RSA, Berlin, March 2015

Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting (Berlin, 2015)
Panel: The Shakespeare and Dance Project: Three Views of Dancing in Romeo and Juliet

  • Organizers: Linda Phyllis Austern, Emily Winerock
  • Chair: Diana Henderson
  • “We’ll measure them a measure, and be gone”: Renaissance Dance Practices and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
    – Emily Winerock

Abstract: The precise footwork and dance figures performed in the original 16th-century performances of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet may never be recovered, but surviving dance instruction manuals and choreographic notes from the period, spectators’ descriptions of dance practices in England and Italy, comparisons with similar dance scenes in contemporary plays, and references to dance elsewhere in the text of Romeo and Juliet itself enable some reasonable hypotheses regarding what dances might have been done in the original production and how those dances were “read” or understood by audience members. Such hypotheses are not simply useful to those staging Elizabethan-era productions. They also illuminate how Shakespeare and his contemporaries used audio-visual forms such as dance to complement or complicate spoken dialogue. Early modern scholars of many disciplines can therefore benefit from giving more consideration and attention to how, historically, dances were staged and interpreted in the earliest productions of Shakespeare’s plays.

  • “A hall, a hall! Give room! And foot it girls”: Realizing the Dance Scene in Romeo and Juliet
    – Linda McJannet

Abstract: In Shakespeare’s text, the dancing at the Capulets’ feast is initiated by Romeo’s friends, mysterious masquers who enter and “take the women out” to dance, while Romeo watches from the sidelines. Modern film directors often give the scene up to ten minutes of screen time. George Cukor’s 1936 Hollywood version, with choreography by Agnes de Mille, imagines an elaborate, formal court masque, with Romeo occupying the king’s privileged position. Franco Zeffirelli (1968) creates a lively private party; the lovers’ initial attraction reaches a dizzying climax prior to their first words. Baz Luhrmann (1996) turns the dance into an obstacle for the lovers and an occasion for bonding: Juliet must dance with a sweetly dorky Paris while trying to maintain eye-contact with Romeo. Paradoxically, Luhrmann’s postmodern version remains closest to Shakespeare’s’ conception, but all three remind us that dance is an essential element in many of Shakespeare’s plays and a major opportunity for directorial creativity.

  • Rhetorics of Courtship in Leonid Lavrovsky’s and John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet
    – Amy Rodgers

Abstract: 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 paper pursues an alternative heuristic route by exploring the ways in which dance has used, adapted, and contributed to “Shakespeare” as a cultural and artistic entity. Using two ballet versions of Romeo and Juliet, I address questions of signification, such as how the physical and mimetic lexicons of ballet may help create, supplement, and destabilize meaning in Shakespeare’s works and in their reception. Specifically, my paper will focus on the ballroom scene in each version to demonstrate how danced Shakespeare and spoken Shakespeare create a unique (and relatively unexplored) intertextual construct. In doing so, I will offer the possibility of an expanded cartography of Shakespeare in performance, one that incorporates dance as a significant participant in the field of Shakespeare studies.