Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 September 2020
This chapter by Thomas Grey presents a focused yet far-reaching account of the significance of dance to Richard Wagner. First, it explores how Wagner theorized the roles of dance, music and text in his ‘total artwork’; then it considers historical practice – examples of the actual dances (and also what the author calls the ‘sublimated choreography’) in several Wagnerian music dramas, especially Tannhäuser, with its infamous Venusberg ‘Bacchanal’. Wagner’s feelings towards dance were double-edged. On the one hand, the composer acknowledged the importance of movement and gesture in the creation of his ideal artwork. Indeed, as Grey suggests, Wagner sought to play up the two, emphasizing the role of the erotic, sexualized body onstage. On the other hand, Wagner liked to ridicule contemporary ballet. But, to Wagner, ballet’s problematic status did not relate to its explicitly bodily and human aspects. Instead, it was the genre’s association with an institutional context – ballet as produced and consumed at the Paris Opéra – that troubled the composer.