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Origins of 'Ballet Recital' / 'Solo ballet dancing' as

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Dear all,

I’m currently working on a PhD-project about Belgian dance history between 1890 and 1960 (I’m based at University of Leuven) and would be glad if you could help me.

I have a question about the origins of the ‘ballet recital’ as a concert form. Is solo ballet performance, without assistance from other dancers, a 20th-century invention?

With ‘ballet recital’ I mean a full-evening program dedicated to one dancer, in a small venue (salon, society house) or in a larger theatre.

Was Anna Pavlova the first ballet dancer to dance and tour in this way? (I understand that she also had a troupe for at least part of her career). If so, was she inspired by early modern dancers such as Loïe Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Maud Allan, who, I imagine, pioneered the idea of dance recital? (I know Pavlova incorporated many Duncanisms in her performance). Did music halls, for their part, have solo ballet dancers, or was the backing by the corps de ballet central to the concept of spectacle?

Or is this assumption wrong and was the ballet recital not a typically 20th-century art form, but already present in 19th-century ballet (not in the opera house, but perhaps in the margins of cultural life, e.g. for charity performances, …)? I think Cléo de Mérode gave many recitals at the beginning of the 20th-century … but who was the first to launch the genre?

I ask this because I am writing a piece about Belgian dancer Félyne Verbist, who toured the World during the First World War with an eclectic program (Dying Swan, Vision of Salome, Waltz of Coppélia) and who was i.a. preferred to Pavlova by a critic in the Dancing Times. In 1920, the idea of a ‘ballet recital’ seems to have been new to the Brussels audiences seeing Verbist perform. They experienced many ‘dance recitals’ before, however. Maud Allan and Isadora Duncan, amongst others, were enthusiastically received in Antwerp an Brussels in 1905 and 1907, as were the Ballets Russes in 1910 (i’m not talking about the twenties now). They only saw Pavlova later.

Thanks for your help!


Leuven, Belgium

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I believe that "recital" in this context is related to the nineteenth and earlier century instructional process of lecture-tutorial-recitation, in which a student was given a text and expected to give back, by memory, all of it, and be able to quote illustrative commentary on demand, it having been gained in the other two phases of classtime. It was a deadly process, entirely dependent on rote memory, but that's the way universities and other schools of higher learning were expected to teach.

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And Pavlova was far from the first to tour, giving solo and whole-ballet performances with pickup "companies".

Fanny Elssler toured famously, as did Paul Taglioni and wife, Marie-Paul. Lola Montez toured notoriously! Dancers who stayed closer to home did "salon concerts" at social events hosted by the well-to-do. Petipa's allegory "The Seasons" was a product of one of these private shows. Come to think of it, Petipa and his whole family toured America when he was just a boy.

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Thanks so far, Mel.

- I know touring was not new, but did the 19th-century examples you give dance alone on the stage? (e.g. I read at the Petipa page on Wikipedia that he toured the US with his father and a group of French dancers). Lola Montez seems a good example, though. But do you have other examples of early 'proper' ballet dancers performing alone? E.g. when Elssler toured? Was her La Cachucha accompanied by other dancers I thought in ballet it was more common to give small scale performances with at least two dancers, but, if you say so, i must be wrong.

- I like your comment about '"salon concerts" at social events hosted by the well-to-do', that's very interesting. But again, I'm curious whether there were real solo performances.

Thanks a lot!! As you see, I'm not a 19th century-specialist at all... though I'm always suspicious about people who claim that things started in the 20th century, so that's the reason why I'm asking you, as I don't want to make idle statements in my thesis... (Maybe I should signal the following French book: Rousier, Claire /

La danse en solo : une figure singulière de la modernité (Pantin : Centre national de la danse, 2002, in which the emergence of the 'solo' is ascribed to Loie Fuller and other modern dancers, without reference to the ballet tradition).


PS: is it possible to re-edit my topic title myself? i did something wrong there...

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