When World War II broke out, British ballet was only a few decades old, and few had imagined that it would establish roots in a nation long thought to be unresponsive to the genre.
Nevertheless, the War proved to be a boon for ballet dancers, choreographers, and audiences, for Britain’s dancers were forced to look inward to their own identity and sources of creativity. Instead of withering during the enforced isolation of war, ballet in Britain flourished, exhibiting a surprising heterogeneity and vibrant populism that moved ballet outside its typical elitist surroundings to be seen by uninitiated, often enthusiastic audiences.
Ballet proved to help boost morale, to render solace to the soul-weary, and to afford entertainment and diversion to those who simply craved a few hours of distraction. Government authorities came to see that ballet could serve as a tool of propaganda; it functioned within the larger public discourse of sacrifice, and it answered a public mood of pragmatism and idealism.
This according to Albion’s dance: British ballet during the Second World War by Karen Eliot (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
Above, Robert Helpmann’s Miracle in the Gorbals (1944), one of the works discussed in the book; below, a documentary about reconstructing the dance in 2014.
Filed under Dance, Politics
In 19th-century Europe, the term bayadère—derived from the Portuguese bailadeira—referred to a Romantic concept of the Hindu devadāsī, a female temple dancer.
“Who has not heard of the bayadères,” gushed Victor Dandré, Anna Pavlova’s companion and manager, “so graceful and of such incomparable beauty, dancing sacred dances in temples and secular ones at feasts?”
In fact, Europeans had virtually no information on this subject at all, but that did not deter some of the most distinguished names in classical ballet from conjuring up their own images of devadāsīs and presenting them on the stage.
Thanks to travelers’ tales and other writings, India appeared to Europeans as a fabled land, steeped in mysteries, and abounding in stirring narratives of love, hate, devotion, and valor. At a time when the real devadāsīs were scorned at home, their image functioned as an icon of Indian dance in the West.
This according to “Devadasis in tights and ballet slippers, what?” by Mohan Khokar (Sruti 154 [July 1997] pp. 21–26); this periodical, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above and below, excerpts from what has proved to be the most enduring example, La bayadère by Ludwig Minkus and Marius Petipa.
Dark elegies marked the culmination of Antony Tudor’s exploration into an approach to ballet choreography in which the psychology of the characters is more important than external circumstances and events.
Although the classic idiom was the basis for his experimentation, his quest for new movement—often based on one-on-one work that illuminated the propensities of specific dancers—resulted in virtually no use of classical vocabulary. Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder functions as a partner to the choreography, not as a guide.
This according to “Dark elegies (1938): Antony Tudor” by Rachel S. Richardson, an essay included in Choreography: Principles and practice (Guildford: National Resource Centre for Dance, 1987, pp. 206–217).
An excerpt from the work is below; other excerpts are here. We would be grateful if anyone can share a link to a complete version!
Related article: Graham and Freud
Alternately stiff and pliable, the ballerina demonstrates that which is desired, while her partner embodies the forces that pursue, guide, and manipulate the desired object.
An understanding of the ballerina-as-phallus may allow her to reconfigure her power, so that she can sustain her charisma even as she begins to determine her own fate; it may also reclaim for ballet a sensual and even sexual potency.
This according to “The ballerina’s phallic pointe” by Susan Leigh Foster, an essay included in Corporealities: Dancing knowledge, culture, and power (London: Routledge, 1996 pp. 1–24). You can see her inimitable performance of the paper here.
Below, a day in the life of a ballerina.
Related article: Ballet and sauvagerie
A semiotics of sex roles in French society was played out in 18th- and 19th-century ballet by projecting it onto imaginary Native American societies.
In the 18th century, sauvage culture became a canvas for the projection of utopian sentiment with subtle social texturing, allowing the expression of fantasies of less restrictive sexual roles; in the 19th century, sauvagerie became grotesque and increasingly unrefined, shifting the emphasis from cultural to racial difference and affirming the status quo.
This according to “Sauvages, sex roles, and semiotics: Representations of Native Americans in the French ballet, 1736–1837” by Joellen A. Meglen (Dance chronicle XXIII/2  pp. 87–132; XXIII/3  pp. 275–320).
Above and below, Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (1735).
Stravinsky the global dancer: A chronology of choreography to the music of Igor Stravinsky is a free online database that aims to list all dances choreographed to Stravinsky’s works, with references to about 100 compositions, about 1250 dances, and about 700 choreographers. Compiled by Stephanie Jordan and Larraine Nicholas, it is searchable by title of composition, year of composition, year of choreography, name of choreographer, dance company, and country.
Jordan’s “The demons in a database: Interrogating Stravinsky the global dancer” (Dance research XXII/1 [summer 2004] pp. 57–83) presents analyses of findings in the database regarding the distribution of new Stravinsky dance productions over the years, incidence of choreographing the narrative vs. the concert scores, distribution by choreographer, and distribution by country, along with case studies of the choreographic histories of Le sacre du printemps, Apollo, and Agon.
Above, the composer in his Ballets Russes days with Serge Diaghilev and Serge Lifar, who originated the role of Apollo. Below, the Houston Ballet performs an excerpt from Balanchine’s choreography for that work.
Le ballet de la nuit, a major ballet de cour, was organized by Louis Cauchon d’Hesselin and first performed in the Louvre’s Salle du Petit Bourbon in 1653. The event was notable for many reasons—not least, for the involvement of the young Louis XIV, who danced in five roles, including his most famous role as the Sun King, accompanied by chosen courtiers and professional dancers, singers, and acrobats.
Edited by Michael Burden and Jennifer Thorp, Ballet de la nuit: Rothschild B1.16.6 (Hillsdale: Pendragon Press, 2009) focuses on the exquisitely produced volume presented to d’Hesselin (who also performed in the work), which passed into the hands of the Rothschild family at Waddesdon Manor and is now in the ownership of the National Trust.
The book presents a full facsimile of the Waddesdon source along with the printed vers pour les personages, lists of performers, cues for special effects, the running order of the entrées, and essays by Burden, Thorp, Catherine Massip, and David Parrott that discuss cultural patronage at the Court of Louis XIV, the musical context, dances and dancers, and the costumes and scenography of this unique and extraordinary ballet. Also included is a modern edition of the surviving music prepared by Lionel Sawkins.
Above, an illustration from the book (click to enlarge); below, Lully’s overture.
Related article: Le Carrousel du Roi
Launched by the Institute of Musical Research at the University of London in 2010, Francophone Music Criticism, 1789–1914 is a repository of digitized, searchable reviews relating to French music and ballet. Texts are grouped into collections devoted to particular works, events, series, performers, or authors. Bibliographical resources and work in progress of a more general nature are also included. The database’s development network is headed by Katharine Ellis and Mark Everist.