The selfless, meticulous scholarship that underpins this book is humbling. Elegantly printed and lavishly illustrated, it runs to over six hundred pages and includes ninety pages of footnotes. It must have taken years to research; subsidy has enabled its publication and nobody will be expecting it to appear on the bestseller lists. It seems not so much a labour of love as the fruit of single-minded obsession on the part of librarian and art historian Richard Emerson, who writes fluent, unaffected prose that never sinks into tedious detail. Its subject is the interlocking lives of three 20th-century women dancers, Margaret Morris, Hélène Vanel and Loïs Hutton – independent spirits who deserve a small place in cultural history for their contribution to dance, an art form at the centre of the modernist impulse to explore the human body and organic form.
Although Morris rather fades out of view in the latter half of this lengthy chronicle – in old age, she established a short-lived outfit called the Celtic Ballet, incorporating traditions of Highland dancing – she is its driving force. Born in 1891, she was a child actress who became