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9 - A Delight to Behold: Glitter, Glamour, and Girls

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2021

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Summary

Intricate plots, imaginative music, and creative choreography all contributed to the artistic success and critical appreciation of a ballet, but a production could be a box-office hit without even a hint of originality. The true raison d’être of music-hall ballet was spectacle. Examples of audiences favoring visual display over artistic innovation abound in all three halls. The Folies-Bergère, for instance, kept the military divertissement Les réservistes à venir (1887) on the bills for four months but performed the far more involved, pantomime-heavy romantic comedy Le château de Mac-Arrott (1887) for only seven weeks. The melodramatic historical pageant L’enlèvement des sabines (1898) outperformed its far more imaginative successor, La princesse au sabbat (1899), which also had one of the most original and colorful scores. In later years, the cliché-ridden, revue-like Antinoa (1905) and lightweight comedy Stella (1911) grossed higher nightly receipts and remained far longer on the program than the comparatively complex Montmartre (1913). At the Olympia, the bathing-suit ballet Bains de dames (1895) played for twice as long as the quasi-learned Le scandale du Louvre (1895); and the sensationalist Sardanapale (1897) and overtly sensuous Les sept péchés capitaux (1899) netted higher profits and enjoyed a longer run than the novel and comparatively erudite L’impératrice (1901).

Music halls did everything they could to emphasize the spectacular aspects of their ballets. Programs highlighted the names of famous performers in large bold type, announced colorful sets and period costumes, advertised unusual decor or special effects, and listed the number of women in the ballet corps. Posters featured celebrated personalities and depicted corps dancers in revealing costumes. Press announcements for imminent premières often made reference to the scale of a production or to the number of pretty girls in the ballet corps, to favorite set and costume designers, and to glamorous performers. Reviews of ongoing productions, in turn, sold ballets with grand proclamations of sensational costumes, lavish scenery, enchanting choreography, marvelous tableaux, and promises of mesmerizing, exquisitely beautiful—and preferably scantily clad—mime and dance artists.

Scenic Splendor

A quest for dazzling cascades of color governed every aspect of a music-hall ballet, beginning with the story's setting.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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