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
Bill Millin was a 21-year-old private in Britain’s First Special Service Brigade when his unit landed at the front chosen by the Allies for the invasion on 6 June 1944. He was approached shortly before the landings by the brigade’s commanding officer, who asked him to play on the beachhead to raise morale.
While German troops raked the area with artillery and machine-gun fire, Millin marched and played as his fellow soldiers advanced on the German positions through smoke and flame, or fell on the beach. The scene provided an emotional high point in Darryl F. Zanuck’s film The longest day.
This according to “Bill Millin, Scottish D-Day piper, dies at 88” by John F. Burns (The New York times, 20 August 2010). Above, Millin entertains his colleagues a few days after the momentous battle; below, the sequence from The longest day.
Launched by Intellect in 2010, Horror studies (ISSN 2040-3275) is an interdisciplinary journal devoted to research on cultural manifestations of horror, including the familiar forms it assumes in literature and film as well as its expressions in fashion, dance, fine art, music, and technology. The journal’s editors write that it “aims to extend both the formal study and the informal appreciation of horror into hitherto overlooked critical terrains, seeking in the process to appeal not only to the international academic community, but also to enthusiasts of the horror mode more generally.”
The inaugural issue of Horror studies includes “Of submarines and sharks: Musical settings of a silent menace” by Linda Maria Koldau, an essay that explores how film composers have depicted the primal fear of the silent monster stealthily approaching from the depths.
Above, a restored one-man German submarine from World War II, now at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.