Choreography and Narrative
Now in paperback

Choreography and Narrative

Ballet’s Staging of Story and Desire
Susan Leigh Foster
Distribution: World
Publication date: 9/1/1998
Format: paper 392 pages, 88 b&w photos
7 x 10
ISBN: 978-0-253-21216-0
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1997 Special Citation, Dance Perspectives Foundation, de la Torre Bueno Prize
A Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 1997
“Undoubtedly, Choreography and Narrative is an important contribution to dance history research.” —Nineteenth-Century French Studies

“This work is a landmark in the field and belongs in all libraries serving undergraduate, graduate, and faculty researchers in dance.” —Choice

“Invents a new method for writing the history of performance: Foster has found an innovative way of appealing directly to the kinesthetic imagination of her readers, evoking the elusive styles of the pieces she reconstructs.” —Joseph Roach

“An impressive work of scholarship, this elegantly staged study . . . uses the concept of a culturally constructed, historically specific body to cut across disciplinary boundaries . . .” —Library Journal

Foster examines the development of ballet, and conceptions of the dancing body, as ballet separated from opera and emerged as an autonomous art form during the turbulence of 18th-century French society and history.


"This complex and beautifully written investigation of ballet's development in France from the early 18th through the late 19th century extends Foster's earlier efforts to link dance theory and practice (see Reading Dancing: Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary American Dance, CH, Apr'87; Choreographing History, 1995; and Corporealities, CH, Jun'96). Foster (Univ. of California at Riverside) has become increasingly adept at presenting historical, physical, and theoretical dancing bodies in relation to one another via written texts. This volume situates ballet as a cultural practice and analyzes its progress in relation to economic, political, and social developments—tracing its evolution through specific danced narratives and emphasizing class, gender, and racial identities. Each of the five chapters focuses on an issue relevant to choreography and training. These are augmented by interludes, which contextualize the theoretical issues. Foster's word images awaken the reader to his/her own physicality and to the connections between an individual's lived experience and history. In previous works Foster has moved in this direction; here she negotiates the gap between theory and the actual body with increasing ease and depth. Illustrations are ample and well chosen throughout; the text is supported and enlarged by numerous notes and an extensive bibliography. This work is a landmark in the field and belongs in all libraries serving undergraduate, graduate, and faculty researchers in dance." —S. E. Friedler, Swarthmore College , Choice , April 1997

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Pygmalion’s No-Boby and The Body of Dance

1. Originary Gestures 13
Painting the situations of the soul Vanishing physicalities
Transgressive gestures Originating the action ballet

The Bank of Grass (le banc de gazon)
Telemaque dans l’ile de Calipso (1759)
On One Side, On the Other; Above and Below
Arlequin Soldat Magicien, ou le Canonier, Pantomime (1764)

2. Staging the Canvas and the Machine
Spectacular dancing bodies Horizontal and vertical perfection
Challenging hierarchy The more sensible machine

Make the Scheme Known
Jason et Medee (1771)
The Invigilant Dancer
Apelles et Campaspe (1776)

3. Narrating Passion and Prowess
Dancing the action A passion for anatomy
The language of dance The self-filled body

The Duel
Mirza (1779)
The Earth Trembles: The Thunder Roars
Le Premier Navigateur, ou le Pouvoir de l’Amour (1785)
Escape into the Heavens
Hercule et Omphale, Pantomime en 1 Acte (1787)

4. Governing the Body
The street, the stage, the nation Muscular geometry
Virtuoso docility Governing the Body politic

The Magically Inscribed Message
Les Royalistes de la Vendee, ou les Epoux Republicains,
Pantomime en Trois Actes (1794)
To Throw Oneself in the Arms Of(Se Jeter dans les bras)
La Dansomanie (1800)
Begin and End with Dancing
Nina, ou La Folle par Amour (1813)
Tell-Tale Evidence
Les Pages du Duc de Vendome (1820)

5. Fugitive Desires
Cruel nocturnal dancing Crafting diversion
Dancing the object of desire The dissolving object of the gaze

Making Merry/Gazing On
La Sylphide (1832)
Maybe Yes; Maybe No
La Voliere, ou les Oiseaux de Boccace (1838)
Dark Spaces
Giselle, ou les Wilis (1841)

Conclusion: Ballet’s Bodies and The Body of Narrative