vladimir’s wife. She replied instantly that classic ballet was too well entrenched in Russia to fear any rival whatever. Classic ballet had held its own right through the Revolution; all its teachers were ex-dancers from the Imperial Ballet Corps. Partisan Days had not been composed with any idea of overthrowing the classic ballet. Merely, certain young writers and choreographers had been dissatisfied with the gap between classic ballet and modern Soviet philosophy (in Russia I never heard an artist use the word ‘ Marxian ’). These young artists yearned to bridge this gap, to see the ballet expressing those principles that burn so bright in every Socialist patriot’s breast.

Propaganda again, I thought. Art as propaganda — and opposition began to stir uneasily under my silk bosom. It was a silk bosom because Emily had cautioned me to wear my best dress to-day. She had been right; everyone was dressed — and smartly dressed, which was to me almost more of a surprise than the ballet itself. Some of the women wore long dinner dresses and little feathered evening hats, and wore them well. This was an actor-dancer crowd, the one and only well-dressed crowd of the U. S. S. R. Performing artists — dancers, actors, virtuoso musicians — are lavishly paid in rubles. Next to bread, the theatre is the chief nourishment of the Russian nation. Bread and the circus! — the Kremlin is not slow to profit by the lessons of history.

Ironically enough, the very fact that Vladimir’s wife was lipsticked, powdered, and well mannered took the sting from her words. Communist ardor does n’t alter theatre people, I thought, in quite the same extrinsic way it alters the ordinary citizen. It does n’t, at least, persuade theatre people to leave their hair unbrushed and their neckties on the bedpost. Also, what matters it if a drama is propaganda, provided it is good enough theatre?

But what I had begun to wonder, now that my senses had returned, was whether this ballet-drama could possibly hold to its promise. After all, I had seen but one act. Even if Partisan Days held its high note of suspense through two or three more acts, could I hold mine? Would my emotional powers be equal to such sustained response? Russians, I well knew, could weep and cheer and heart-throb through five solid hours of theatre and come out ready to talk about it till breakfast time, but I was no Russian — I was a middle-aged AngloSaxon woman from Pennsylvania.

IV

Emily and I returned to our seats, ‘Emily,’ I said, ‘is there any chance of there being something funny in the next two acts? Will there possibly be a little moment of what we learned in school to call comic relief?’

Emily gave me a look. Hastily I explained that I had merely asked because she knew that way I had of getting tired, sometimes, at the theatre; after the first four hours, I meant — owing, of course, to my bourgeois habit of looking for pleasure instead of significance. . . . Emily had often told me I should never be able to eradicate this habit — even more deleterious, she had said, than my constant desire for luxuries such as orange juice.

The curtain rose, and in two minutes my doubts as to interest were stilled. Here was the wedding scene of Nastia and her bad-tempered Tsarist Cossack. . . . Grouped in a wide semicircle are the bridesmaids and young men of the wedding party; to the right, downstage, Nastia’s future parents-in-law stand waiting. Opposite, to the extreme left, Nastia, in her wedding gown, leaves her frowning, suspicious bridegroom and advances across the stage. In her outstretched hands is the cup from which, when her husband’s parents have tasted, she will drink in pledge of wifehood. Her face stony, her body rigid, she advances slowly, rhythmically, gives the cup to the old people, watches them fill it and drink, receives the cup from them — and, instead of drinking, glides backward, the brimming cup in her outstretched hands, gazing fixedly at it. The music quickens and the girl’s motion quickens with it until she is actually running backward.

She travels thus all round the semicircle, moving with incredible smoothness, a pantomime wonderfully expressive of reluctance and horror. Then she tears off her bridal veil and flings it to the ground; her furious bridegroom threatens her. Kerim bursts in with his Red Partisans, — diversely costumed as any Minute Men, — and under his great hairy cloak carries off the bride while a sailor Partisan threatens the wedding party with a hand grenade and the orchestra whips itself to what Asafiev considers battle frenzy.

Curtain. . . . Nastia is a Red Partisan now, and we are not surprised when she strides into the next scene carrying a rifle and arrayed in highly becoming Cossack hat, short black skirt, cartridge belt and boots. At an open-air café sit a group of pre-Revolutionary bourgeoisie, looking hard and haughty, drinking champagne and waltzing while a string band plays in the pavilion. . . . The Partisan Reds are, for the moment, off stage. A woman glides in, blonde, sheathed in black satin, with the slit skirt and white fox far traditional of her rôle. ‘A prostitute!’ whispers Emily, with obvious relish.

Soviet citizens never use any word less statistical for this ancient profession. Rightfully proud of the abolishment of prostitution, the Comrades discuss the question endlessly; the daily papers are padded with autobiographies of reformed prostitutes who have turned themselves joyfully into girl scout leaders or market gardeners. This one, upon entrance, went immediately into a writhing, slow dance, while the bourgeois devils gathered round applauding her.

Head-shakings and ‘tch-tchs’ of disapproval issued from the seat next to me. Experience told me I was about to hear from Emily. She was going to ask me why capitalist countries permitted such goings on, and I stiffened for my usual somewhat muddled defense of democracy, when, mercifully, a shot was fired downstage, the Partisans charged on to the scene, and Emily’s disapproval changed to purrs of victory. The bourgeoisie cleared from the stage; the Partisans did a stamping Cossack dance of joy and retreated to their campfires.

And now the slit-skirted blonde slinks back upon the stage, alone and terrified, pursued by two hoodlums — neither Red nor White — who are after her fur scarf and jewels. Emily grasps my arm. ‘That bad woman!’ she says, quite loudly. ‘You see, neither side wants her! She is quite, quite deserted.’

Obviously, Emily is convinced that I am on the prostitute’s side, if nobody else is. Before I can unravel a suitable argument, Nastia bounds downstage, waving her gun. A bandit is a bandit, no matter whom he is after, and Nastia threatens the two of them. They resist and Kerim rushes out, fights the bandits, and stabs one of them dead.

This seems to me a suitable time for applause, but Emily restrains me. Kerim’s captain is striding downstage, furious because a Red Partisan has thus taken the law in his own hands. In skillful, splendid pantomime (Red or White, who can rival a Russian actor for pantomime?), the captain chides Kerim, lectures him on law and order, tells him the bandit should have been brought to trial, and demands Kerim’s sword as token of submission.

‘So!’ says Emily. ‘ That is discipline! And in capitalist countries they say the Red Army goes about stabbing and burning!’

But Kerim is not so easily cowed. He thrusts his sword back in its scabbard, throws his hat on the ground, and dances on it in a fury of rage. ‘Georgians are ter-r-ible men!’ says Emily, delighted. ‘I have seen Georgians dance on their hats like that. In Tiflis, in the street, when they were angry.’

I tell Emily with a sigh that her Soviet reactions are just too complicated for me, but I soon forget Emily because I am sorry for Kerim. He is defying his captain; he is going to desert the Reds, and no good can come of it. He runs off stage just as the Comrades, breaking camp, prepare to march. Nastia, with a despairing look after her lover, falls in line with the Partisans, but her captain takes her arm kindly. ‘Kerim is no deserter. Go after him, Nastia, and bring him back to us.’

With a beautiful run and a Ballet Corps bound, Nastia is off to join her lover. She follows a wrong scent, and Kerim, returning alone, is captured by the Whites; Nastia creeps on the stage in time to see her lover led struggling off to jail and execution.

V

Curtain on the Second Act. . . . Emily and I rise to promenade with the crowd.

‘This is exciting,’ I tell Emily. ‘This is what I call a darn good story.’

Emily, who is small and slim, with curly brown hair and soft blue eyes, looks severe. She says the story is not at all important. ‘What happens to Kerim and Nastia is not important. Their loyalty to the Revolution is important. Did you not see how, when Kerim deserted, Nastia prepared to follow the Partisans rather than her lover?’

Arrived at the artists’ room, I was about to repeat my provocative bourgeois remark when Vladimir’s wife anticipated me by declaring quickly that in writing the libretto of Partisan Days her husband had been especially careful to make Kerim and Nastia’s story only an incident to the real plot, which was the story of the Revolution itself. ‘Had we made it a mere personal love story, it would have been oldfashioned,’ she said.

Vladimir’s wife was, obviously, an intelligent woman. Moreover, she was well dressed and worldly, far more worldly than Emily. I looked hard at her, but I should have known better than to suspect irony. Four weeks in the Soviet Union should have taught me better.

‘It’s a good story, anyway,’ I said, and Vladimir’s wife smiled.

Vaganova came up, bringing Chistakiov, director of the Ballet School, who had shown me through the School several days before. The two of them were concerned, just now, because not long ago an American had told them New York thought of the Monte Carlo Ballet, the old Diaghilev Ballet, as the Russian Ballet.

‘This is most unfair,’ said Vaganova. ‘America should know that the old Russian Ballet has been carried straight on without a break, into our Soviet Ballet Corps. I danced solo in the Imperial Ballet and I can swear to you ’ — her steady blue eyes were very convincing — ‘ that our Soviet Ballet has not lost one point in technique from the old days.’

Chistakiov broke in with a polite bow. (What a relief, these bows of the older generation, after the pushings and shovings of the Comrades!) ‘You saw our School, you talked with Ulanova’s mother, who was a graduate of the Imperial Ballet School. I heard her tell you how she obtained her diploma in less than eight years, whereas today the School demands ten years of study before a pupil is ready for the stage.’

‘Our audience of to-day demands a wider technique,’ Vaganova said. ‘Life to-day demands it.’

This was a comparison I was not qualified to make, so I merely replied that New York would love Partisan Days. Why did n’t they bring the Ballet over next winter? Everybody smiled, and shrugged. ‘The ruble—’ they began, and stopped short.

The ruble is an embarrassing subject, internationally speaking. No patriot likes to be reminded that his money is worthless outside the border. I said hastily that I was so glad their famous violinist, David Oistrakh, winner of the Brussels contest, was coming to America next winter, and they assented eagerly as the bell sounded for Act Three.

The village square again, with Kerim jailed in a whitewashed hut downstage left. Nastia appears, scouting cautiously into this stronghold of the enemy. She meets her mother and her old friends; a whispering crowd surrounds and hides her. As the hour draws near for Kerim’s execution, Nastia harangues the mob in pantomime. From out Kerim’s cell his friend, the simple Russian soldier who has followed him throughout the story, is led off to be shot. Kerim’s mother weeps, pleading for her son; the Whites abuse her and the crowd mutters.

The body of the Russian soldier is carried in and flung at the feet of the crowd; Kerim appears, manacled between guards. Led by Nastia, the mob charges, captures the jail, strikes the chains off Kerim, and the stage is once more a stamping whirl of victory, with Kerim and Nastia doing a Cossack sword dance in the centre. Suddenly, to a roll of drums there appears, marching thirty abreast over the rim of the hill backstage, the real Red Army come down from the north, fully uniformed and equipped. Helmets, boots, guns, banners — first symbol of the establishment of a central Red authority, first proof to the people that their Revolution is something more than hopeless guerrilla warfare. Red banners massed, to martial music, the Army marches downstage, straight at the audience.

Curtain. The ballet is over.

VI

Emily and I rose and walked up the aisle, out of the shouting crowd and the gilt and the faded blue damask, past the busts of Mozart and Rubinstein and Wagner, down the marble stairs and across the street to fight for standing room on our trolley. Hanging to my strap, propped on either side by Comrades, I told Emily dreamily — with the spell of the ballet still upon me — that the red of the Soviet flag was the most gorgeous color in the world, and the most exciting. What a superb ending for a ballet! All those blood-red banners massed and marching downstage. . . . Even though it was an old trick. Why, our own beloved Mr. Cohan owed his first successes to flag waving! Only, I went on incautiously, his flag happened to be red, white, and blue. . . .

Emily cut across my words with cold, controlled fury. ‘A play and a spectacle and a story!’ she said. ‘That is all Partisan Days meant to you! For me — for us — it was something more. Our flag is not only a beautiful color. It is the symbol of our Socialist State. Of our Socialist victory. It is—’

The strap to which I was clinging broke, the trolley swerved, and I crashed backward into several Comrades, who neither picked me up nor smiled at my fall. They merely gazed indifferently while I picked myself up and apologized.

A fast argument had already started between the woman conductor and the man I had landed on hardest, who desired the strap mended at once, before I fell on him again.

‘Come!’ said Emily. ‘In two blocks we descend.’

She knew it would require two blocks for me to elbow my way to the front exit, although she herself could do it in half a block. ‘Americans are so slow in the tram,’ she had told me when I first showed silly Western reluctance about using my elbows. ‘How do you get out of trams in your own country?’

This time, flailing to right and left, I kept abreast of Emily and we landed, breathless but together, on the wide square across from the dark bulk that was Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.

‘All the same,’ I repeated stubbornly, ‘the ballet was a marvelous spectacle. The décor and dancing could be equaled nowhere outside of Russia.’

Emily got ready to tell me how in a Socialist State the décor is always marvelous, because the theatre direction need not consider money, nor pander to gate receipts. I could feel her getting ready.

‘Look here!’ I shouted. ‘All through that ballet I was just as excited over your Revolution as you were. And that’s a more generous confession than you’d ever make to me under like circumstances, young woman! But Partisan Days is n’t modern — not from the artistic point of view. It’s the Revolution, sure enough, but it’s done in the old romantic tradition, and every bar of the music is nineteenth century. And it has too many mass scenes and too much business about Forward, Comrades! A person gets exhausted long before the final climax.’

To my surprise, Emily nodded assent. ‘But it got across,’ I went on, rapidly, before she could speak. ‘Partisan Days proved something. I know now why you cried when we walked through Lenin’s tomb. I know why you stop dead in the street every time we sight a detachment of Red soldiers. I did n’t know before we saw Partisan Days.’

Emily looked almost gratified — not fully gratified, because that would have been too yielding a gesture for a Socialist patriot. It would have been, indeed, positively treasonable. I was, however, genuinely moved by what I had seen and heard, and desired to say so. ‘It’s one thing,’ I continued, ‘to be convinced intellectually. It’s another thing — and a high sight more important — to be convinced emotionally. Art as propaganda — ’

I stopped; a sudden thought stopped me. ‘Those men in the row in front of us,’ I said, ‘those four men. They did n’t look like artists. Emily, is it possible they were from Moscow, from the Government? Was that the Kremlin, come up to see what’s what with the Ballet Corps?’

With her hand on the revolving door of the Hotel Astoria, Emily turned and looked up at me. The gleam had come back to her eye; I recognized it and clamped my teeth against inevitable, customary defeat.

‘Comrade Stalin,’ said Emily softly, ‘is not a stupid man.’