Cyril Beaumont

Cyril Beaumont

Cyril Beaumont - photo used with permission by Raffaello Bencini
Cyril Beaumont – photo used with permission by Raffaello Bencini

This article written by Clement Crisp, ballet critic of the Financial Times, London, first appeared in the souvenir programme of the Cecchetti Society’s 70th Anniversary Gala, August 1, 1992.

He was always known as Mr. Beaumont. There were few senior colleagues who might say “Cyril”, but Mr. Beaumont’s eminence, his natural and unaffected dignity, meant that – in a world where dancers were blithely called by their first names by people who had never met them – Mr. Beaumont was “Mr. Beaumont”.

And his shop in the Charing Cross Road was his shrine. In the 1940s and ’50s, when I used to go there to buy and happily browse, it was like an Aladdin’s cave for a balletomane. Here one sensed something of Beaumont’s range, as a publisher, bookseller, writer and most significantly since this was the theme of all his work, as educator. Ballet has known many great teachers – codifiers of technique, inspirers of dancers, figures to whom performers owed their careers. A list of them will go from Auguste Vestris, Blasis and Bournonville to Cecchetti and Vaganova. Cyril Beaumont’s name must be placed among them, for he it was who educated dancers and choreographers and the general public through his researches, his publications, his commentaries as a critic and observer. Without The Complete Book of Ballets and its appendices, ballet’s past would have remained a closed door to many thousands of writers and critics, so that taste and understanding would have been poorer. Even today, after 55 years, it remains an essential reference work – and, be it said, few writers about ballet have proved so lasting and serious an influence for good, or have shone a light that has penetrated so far and for so long in illuminating the dark ignorance and misunderstanding.

And today – especially today – if one wants to find precise detail about a production, long gone and forgotten, Mr. Beaumont’s commentary, as a critic or historian, will provide the facts and some measured judgement that has usually been proven correct by history itself. When Mary Clarke and I started writing our first book together 20 years ago, our repeated cry when in doubt about a staging or some minor matter of decoration or performance was “Look it up in Beaumont”. Our debt was constant, and as we finished the text we realised that we had to dedicate it to Mr. Beaumont, for without him we should have been lost. (That we dedicated it also to Arnold Haskell may serve as an acknowledgement that, like Beaumont, Haskell was a great educator, an inspirer, a communicator of a passion and an enthusiasm for ballet that touched every reader).

The list of Beaumont’s writings is extraordinary in its diversity as in its monumental scale (see web sites). His awareness of what needed to be done – translating Rameau, Noverre and Gautier; preserving and setting down Maestro Cecchetti’s method; surveying the history of ballet, its creators, decorators, interpreters – was allied also to his devotion to the art as it was in his time, where his criticism, his advocacy of Diaghilev’s work (of which he is the most sound and trustworthy observer) and his concern with design, all marked his generous and unsparing desire to fix an evanescent art for posterity. His judgements on ballets, old and new, were always measured, scrupulous, and essentially generous, and – blessed gift – he communicated what he saw without fuss. And however shocking or innovative a choreographer might suppose he had been, Beaumont would find antecedents, historical parallels, that would put modishness in its place.

His one involvement with ballet on practical terms – the short lived Cremorne Ballet – was a failure, but it indicated that even in the 1920s Beaumont was concerned with the idea of English ballet. His devotion to the idea of a national ballet can be seen on the most immediate terms of his work – his publications, in his support for the Cecchetti Society, he was guiding its future by word and deed.

Because of his longevity, Beaumont seemed one of the immutable points in the volatile world of ballet. When at last he had to close his shop at 75 Charing Cross Road in 1965 – after 55 years – it seemed as if something eternal had been lost. But Mr. Beaumont himself – hair en brosse; with his wing collar and brown suit, eyes brightly watchful – was there, the most unlikely looking of pioneers, still quietly passionate about ballet. It was fascinating to talk to him, and to realise how much of our artistic education was owed to him. He had seen Diaghilev’s Ballet in its early, golden years, and had charted the history of the Ballet Russe. He had recorded the rise of our national ballet with a generous pen. He had published beautiful editions, and in everything had maintained an equable temperament, devoting his energies to serving Terpsichore. He was a man discreetly great in his achievements, and if today our ballet-goers are well educated, and our dancers know about Cecchetti’s teaching method and the history of their art, then Mr. Beaumont had a crucial part in making this happen.

Extract from a Fellowship essay written by Susan Handy, F.I.S.T.D. Cecchetti Faculty
Cyril William Beaumont was born in London, England in 1891. He was first sent to school at the age of eight and in 1903, aged 13, to the Stainers’ Company’s School with a view to becoming a research chemist. Turning his attention to books on theatre he began to frequent Charing Cross Road, more especially the shop of Neumayer and Godwin which specialised in the books of Beardsley and literature of the 1890s. A special edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, printed on hand-made paper, bound in white buckram, with a cover of a medallion design stamped in gold and specially ordered from a glossy catalogue of the publishers Methuen, ignited a small flame. He had twice sat the Matriculation but failed in several subjects, and incurred the displeasure of his father; it was then made very clear that he must decide what he wanted to do with his life. The flame kindled by the special edition of Oscar Wilde had developed into a great love of books and writing and it was then that he realised that to become a bookseller was the answer to his indecision. This plan was endorsed by an off chance visit in 1910 to Charing Cross Road where he learnt that No.75 was to become vacant. Neumayer and Godwin were parting company; Godwin wished to retire and Neumayer was crossing the Charing Cross Road to No.74. Mr. Beaumont called this a sudden unexpected turn in Fortune’s wheel. At first his father dismissed the idea of such a young man becoming an antiquarian bookseller as ludicrous but after consultations with Mr. Godwin, he bought the shop outright for his son and under the guidance of Mr. Godwin, which was to be for three months, Mr. Beaumont set up as a bookseller. One of the most significant pieces of advice Mr. Godwin gave him was to employ one Alice Mari Beha. She, having grown tired of being expected to help her mama with the household tasks, had first worked for a solicitor’s clerk with an interest in secondhand books, who employed her to look after his first shop off Chancery Lane and then in Clapham; he intended to go into partnership with Mr. Godwin. This did not materialise and instead Alice worked for Mr. Godwin until he sold the shop to Mr. Beaumont. Relations between the new owner and employee were rather cool to start with, but she had gained a good knowledge of book-keeping and commercial dealings and had information on second hand book keeping. A very important step she made was to encourage Mr. Beaumont to produce catalogues and develop the business through postal advertising. On the 10th of December 1914 she became Mrs. Cyril William Beaumont.

It was Alice, who earlier in April 1910, urged Mr. Beaumont to book tickets for a forthcoming performance which Anna Pavlova was giving at the Palace Theatre. She had seen Karsavina dance the year before at the Coliseum which had made a great impression on her. Despite her pleading, Mr. Beaumont chose not to go as he felt drama was his real interest, regarding ballet as a spectacle and not of great interest to him. However, his relationship with Alice grew more intimate, and when she begged him again to go and see Pavlova and Mordkin a year later, he relented. This proved to be the turning point in his relationship with the art of ballet. He describes in great detail the shock he suffered at being so moved by the dance. To quote “until that day I had no conception that dancing could rise to such heights of artistry” and he was amazed that his passions could be so stirred by the surge and rhythms of the movements of the dancers, their warmth and fire.

He had now become a complete balletomane. Missing the next two Diaghilev seasons, as he felt there was nothing that could match the performances of Pavlova and Mordkin but later realising that this was an unfortunate mistake on his part, he started attending performances at Covent Garden of Les Ballets Russes in June 1912. His vivid descriptions of all the many ballets he saw make intoxicating reading. How Diaghilev had displayed such vision and foresight in collecting and bringing together dancers, painters, composers, musicians of such calibre, resulting in performances that had momentous impact on the artistic world and on the world of ballet in particular, was a constant source of fascination to Mr. Beaumont.

It must not be forgotten that all this time the bookshop with Alice’s help was beginning to flourish. In 1917 Mr. Beaumont founded the Beaumont Press, which ran until 1931, and which specialised in producing fine books. The first publication was a volume of poems by John Drinkwater – he had previously enjoyed reading Drinkwater’s Cromwell – printed in black and red text, on hand made paper, bound in decorative boards and fawn buckram which sold for 10/6. Twenty copies printed on Japanese vellum and bound in full vellum signed by the author sold for two guineas. There followed more collections of poems by John Masefield, W.H.Davies, Edmund Blunden and John Drinkwater; plays by Joseph Conrad and Walter de la Mare; essays by Arthur Symons; letters to Oscar Wilde by Robert Moss and Madrigals and Chronicles; recently found poems of John Clare with a commentary by Edmund Blunden and, very importantly, illustrated by Randolphe Schwabe, one time head of the Slade School of Art. In his book, ‘Full Score’, Mr. Beaumont gives an account of the plans he had for the press and all the many difficulties which arose during the production of such beautiful volumes. How he overcame the many obstacles again shows elements of his character. The attention to detail, later to manifest itself in the writing of the Manual, the difficult choice of type face – Caslon Old Face – and a suitable design for the Press’ emblem, the use of hand made paper, pleasantly rough with a bluish/grey tinge, which authors and illustrators to approach, leads me to think of him in the same light as Diaghilev. He enthused artists, authors and craftsmen to come together to produce books that would give great delight to the eye and to touch the harmony that contributed to the greater enjoyment of reading.

With the love of ballet developing into a deep passion, together with his amazing memory and attention to detail, Mr. Beaumont began to write articles and books on dance; his many impressions of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes were published in The Dancing World. Woizikowsky gave him the mask he wore for the role of Pulcinella in Leonide Massine’s ballet of the same name. This inspired him to research into the world of commedia dell’arte, studying the origins and development of the character Harlequin. As a child he had always enjoyed the Harlequinade when it brought the Christmas pantomimes to a triumphant conclusion. The results of his research were published as articles in The Dancing Times in 1922. The Mask of Scaramouch by Angelo Constatini first published in 1695 equally captured his imagination. He translated ‘La Naissance, Vie et Mort de Scaramouche’ into English and published it himself in a limited edition in 1924.

Earlier, in 1918, he was taken by Lydia Lopokova, who had by then become a good friend, and with whom Mr. Beaumont enjoyed many witty and intelligent conversations, not only on dance, to watch a class given by Maestro Enrico Cecchetti with whom she took daily lessons. Cecchetti had been a senior member and ballet master of Les Ballets Russes. He had been a pupil of Giovanni Lepri who in his turn trained with Carlo Blasis. Blasis had written down his teaching methods in a book published in 1820. In a studio above 160 Shaftesbury Avenue a barre had been fixed to the wall and a changing room curtained off. Mr. Beaumont was received very graciously by Cecchetti and made to sit down on a chair set against the wall. He was fascinated by the class and impressed by the thought and care that Cecchetti took when dealing with the human body, encouraging it to undertake the demanding exercises needed to perfect the technique required for classical ballet. Having watched many more classes it began to concern Mr. Beaumont that none of the exercises designed by Cecchetti were documented in any way so, presumptuously, he thought he would undertake the task himself and thus preserve for posterity the Cecchetti Method of teaching dancing. He surprised Idzikowsky, a pupil of Cecchetti’s and a member of the company, by asking him to demonstrate to him the basic positions and exercises so that Mr. Beaumont could begin to annotate them. This was done in Idzikowsky’s rooms where the rail at the foot of the bed was used as a barre and there he would show Mr. Beaumont the many and varied exercises. Unfortunately the Company had to leave England for a foreign tour leaving Mr. Beaumont in full flow. He plucked up his courage to approach the Maestro himself and went to see him in his rooms in Wardour Street. He learnt from Cecchetti that he himself had already devoted a great deal of his time to recording his method of training, but one of his children had spilt ink over the entire work and Cecchetti had not had the will to write it down all over again; he had become depressed and had abandoned the task. He was delighted that Mr. Beaumont wanted to complete the work he had started with Idzikowsky and allowed Mr. Beaumont to call for him daily at his studio and work with him each evening for several hours. The sorting out of the technical notes took place the following morning. It proved to be a mammoth task for one who had never danced. He first set down the list of theory, i.e. the positions of head and arms, movements in dancing, positions of the body, the use of fixed points of the room, etc. and then asked a Dutch pupil of Cecchetti’s, Nellie Ferguson, to take the positions so that the various poses would then be correctly described. Cecchetti would often become irritated when asked to repeat movements again and again and would start to speak Italian instead of French, which Mr. Beaumont spoke fluently. After much persuasion Cecchetti agreed to pose in his underwear for the illustrations, which were to be undertaken by Rudolphe Schwabe, who had previously done the drawings for the Beaumont Press. Unfortunately there was a fuel shortage at that time, it was very cold and Cecchetti would complain bitterly. Mr. Beaumont had to obtain fuel for the fire and when the flames were suitably high, Cecchetti would take off his fur lined coat. Schwabe would record the pose and Mr.Beaumont would quickly put the coat back round Cecchetti’s shoulders. This was repeated many times until all was recorded. Lydia Lopokova demonstrated the pointe work and Mr. Beaumont posed for the head movements.

The Manual was completed in 1922, having engaged Mr. Beaumont for four years of hard work and taken him away from his family, friends and the business. It was eventually published as ‘A Manual of Classical Theatrical Dancing (Cecchetti Method)’ and was certainly the most comprehensive text-book to be published at that time and was to assert a profound influence on technical ballet training, world wide. Not content with producing the Manual, in which Allegro did not extend past the Elementary level, Mr. Beaumont decided that the more Advanced Allegro should also be recorded. Cecchetti had already departed for his native Italy so he sought the help of a friend and teacher Margaret Craske and another teacher Derra de Moroda. The new text book was compiled but not published until 1930. After publication, Mr. Beaumont felt that as the work had been committed to print, there should be some way of promoting the method he so admired and decided to found a society which could explain and propagate its merits to teachers and dancers. In 1922 he formed the Cecchetti Society with Maestro and Madame Cecchetti as president and vice president and various pupils of Cecchetti’s, some of them now teachers, as the founding committee. In 1923 when the Cecchettis moved back to Italy, Mr. Beaumont was elected Chairman of the Cecchetti Society. He loved children and initiated and delighted in the simple ceremony of giving those young dancers, who demonstrated the Cecchetti Method at I.S.T.D. Congresses, chocolates packed in the special pink cardboard boxes with the now famous Schwabe picture of the Maestro on the lid.

The Cecchetti Society became affiliated to the I.S.T.D. in 1924 and Mr. Beaumont was asked to edit the first issues of the Society’s Journal and held the post of Editor until his death. He was also official publisher to the I.S.T.D. The Society was expanding rapidly and Mr. Beaumont took infinite pains to become conversant with the work of the other branches; this, combining his business acumen, his clarity of thought and his infinite capacity for taking pains, and his skill in finding profitable venture for the financial side of the Society stood him in good stead when he was elected Chairman in 1958, a post he held until 1970.

In 1925, having seen so many performances of ballet and become more and more involved in the dance world, most particularly the world of Diaghilev, he felt he would like to form a company of his own, incidentally just before Marie Rambert, with British dancers. He approached Ninette de Valois and was confident she would prove to be an ideal collaborator, having gained experience from being a member of Les Ballets Russes, directing a small troupe of her own in touring engagements on the halls and knowing her, as a member of The Cecchetti Society Committee. Ninette de Valois turned down his offer, showing no enthusiasm for his ideas for the ballets and planning instead to accept an offer of position as ballet mistress at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Ireland. Mr. Beaumont then approached Margaret Craske, who had also appeared in Les Ballets Russes, studied with Cecchetti and with whom he had collaborated on the Allegro book. She was now teaching in what was to become the renowned studio in West Street, London. She agreed to join forces with Mr. Beaumont and they decided to call the company Beaucraske. Together they planned several short ballets, designed and made the costumes and scenery and through Mr.Beaumont’s acquaintance with Wolheim, Diaghilev’s agent, secured an audition at the Alhambra Theatre. Nothing came out of the audition and both feeling they could not ask Craske’s pupils to go on rehearsing unless they had a definite engagement, disbanded the company. Another attempt was made, this time with a teacher, Flora Fairburn, who shared a studio with Legat and Novikov, to start what was known as the Cremorne Company, utilising the costumes and scenery from the Beaucraske Company. Mr. Beaumont had many ideas for numerous short ballets and several evenings each week he would leave Alice at the shop to go to the West Street studio where he endeavoured to choreograph two ballets: a short work, ‘Bal Mobile’ to Offenbach’s music and one based on Hans Anderson’s story ‘The Little Match Girl’. However, on his own admission, he found choreographing more complex than he had imagined and his attempts were not a great success. He also lost a great deal of his personal money. He remarked that he would in future regard all choreographers with profound and inordinate respect. A member of the Cremorne Company was a certain Frederick Ashton who, previously, as a rather shy nervous young man, had come into the shop to enquire if Mr.Beaumont could recommend a dancing teacher for him. He was first directed to Leonid Massine who, in turn when he left London with Diaghilev, suggested Marie Rambert, another of Cecchetti’s pupils.

Mr. Beaumont’s interest and encyclopaedic knowledge of ballet led him to becoming first, ballet critic of The Dancing World and later the influential and erudite ballet critic of the Sunday Times and President of The Critics’ Circle. Of the very many books he wrote and published on dance, ‘The Complete Book of Ballets’, ‘The First Supplement’ and ‘Ballets of Today’ which between them cover the stories of nearly three hundred ballets dating from 1786 to 1954 is a masterpiece in itself, which provides many writers and critics on dance and indeed audiences, with, not only reference books of great stature, but also a knowledgeable and important insight into the early world of ballet. ‘The Ballet called Giselle’ and ‘The Ballet called Swan Lake’ are vital reading for all dancers undertaking any roles in these ballets. Both books examine in great detail the choreography, set designs, music and costumes of past productions, the interpretations of the various roles by famous dancers and give to the inexperienced ballet goer a deeper understanding of the works. Many more titles followed: biographies of great dancers, books on ballet companies past and present, puppets and puppetry, a wonderful tome on ballet design from The Ballet Comique de la Reine of 1581 through to the 1940s, his impressions of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in twelve parts and a particular favourite, a small volume, delightfully produced, of ‘A Miscellany for Dancers’. On the back cover it reads, ‘Mr. Beaumont will be happy to send his Catalogue of Books relating to Dancing and particulars of his future publications to those persons favouring him with their names and addresses’.

Both France and Italy recognised his enormous contribution to the ballet world by creating him a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (France), and a KT Officer, Order of Merit (Italy). He received awards in recognition of his work from both the I.S.T.D. and the R.A.D. But for him, the Cecchetti Method of teaching dancing as it is known today would probably have been lost to the world of ballet. In ‘Who’s Who’ he listed his recreations as researching in the British Museum and searching for material relative to the History of Ballet.

He described Diaghilev’s death in 1929 as the passing of a Golden age. The shutting up of Mr. Beaumont’s shop in 1965 and his death in 1976 can, I feel, be rightly considered to be the end of another Golden Age. It was a privilege for all who knew him.

Ref: and – Cyril W. Beaumont


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