WAGNER AND DANCE

After reading my post on Ballet Royal de la Nuit, Ken Ward, who for many years was editor of the international Bruckner Journal, corrected my assertion that dance isn’t part of Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk. He pointed out the Tanz der Lehrbuben in Die Meistersinger and the bit of dancing in the Flying Dutchman, and he said that the Rhine maidens, the Valkyries and the Flower Maidens often dance, though not on Wagner’s instructions. He pointed me in the direction of Thomas Grey’s paper in Musicology and Dance, which observed that Wagner – as I suspected – explicitly rejected the traditions of French dance.

“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, 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.”

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