Tag Archives: Great Britain

British ballet during World War II


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.

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Filed under Dance, Politics

Operatic degeneracy I

An anonymous pamphlet from around 1733 titled Do you know what you are about? or, A Protestant alarm to Great Britain rails against the egregious inroads that Roman Catholic degeneracy, not least in the form of Italian opera, were making in England.

Händel and Senesino are particularly singled out for “playing at the dog and bear, exactly like the two kings of Poland contending for the Empire of Doremifa” in contrast to the humble, hardworking John Gay, whose praiseworthy Beggar’s opera reached the stage only through his own admirable toil and steadfastness.

This according to William Charles Smith’s “Do you know what you are about?: A rare Handelian pamphlet”, an article in The music review no. 98 (2 April 1964, pp. 114–19); the issue, which honors the 70th birthday of the English librarian, bibliographer, and honorary curator of the Royal Music Library Cecil Bernard Oldman (1894–1969), is covered in our recently published Liber Amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.

Above, a satirical depiction by John Vanderbank from around 1723 of Senesino, Francesca Cuzzoni, and Gaetano Berenstadt performing in a Händel opera (probably Flavio, re di Longobardi).

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Dramatic arts, Humor, Opera, Reception