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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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Conclusion: Choreographic Symbol and its Erosion 247

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Conclusion All the ballets in this study – Giselle, Coppélia, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake – are staged romantically, in vague historical hinterlands, where supernatural or magical circumstances come to bear. By interpreting them through their symbolism, they have been proven to contain allegorical subtexts, which fable the journey of the soul of the main protagonists towards spiritual illumination. Romantic or divine love is at the focal point of these allegories, contrasted with elements of infernal love and even of the absence of love. The method of symbolization in the allegories pertains to the correspondences which are signalled through the names of the bal- lets’ characters, their role as set out in the librettos, the pattern, colour and motifs found on their original costume designs, and the choreographic design woven into their dancing parts. That symbolization generally refers to symbols from European folklore and Christianity, although in the first two ballets, Giselle (1841) and Coppélia (1870), there are more noticeably, quite a number of references to classical antiquity. Moreover, the symbolic texture appears more vertical in Giselle, where material symbols correspond directly to other-worldly equivalents, inferring a strong Swedenborgian inf luence. In the later ballets, Coppélia (1870), The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and Swan Lake (1895), the symbolic texture appears strengthened by greater numbers of symbols, which can correspond to each other horizontally on a mundane level, as well as being able to correspond vertically to an other-worldly equivalent. This enrichment of symbolic texture mirrors the inf luence of...

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