THE EMERGENCE OF THE UP-TO-DATE BALLET
I N THE ATMOSPHERE of the music hall, where topicality gave spice to the variety turns, the emergence of the up-to-date ballet was almost inevitable. The Paris Exhibition having pointed the way, the formula was repeated on August 31, 1891, when the curtain rose on By the Sea to reveal Margate beach almost to the life, thronged with excursionists, bathers, minstrels, costers, children, shrimpers and fisherfolk: only the ozone seemed to be lacking. Wilhelm's costumes for this ballet were a mass of colour, and Katti Lanner had arranged such a variety of striking dances that her one concession to tradition -- a pas seul for Emma Palladino in conventional ballet costume -- appeared rather as a skeleton at a feast alongside the coster dance and the bathing ballet, which as The Times recorded, was 'the most remarkable feature of the performance and the nearest approach to the shocking which an observance of the Lord Chamberlain's rules allows'. Wenzel's music struck just the right note of 'somewhat riotous and irresponsible holiday-making',1 introducing a number of characteristic melodies such as 'Little Annie Rooney' and 'The Bogie Man'.
Bernard Shaw saw the second edition of this ballet in April 1892, when Maria Giuri -- in his opinion, 'a really brilliant dancer' -- had succeeded Palladino, and he was interested to see that she 'condescended to frank step-dancing in a scene set to national airs, which, however, included one brief variation on Yankee Doodle which the most exclusive pupil of the grand school need not have disdained'.2
Nisita, the Christmas ballet, marked a return to the old tradition. Its first performance was announced for December 22, 1891, but that evening London was swathed in one of the worst fogs in its history. It was so thick that the drop curtain could not be seen from the third row of the stalls. The performance had to be cancelled, and the ballet was not given until two days later. Shaw saw this ballet, too, which had an Albanian setting and____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The Empire Ballet. Contributors: Ivor Guest - Author. Publisher: Society for Theatre Research. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1962. Page number: 39.
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