that once sheltered poor Marie Antonette before she lost her head,
now shelters the enigmatic, mysterious actress-dancer known as Ida
Rubinstein who is never likely to lose her head. Versailles, full
of memories of the past, leaps into the immediate present as the
much discussed Russian who has blossomed forth into a full-fledged
Parisienne. As it is at the Trianon Palace that Mlle. Ida Rubinstein
abides. (I may add that it is a hotel, because if I didn't, you
would probably discover it.) But, like most Parisian ladies--even
of Russian birth--Mlle. Rubinstein has what they call a pieds-a-terre
(a foothold) in Paris. She may lose herself at Versailles whenever
she chooses, but she has a nook here at No. 82 Rue Vanneau, which
she calls her atelier (workshop).You see, I'm translating
everything I can for you out of sheer goodness of heart. Thank goodness
I didn't have to trip out to Versailles, where all the tourists
go. I was not obliged to chat to Mlle. Ida amid the atmospheric
souveniers of Marie Antoinette. There is a fitness in everything.
She bade me into her atelier at 82 Rue Vanneau, and thither went
I, filled with curiosity. Mlle. Rubinstein had just closed an engagement
at Chatelet Theatre in "Helene of Sparta," that ran for six nights
only--probably owing to its stupendous success. However, know that
she was no poor little struggler-ess, cast down by the non-run of
a colossal production. What cared she? Moreover --the king is dead;
Long live the King! Mlle. Rubinstein is billed to appear in Oscar
Wilde's "Salome" in a few weeks to come, with special music, special
costumes (or non-costumes?) and specially special scenic effects.
I had never seen Ida Rubinstein. "All Paris" had spoken to me of
her, and I know her, of course. She was always doing things. Last
year when I was in Paris she produced an enormous affair called
"The Martyr of St. Sebastien," by D'Annunzio, with music
by Debussy, and that, too seemed too big for Paris.
In fact, Ida Rubinstein is a power here, as women can be when they
are odd, or beautiful, or fantastic, or energetic. She produces the
best of everything, and if it fails, is she cast down? Not on your
life! Jamais, which means never!
They put me in a little elevator, at no. 83 Rue Vanneau, and told
me it would stop all by itself on the sixth floor. I hate those elevators
minus elevator boy. They move as though they never wanted to get anywhere--or
intended to get anywhere--and there you are, locked in, and powerless.
As I was enclosed in this personal ascenseur I said goodby to myself
and shut my eyes. When I awoke--it seemed like an hour after--I was
on the sixth floor, at the open door of Mlle. Rubinstein's atelier.
There she stood, in a narrow gray satin skirt, so tight that it showed
every line of her figure. A hat with one of those backward feathers
that look like the rudders of boats added to her height, and she wore
a veil, well over her face. It was a curious riddle of a face. She
was livid--almost green. The whiteness of her skin gleamed strangely.
Her lips, scarlet, like a wound, gave one an odd sensation of mingled
fascination and repulsion. Two dark eyes pierced the veil. Mlle. Rubinstein
looked pensive, distraite, and exceedingly sad. Her hands,
with the long tapering fingers, were unadorned by a single jewel.
A single diamond glistened among the laces on her unemotional breast.
She was a remarkable figure, and the sight of her oppressed me vaguely.
I felt I should never be able to "make conversation." Words
failed me--which is unusual.
She stood there in her immense studio, lighted from above (the studio,
not Mlle. Rubinstein). It was a colossal apartment, with a slippery
floor. At one end was a raised platform, red-carpeted and railed.
A few books, yellow-bound, graced a shelf. It was all very odd and
systematic. A few minutes (probably seconds) later, she smiled. If
the Sphinx could smile, it would smile exactly as Mlle. Ida
"I practice the dance here," she said apologetically, in
perfect English--almost the English of an Englishwoman--"although
I live at Versailles."
Her voice, though low and well modulated, echoed through the room.
I could not imagine her practicing dancing anywhere. She seemed so
languid. Presently she sank on a sofa and looked at me through her
veil and half-closed eyes. A tiny little dog, the cutest, tiniest
spaniel I have ever seen, dashed into the room and, doggily, begged
me to take him on my lap. The little dog broke the ice. Mlle. Rubinstein
broke into a human smile as I fondled the dog.
"That is Cora," she said, with a semblance of animation.
"Isn't she a dear? I have fifty dogs at my house in Versailles,
and, above all I have a leopard, that I acquired in Africa. I love
my leopard better than anything, but I cannot bring it to Paris, because
it is savage. Cora is the only pet I have here."
At any rate, I had made a hit with Cora. She nestled in my arms and
never even looked at Mlle. Rubinstein, who still lay on the sofa in
"Paris is so frivolous," she said presently, after I had
lured her from a veritable jungle of monosyllables.
copyright has expired, and was never renewed.
is presented for scholastic purposes
and is completly in the public domain.
She had said "Yes" and "No" so often I had begun to despair of her
and had nearly given her up, when, somehow or other, she seemed to
spring into life. She lifted up her veil, and her white face looked
whiter, her red lips redder, and her dark eyes darker. "Paris is so
frivolous," she repeated, "that sometimes I think it is above its
head. My beautiful production of 'Helene of Sparta' - quite magnificent,
and I was Helene - has closed. The same thing happened with 'The Martyr
of St. Sebastien.' Do you know why? Paris was jealous of D'Annunzio.
It was the first time he had ever written in French, and they were
afraid. They said he wrote bad French, and other stupidities like
that. He had always written in Italian and had been translated. Oh,
D'Annunzio is wonderful. His books could be dramatized, but he will
not permit it. He prefers to be his own master. In the future, I think
he will write plays instead of novels. He has acquired a taste for
it. But Paris is so light!" She looked at me cynically. Her face now
seemed drab in the fading light. The little warm body of Cora was
a comfort to me. "You know that they wouldn't have Ibsen in Paris,"
she went on. "they simply will not tolerate him. Oh, yes, 'Nora' they
don't mind, because it is so easy. The other plays they will not tolerate.
And Strindberg - they do not know him here. I once saw 'The Father'
in St. Petersburg. It is very dreadful - too dreadful for Paris. Paris
wants to laugh all the time. Then Paris must dine, and Paris must
sup, and the theatres must not interfere with that. I am going to
produce 'Salome,' the one-act play, and it will be good for an entire
evening." She was getting a bit less languorous, but with the best
of intentions one could not have called her a merry soul! "They will
dine before they come to see 'Salome'," she said, and it will begin
very late, and they will sup when they have seen 'Salome,' and it
will end very early. They like that. One dares not make a serious
appeal, for they are not serious in Paris." "I have not yet seen my
costume." she said carelessly (and I wondered!), but it will be very
beautiful. It is especially designed for me. Yes, I dance the Dance
of the Seven Veils, and I try to do something new. You know we have
not finished with 'Salome' in Paris. It is all so beautiful! I consider
myself an actress and a dancer. I think that dance is part of the
drama. It is an expression of drama. The real dancer must be dramatic.
She cannot dance unless she has drama in her soul. I love to combine
dance and drama. Yet I love serious plays. My nature is serious. I
cannot laugh at the Boulevard theatres in Paris. They oppress me."
Was it a pose? If so, it was well done. She had not budged from the
sofa. Her veil was still lifted, but she had ceased to smile. "They
want me to go to America." she said softly. "They want me to act in
America, but - it is so far! I have never been there." I was silent,
it is not wise to contradict a lady. Rumor sayeth that once, a decade
ago. Mlle. Ida Rubinstein was in America. Rumor, forsooth!
Prate not to me of rumor. If Mlle. Rubinstein wants me to believe
that she has never been to America, I'll believe it.
did seem to be her insinuation. "If I ever go to America," she said,
"I want to play drama there in English. I want to play Hedda Gabier,
which I love. That is my ambition. Another of my ambitions is to play
'Helene of Sparta' in German in Berlin. Perhaps I shall do it. Then
I dance always. If I ever come to America, I shall dance as well.
But, you see, I speak English. When I was a little girl I had an English
governess in Russia, and I spoke even better than I do now. We are
all linguists in Russia." "do you know your fellow-countrywoman, Nazimova,
who has made a hit in America, playing in English?" She looked at
me inquiringly, "I never heard of her," she said. "She could not have
been famous in Russia. Once a famous Russian actress, now dead, went
to New York and played there in Russian, but she was not a success.
No, I do not know Nazimova. Do they like Ibsen in America?" I gave
hear a brief - frightfully brief - history of Ibsen in the United
States. She listened with closed eyes, or at least I fancied that
she listened. Perhaps she didn't. In any case, I do not think that
a career in U.S.A. is of vast importance to her. She makes her magnificent
productions here in Paris, and if they fail she does not worry. Her
look of profound melancholy is merely habitual. Cora barked and jumped
from my lap. I felt I could not stay in that oppressive studio without
Cora. Mlle. Ida Rubinstein sat up and addressed some endearing epithets
to Cora. Yet this little dog did not go to hert. It capered round
and round the room. Mlle. Rubinstein laughed aloud for the first time.
The dog amused her I certainly did not. She showed me
pictures of "The Martyr of St. Sebastien" around the walls of the
atelier. She had five hundred of them by which to remember that most
costly of experiments. She pointed to them rather listlessly, trailing
her gray satin skirt on the polished floor. The little dog barked
itself away. I shivered slightly. She put down her veil and moved
toward the door. Alone in the self-working elevator, I breathed again.
I could not understand Mlle. Ida Rubinstein, though, and perhaps
because, her English was so perfect.