The Empire Ballet

The Empire Ballet

The Empire Ballet

The Empire Ballet

Excerpt

A SALIENT feature in the development of Victorian taste was a straight-laced prudism which, by degrees, permeated nearly the whole life of the nation. One of its widely spread effects was the creation of an outlook that condemned ballet as an entertainment of questionable respectability. Not to be shocked at the display of dancers' legs was perhaps too much to expect of an age which, at its ridiculous extreme, modestly concealed the legs of its pianos in little pantaloons. Ballet's fall from grace was rapid. When Victoria's reign was young it had been featured importantly for nearly a hundred years in the annual seasons of Italian opera at the King's Theatre, or as it became known after Victoria's accession, Her Majesty's Theatre, where many great dancers and choreographers had enjoyed splendid triumphs. Public taste, however, is notoriously fickle, and within a very few years of a particularly brilliant phase during the eighteen-forties, when Jules Perrot produced a wonderful series of ballets and divertissements , including La Esmeralda and the Pas de Quatre, ballet was virtually excluded from the opera house.

Nearly half a century was to pass before the triumphs of Adeline Genée and the artistic revelation of the Diaghilev Ballet began to make the art once again acceptable to genteel folk in England, but ballet by no means disappeared from the London stage in the intervening years. No sooner was it shunned by the fastidious audiences of Her Majesty's and Covent Garden, than it firmly took root in the two great music halls of the metropolis, the Alhambra and the Empire, which, through the closing decades of the nineteenth century and the reign of King Edward VII, competed in profitable rivalry for the crowds that thronged to Leicester Square for their evening's entertainment.

Separating the two great periods which are associated with Romanticism and the person of Diaghilev, the music-hall phase of English ballet, seen in retrospect, appears, because of its very setting, to be sadly deficient in artistic quality. Spectacle and entertainment value were unavoidably the main considerations in the production of ballets at the Alhambra and the Empire . . .

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