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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Literary Question - La Sorelli


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In Leroux's Phantom of the Opera, La Sorelli - the principal dancer of the Opera - is described thusly on stage:


"When she raises her arms and leans forward to begin a piroutte, accenting thereby the outline of her bosom, and causing the hips of this delicious woman to sway, she appears to be in a tableau so lascivious that it could drive a man to blow his brains out"


Aside from the evident differences in body shape aesthetic between then (1881) and the present day, I'm curious: would 'swaying' one's hips in preparation for a turn at this time have been acceptable, or is the author getting a bit carried away?


La Sorelli is a very colourful character in the book - for all she gets very little to do. She carries a dagger with her everywhere, and is having an affair with one of the Opera's wealthiest artistocratic patrons. The corps are also vividly depicted:


"But the room seemed a palace to the brats of the corps de ballet, who were lodged in common dressing-rooms where they spent their time singing, quarreling, smacking the dressers and hair-dressers and buying one another glasses of cassis, beer, or even rhum, until the call-boy's bell rang."

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Remember, LeRoux knew even less about ballet than he did about opera! His description of either is built on second-hand readings of writings by critics like Théophile Gautier, who is still today required reading about the arts scene of the Second Empire. The activity of the corps was practically a cliché by the time LeRoux was writing (1909).

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Yes, and as with most stereotypes, there's an element of truth to the basic premise, but also a great deal of oversimplification and generalization. The opera ballet of the 1880s was pretty much of a girlie show.

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