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3 - Creative Artists: Authors, Composers, and Choreographers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2021

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Summary

Between 1871 and 1913, nearly two hundred writers, composers, and choreographers created new ballets for Paris's three preeminent halls. All had different career trajectories, experiences, and interests, and all were highly mobile, moving between different types of venues and genres, and creating works in a variety of styles. Their multiple, sometimes distinct, sometimes overlapping perspectives generated a web of ideas and approaches that molded the eclectic and constantly evolving genre that was music-hall ballet. If, for instance, changes in the types of ballet staged by music halls came about in response to audience preferences, they also shifted in accordance with the background and experience of a ballet's authors. While writers associated with Paris's boulevard theaters breathed new life into light romantic comedies, those with ties to bohemian culture and to journalism fueled the emergence of new forms of ballet, including mythical and historical parodies and self-reflexive ballets depicting contemporary societal pleasures. Choreographers, all of whom worked concurrently for a range of venues in France, Italy, and England, brought with them an extensive network of influences, creating works that freely juxtaposed elements from boulevard-theater féeries, Opéra ballets, English music-hall ballets, and the Italian ballo grande. Scores remained the most stable component of music-hall ballet, yet they, too, varied in style depending on their author's career path. Early scores written by specialists of what we would now term musique légère recall the light, simple style of 1870s popular songs and dance tunes; those of the 1890s written by the era's foremost lyric composers reveal a close affinity with operetta and comic opera.

Tracing the provenance of ballet's creative artists adds a valuable layer to our understanding of the history of ballet in the music halls. For example, the practice in the 1890s of commissioning increasingly experienced, eminent composers mirrored the rise in the halls’ status in the final years of the century and reflected the increased importance of ballet in their programming. Recovering the careers of music-hall choreographers reveals the central role that music-hall ballet played in the choreographic life of Paris.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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