In a notable scene from Women in Love (1920), D. H. Lawrence draws attention to the popularity of Diaghilev’s enterprise as representative of the avant garde in the arts in contemporary Britain.
He describes how, following Hermione’s dinner party, guests perform a dance in the style of the sophisticated Ballets Russes. Elsewhere, Lawrence’s sympathies lay rather with the individualism of free dance that would have been closer to the innovative work of Loïe Fuller, Isadora Duncan or the natural rhythms of Jaques-Dalcroze’s Eurhythmics. Indeed, Lawrence more often explores dance’s function as individual expression of the body’s liberation from Edwardian inhibition rather than the spectacle of dance as entertainment or performance. On another occasion his fictional evocation of dance draws on an imaginative reconstruction of primitive ritual that uncannily suggests the performance strategies of Diaghilev’s production of the Rite. Lawrence’s short story, ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’ (1925) on the surface springs from anthropological interests in dance stimulated by his travels in the American south and Mexico. Yet the structure and tone of the narrative indicates that Lawrence’s thinking about gender and primitivism owed something to the treatment of these issues in Diaghilev’s radical production of 1913 and its brief 1920 revival. The story tells of a young white American woman who is abducted by an indigenous pueblo Indian tribe and offered as a sacrifice to the sun to ensure the fertilisation of the land when winter is over. By exploring the text in the context of early performances of the ballet and a range of Lawrentian responses to the visual arts, dance, and psychoanalysis, this paper shows how Lawrence’s story combines anthropological observation and performative strategies recalling Roerich’s, Stravinsky’s, Nijinsky’s and Massine’s contributions to The Rite of Spring.