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HIGH KICKERS., Issue 7928, 8 June 1889, Supplement
ACCUSED OF DANCING A NAUGHTY QUADRILLE.
[From Ock Special Correspondent.]
London, April 12. A very curious theatrical case occupied Mr Juatice Field and a special jury on Saturday and Monday last. The plaintiff was a Mr Barnes, the head of a quartet of “ eccentric dancers,” who are much in request at music halts and similar resorts, and whoso performance in many of its leading features resembles the notorious “ can-can.” The defendant was Mr Ledger, the proprietor of the ‘ Era ’ newspaper, and the offence for which heavy damages were claimed rvas a slanderous statement to the effect that the plaintiff’s successful ballet—' Le Follet ’—was a “ disgusting exhibition, and a brazen infraction of the rules of decency.” Mr Ledger alleged that this statement was in fact true, and did not therefore exceed the limits of fair and honest criticism. Mr Barnes, on the other hand, vowed that personal malice was at the bottom of the notice, he having (so he said) offended Mr Ledger by refusing to admit him behind the scenes at Brighton. Much evidence was given on both sides, and very amusing some of it proved. Mr Barnes’s witnesses could, of course, see nothing but what was admirable in the performance of ‘Le Follet.’ Resembled the cau-cau '! Not a bit of it. True, the same madly exciting music was used as in the can-can, and there were only four dancers as in the can-can, and they threw their legs about as iu the can-can. Nevertheless, it wasn’t in the smallest degree like that naughty dance. There is (Juliet notwithstanding) a great deal in a name, and the real issue which Mr Justice Field and the special jury had to try was whether Barnes’s troupe did or did not perform a “ can-can.” The Judge himself was great on the subject. For the benefit of the Court he vivaciously recalled the saltatory and choregraphic performances he had witnessed in Paris and elsewhere, and discussed their varying degrees of propriety. Under some circumstances trying to throw one’s leg over a fellow-creature might be indecent and disgusting ; under others—witness the agile performances of Fred Yokes —it became a clever and meritorious act. The jury, after hearing ‘Lc Follet ’ discussed from every point of view, came to the conclusion that Mr Ledger’s criticism was malevolent, and awarded the injured Barnes L3OO. The ‘ Telegraph,’ in an article discussing the case, says:—“lt seems to have been almost agreed by tacit consent that a cancan by any other name would smell sweeter in the nostrils of twelve respectable citiaens of London, and the plaintiff was therefore naturally solicitous to show that this was not the correct name of the dance which the defendant had denounced. Better the most unseemly choregraphic performance which does not describe itself by this alarming title than a can-can, however decorously performed. That seemed to be the feeling on both sides, and yet the question, What is a can can ? was evidently recognised by both as by no means easy of solution. •In its early purity—in the days, so to speak, before some bold, bad word allured it out of the straight path of etymology— ‘ can-ean ’ was as simple and innocent a vocable as one could meet with in a summer day’s ramble through the dictionary of the French Academy, It meant merely ‘gossip,’ or ‘tittle-tattle,’ sometimes merely ‘noise,’ or ‘ rumor ’; and no one, to look at it, could have thought a time would come when not j u single reputable noun of the feminine j gender would be seen in its company. _ Mr Barnes, it is true, appears still to cling to its early meaning, and complains that, so far from organising can-cans himself, it is Mr Ledger who had thought fit, as the French phrase has it, to faire dcs can-cans about him. It appeared, however, at an early stage of the proceedings to be common ground between the parties that the cancan, considered as a term of art, was the name of an objectionable dance. Mr Justice Field, indeed, obviously considered himself entitled, if not bound, to take ‘judicial notice ’of its reprehensible character. ‘We are all men of the world,’ he said, ‘and I think we know what it is without going into it. I have seen it, I honestly admit, many years ago, and it would,’ he added, ‘be offensive to go into its peculiarities.’ The Solicitor-General, however, felt compelled to go into its peculiarities. He asked Mr Barnes, in cross-examination, whether it ‘ involved throwing the leg very high,’ to which Mr Barnes replied, guardedly, that this was ‘ optional.’ It was ‘ ad libitum’ he said, and 1 they could do as they liked,’ forgetting, apparently, that that was the very point in dispute. Mr Justice Field thereupon so far overcame his judicial repugnance to entering into details as to recall the fact that in the ‘ old old days, the days of long ago,’ be had, in a dance performed at Drury Lane, actually seen one lady put her foot on the head of one of the men—perhaps in token of conquest—and observed that it was ‘ the most remarkable performance he had ever seen in his life—he meant the agility of it,’ which, indeed, is more likely than its grace to have formed its most characteristic quality. The SolicitorGeneral, however, suggested that His Lordship probably meant that he had seen one of the gentlemen throw his leg over the head of one of the ladies. This, no doubt, was what the learned Judge had in view, if he referred, as seems to have been the case, to the graceful, agile, and perfectly decorous dances of the clever Yokes family.”
HIGH KICKERS., Issue 7928, 8 June 1889, Supplement
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