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History of French ballet in 19th and 20th c.

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I thought it would best to start a new topic on history writing and ballet. Since there was a somewhat heated discussion on Ivor Guest thread, I thought it would be best to move it here. I am interested if this topic can generate interesting discussions. Quick search didn't reveal an existing topic. If there is one then please someone inform me :) 


Edited by Lam
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For my bachelor thesis I chose Ballets Russes as a topic for my paper and I found things that I thought it would be nice to share. 

To get a whole picture and better understanding of cultural historical development at the turn of the century and early 20th century I acquired a fair amount of literature with the focus on Fin de siècle - and Belle Époque period. Although my main subject was Ballets Russes, I also got to know  more about cultural history of France. While  searching materials for my thesis, I noticed that the materials I needed, were scattered and different disciplines offering their contribution to the subject. It makes sense because I have always considered ballet as an interdisciplinary subject. On the side I found a few interesting titles covering also ballet in France late 19th and early 20th c.


Caddy, Davinia. The Ballets Russes and Beyond: Music and Dance in Belle-époque Paris. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012

- Somewhat critical rethinking of Ballets Russes. Also a chapter on the state of French ballet before the war - "Ballet at the Opera and La fête chez thérèse"

- Italian ballerinas showed virtuosic and technical skills, but critics noted the lack of art-dimension

Karthas, Ilyana. When Ballet Became French: Modern Ballet and the Cultural Politics of France, 1909-1939. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2015.

-The reasearch's focus was  on cultural history, cultural politics and  dance history in early 20th c. I thought the book was an excellent work and methodologically consistent

Karthas' work focused on the cultural exchange between Russia and France in early 20th century and the influence of Ballets Russes and their eventual effects on POB estabelishment, and finally with the effort of Lifar, how it was turned back as a state funded institution. Basically, in order to get state funding, ballet dance had to be proven as a viable expressive art form for republican France.


Parisian music-hall ballet, 1871-1913 By Gutsche-Miller, Sarah

-Interesting book that covers ballets performed in music halls.

-Tries to argue that before Ballets Russes, ballet was already popular in France, that's why Ballets Russes had such a receptive audiences already in France. I have several problems with the hypothesis of book, but the book is informative. 

-My impression I got from music-halls ballets is that they are considered low-class, popular among the masses and  definitely not high art.

-I remember how Homans mentioned the subject shortly in her Apollo's Angels but essentially  ignored it. 


In addition I read an extensive amount of secondary literature that did not cover ballet, but instead covered cultural and political setting of Fin de siècle  and Belle Époque period that I found very informative. Books that covered theatre culture, city history, cultural politics were helpful and added social and cultural context to the subject. 

Edited by Lam
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The Ballet Russe is such a juicy topic, and has been a spark for all kinds of popular and scholarly writing.  The centenary of the company shook loose a lot of primary source material, which is such a treat in a field where most first-person witnessing is in the wind.

If you're looking at pre-Ballet Russe France, then you really are building on the foundations that scholars like Ivor Guest began.  I imagine you're having a wonderful time with the topic.  Many thanks for the references above (I hadn't seen a notice about the Caddy, but will head off to track it down), and do let us know more about what you've been working on.

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For work on the "pre-romantic" ballet in Paris, I refer to the work of Marian Hannah Winter. I haven't looked at it in some time, but--on a side note--I met her when I was young and curious about research on ballet history (Pierre Gardel especially) and she was very nice to me despite my general clueless-ness about research and pretty much everything else.  Gardel was interesting to me because he lasted through so many political regimes.

Edited to add: it may seem a banality to mention, but for a wider cultural portrait (albeit in fragments) of mid-late-19th-century French culture, Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project seems crucial to me. Though perhaps not something I would recommend to someone just working on a Bachelor's thesis on the Ballets Russes. 

Edited by Drew
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