Abstracts of Borrowers and Lenders Shakespeare and Dance Special Issue

The following are abstracts of the essays published in Borrowers and Lenders vol. 10, no. 2 (2017) for the Shakespeare and Dance special issue edited by Elizabeth Klett. The full issue is available on the journal’s website.

  • Introduction: “Dancing (With) Shakespeare” by Elizabeth Klett [web versionpdf]
    • The Introduction to this special issue on “Appropriation in Performance: Shakespeare and Dance” articulates the theoretical foundation and contribution to the study of both topics — Shakespeare and dance — and summarizes the essays’ arguments and critical relation to one another.
  • “‘We’ll measure them a measure, and be gone’: Renaissance Dance Practices and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” by Emily Winerock [web version, pdf]
    • Dance is an oft-overlooked, yet frequent feature in Shakespeare’s plays. The playwright utilizes dance scenes, not only to convey general festivity and celebration, but also to advance plots, to display character traits such as grace and nobility (or their absence), and to highlight the development of romantic relationships. While there are no surviving records detailing the original staging of these dance scenes, there are extant dancing manuals from the period that explain how to do many of the dances that Shakespeare mentions. Moreover, references in a plethora of early modern literary, pictorial, and archival sources offer evidence of how these dances were understood and interpreted by dancers and spectators. Using Romeo and Juliet as a case study, this paper demonstrates how one can bring together these diverse sources, supplemented by the insights gained from the “experiential learning” of staging these dances for live audiences, in order to choreograph historically-informed dances, regardless of whether the production is set in the Elizabethan period or the present day. Finally, the paper argues that a better understanding of Shakespeare’s dance scenes enables us to gain a better understanding of his plays’ central concerns and questions overall.
  • “Creation Myths: Inspiration, Collaboration, and the Genesis of Romeo and Juliet” by Amy Rodgers [web version, pdf]
    • Recent inquiries into Shakespeare and dance have tended towards excavating the place and form of dancing in Shakespeare’s plays or historicizing movement itself. My essay takes a different heuristic route by exploring what dance might bring to our understanding of how Shakespeare’s plays were constructed. Using John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet as a test case, I explore how this work’s collaborative creation might offer insight into the material means of plays’ genesis and realization in Shakespeare’s era. In doing so, I suggest an additional line of inquiry into the relationship between Shakespeare and dance, one that adds to work that expands our understanding of early modern drama’s production.
  • “‘A hall, a hall! Give room, and foot it, girls’: Realizing the Dance Scene in Romeo and Juliet on Film” by Linda McJannet [web version, pdf]
    • In Shakespeare’s text, the dancing at the Capulets’ feast is initiated by Romeo’s friends, who enter as masquers and approach the ladies, while Romeo watches from the sidelines. Film directors alter the dance in interesting ways. George Cukor (1936) relies on Renaissance paintings and dance steps to create a “production number” for Juliet. He creates a glittering court masque in which Juliet has the queen’s leading role and Romeo the king’s prime vantage point. Franco Zeffirelli (1968) includes Romeo in the choreography, and the lovers’ initial attraction reaches a dizzying climax in a Moresca enjoyed by everyone in the household. In the most dramatically and psychologically satisfying version, Baz Luhrmann’s (1996) film, the lovers independently seek refuge from the drunken party. Later, Juliet must dance with a sweetly dorky Paris while she and Romeo bond over her predicament. The different interpretations demonstrate that dance sequences are under-analyzed sites of directorial creativity. In these three cases, they contribute to the characterization of Juliet, the implied basis of the lovers’ mutual attraction, and the theme of their relationship to their social and familial milieu.
  • “Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet: Some Consequences of the ‘Happy Ending'” by Nona Monahin [web version, pdf]
    • This essay discusses some of the musico-dramaturgical implications of Prokofiev’s ballet score for choreographic adaptations of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Prokofiev’s original score itself alters Shakespeare’s tragedy by giving it a “happy ending,” and the popular, better-known “tragic” versions of the ballet are based on a score that represents a later, somewhat problematic, set of compromises. Adapting Shakespeare’s plotline to the dancing stage is thus subject to multiple, often conflicting allegiances, as choreographers make choices with regard to how to integrate Prokofiev’s already variously adapted musical score into their own vision of the ballet. Reversing the ending of a musico-dramatic work does not automatically alter the affective quality of the entire work, yet any traces of the non-tragic vision in Prokofiev’s score would presumably be at odds with Shakespeare, the reinstatement of the tragic ending notwithstanding. I identify several such possible remnants of Prokofiev’s original vision (in the overture, Romeo’s first entrance, and the first fight scene) and examine choreographic responses to them by Leonid Lavrovsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Angelin Preljocaj, and Mark Morris.
  • “Scotch Jig or Rope Dance? Choreographic Dramaturgy and Much Ado About Nothing” (abstract), by Emma Atwood [web version, pdf]
    • This essay considers the role of dance in Much Ado About Nothing, a play that pairs two large company dances with a sustained verbal discourse about dance. This pairing creates a rich, embodied metaphor that bridges the gap between text and performance and extends to the larger themes of masquerade and mistaken identity that permeate the play. After this brief textual analysis, this essay then looks particularly at the role of dance in Joss Whedon’s 2012 film adaptation to argue that Whedon’s production makes a curious connection to popular early modern rope dances and acrobatic performances. This production offers a renewed context for the diversity of early modern dance.
  • “A ‘Merry War’: Synetic’s Much Ado About Nothing and American Post-war Iconography” by Sheila T. Cavanagh [web version, pdf]
    • Synetic Theatre, a Washington, D.C. area theatrical company with artistic roots in the Republic of Georgia, has achieved significant renown for its ongoing series of “wordless” Shakespeare performances. Highly choreographed, these “physical theater” productions vary dramatically in tone and presentation, although they each use distinctive costuming, music, and movement in order to offer nuanced interpretations of Shakespearean drama despite the absence of spoken language. Although their style closely resembles dance, they push against those definitional boundaries and encourage audiences to view their presentations as movement-based genre pieces that defy ready categorization.
  • “‘Light your Cigarette with my Heart’s Fire, My Love’: Raunchy Dances and a Golden-hearted Prostitute in Bhardwaj’s Omkara (2006)” by Madhavi Biswas [web version, pdf]
    • This essay argues that Omkara (dir. Vishal Bhardwaj, 2006) foregrounds contemporary gender concerns in modern, small-town India, primarily through the film’s reformulation of the three female roles in Othello. Billo/Bianca, played by a glamorous, contemporary, female star, gets her own romance and two popular and raunchy song-and-dance tracks in Omkara. These dance tracks are a peculiar mixture of traditional folk Nautanki and identifiable Bollywood masala “item numbers,” whose layered lyrics have been penned by Gulzar, a well-known poet, lyricist, scriptwriter, and ex-film-director who closely collaborates with Bhardwaj. The essay argues for the recognition of the songs in Omkara as a parallel narrative that intertwines with and intersects the central narrative of the plot, inflecting it with a range of cultural and social intertexts, along with a dash of metatextual flavor. The article examines how the two song-and-dance sequences by Billo/Bianca in the film use the familiar tropes of the “courtesan” figure of Hindi films and draw upon traditional folk-theater — reflecting both its local poetry and its vulgarity — to evoke a new kind of verbal and visual “realism” that intertwines Bollywood glamor with local histories.
  • “The Concord of This Discord: Adapting the Late Romances for the Ballet Stage” by Elizabeth Klett [web version, pdf]
    • This essay engages with Alan Brissenden’s claim that Shakespeare uses dance as a metaphor in his last plays to indicate a complex interplay between concord and discord, virtue and vengeance. While Brissenden deliberately does not address the ways in which this interplay might have been embodied through movement on the early modern stage, this essay analyzes two recent ballet versions of The Tempest (American Ballet Theatre, 2013) and The Winter’s Tale (Royal Ballet, 2014) to demonstrate how choreographers can realize this dramatic conjunction through dance. Choreographers Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon emphasize the destructive anger of Prospero and Leontes, and both ballets end on notes of sadness, longing, and loss. Yet each also incorporates harmony and hope, primarily through the redemptive relationships between the young lovers.
  • “Hermione Sessions: Dancing, The Winter’s Tale, and the Kinesthetic Imagination” by Lisa Dickson and Andrea Downie [web version, pdf]
    • This essay traces the development of a solo modern dance interpretation of the final scene of The Winter’s Tale, in which Hermione “awakens” to be reunited with Leontes and Perdita. Part diary, part dialogue between dancer and choreographer, the essay, like the dance itself, also conducts a critical analysis of Hermione’s embodied history in order to understand the moment of choice and agency revealed in her final gesture, the open hand. Engaging with Shakespeare’s play from the perspective of dancer-researchers, we take up Ann Cooper Albright’s assertion that dancing is “physical thinking” and that the “kinaesthetic imagination” is a powerful interpretive tool. We draw on phenomenology and the history and philosophy of modern dance in order to explore the ways in which dancing, as an art that exists dynamically and ephemerally in time and space, opens up the possibility of feminine agency through a resistance to the reification and erasure that characterizes Hermione’s representation in the play. The insistence of the body counters the power of Leontes’ reifying language. To breathe in and as Hermione is to emphasize the insistent expression of her suppressed, embodied self.
  • Note: “Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: An Archival Discovery” by Linda McJannet [web version, pdf]
    • This note describes and analyzes a full-length, archival recording of Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970) long thought to be lost, but recently rediscovered by the author. Now preserved on DVD, it is available to scholars at the Royal Shakespeare Company Archives, housed at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Updated July 21, 2021.

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