I knew and was fond of Lydia Lopokova, the Russian ballerina and subject of this book, and am related to a good many people who come into the second half of it. Vanessa Bell was my grandmother and Duncan Grant my grandfather. Even I make a fleeting appearance in the last chapter. So I am delighted that Judith Mackrell, who never had the luck to know her, has managed to capture Lydia’s likeness uncannily well in pen and ink.
The career of a dancer is, by its very nature, brief. Until the advent of film, the traces of a dancer’s art were ephemeral, only remembered for a generation, after which they might be passed into legend. Paintings and photographs illuminate but are static. Nothing remains of Lydia’s work except for a short footage of film so badly out of synch with the choreography as to be risible. The problem of there being insufficient material about Lydia’s early life is compounded by there being too much about her later years. When Lydia married the economist John Maynard Keynes, she married into the heart of Bloomsbury, most of whose members were not only in the habit of writing innumerable letters but also hoarding them. It was a habit Lydia acquired, and as a result, for all Mackrell’s valiant editing, this book is lopsided.