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Performance and Propriety: Tracing Ballet’s Evolution from Risqué to Elite by Patricia Yaker Ekall

This article takes ballet as a case study to demonstrate that, historically, the intersections of law, media, and celebrity culture helped to establish an artform as legitimate in the eyes of the public. It begins by demonstrating how ballet evolved from its naissance in the sixteenth century, then through to nineteenth-century Romanticism, and finally to its presence in our contemporary culture. Two artefacts will help make the case. The first is a piece of text from respected Art critic Leigh Hunt, who drove attention towards ballet by scrutinising some of the artform’s leading stars. This attention led to fame for some of the dancers, whose elevated status, in turn, elevated that of the artform. The second artefact is a lithograph of four of ballet’s most celebrated Romantic dancers. It further demonstrates the influence that celebrity culture (as this essay will anachronistically refer to it) can have on the British public. The essay argues that there are three eras that present a pattern in ballet’s impression on the collective conscious. Each in turn being (in stage parlance) highbrow, then low, then highbrow once more. I’m particularly interested in the ways that ballet recovered its reputation. As an artform, it is as admired as it ever was by participants and audiences alike. The difference is that the contemporary landscape allows for a far more democratic process. Now, ballet is considered a sport and an art reserved for the most discerning of participants – this article argues, however, that today’s conception of ballet as a refined activity is not inherited, it is earned.

Date created: 
Wednesday, April 12, 2023
Attribution for this resource:
Performance and Propriety: Tracing Ballet’s Evolution from Risqué to Elite by Patricia Yaker Ekall, All rights reserved.
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