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Symbolism in Nineteenth-Century Ballet

"Giselle</I>, "Coppélia</I>, "The Sleeping Beauty</I> and "Swan Lake</I>

Margaret Fleming-Markarian

This book investigates allegorical meaning in the ballets Giselle, Coppélia, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, principally by examining their original librettos and costume designs, as well as considering their surviving choreographic legacy. Each ballet is examined scene by scene in order to identify occult symbols secreted within its structure. The names of characters, their costume details (form, colour, pattern and attribute) and the parts they play and dance (mime, choreographic step and staging) are individually searched for symbolic correspondences.
The author argues that the meaning of these symbols reveals a serious subtext embedded within each ballet and shows that these subtexts are all found to fable the spiritual journey of the soul towards a heavenly paradise. The distinctive set of symbols and the method of interpretation differ in each case: Giselle takes on a Swedenborgian slant, Coppélia hinges on Masonry, while The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake are steeped in mysticism.

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Introduction 1

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Introduction Symbolism Throughout the ages, symbols have been used to convey meaning in an emblematic way and, in the nineteenth century, artists of the Romantic style, like their predecessors, adopted symbols similarly, to clothe and expend the meaning of their work: indeed, it was in the wake of this Roman- tic trend that the fin-de-siècle Symbolist movement itself emerged and focused intensively upon the use of symbol. But what were the concepts behind such usage at that time? Especially significant were those ideas adhering to what was termed the ‘theory of correspondences’. The ‘Theory of Correspondences’ The ‘theory of correspondences’ rests on a dual conception of the world: that which is material and that which is spiritual. Everything material has value only in so far as it relates to a sense of the spiritual. Materiality is the tangible form or symbol of the intangible spirit. In the eighteenth century, Emmanuel Swedenborg1 had stated that: ‘The whole natural world cor- responds to the spiritual world, not only the natural world in general, but also in every particular. Therefore, whatever in the natural world comes into existence from the spiritual world is said to be in correspondence with it.’2 1 Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), Swedish philosopher who first proposed his theory of correspondences in Regnum Animale, Anatomice, Physice et Philosophice, published in two volumes, 1744–5. 2 Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell (London: Swedenborg Society, 1992), 44. 2 Introduction The physicality, therefore, of all that is on earth, renders itself ‘correspond-...

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