In around 1830, Romanticism came to the fore in theatres in France and throughout Europe. Ballet played a powerful role in this artistic revolution, its success boosted by new media coverage. Although it gave birth to a new imaginary world, it struggled to establish an identity and, in this poetic battle, it was the female dancer, rather than dance itself, that became the main subject of representations. Whether of the air or the sky, from the north or the south, the ballerina epitomised the dualism of the Romantic imagination. She found herself at the heart of a process of legitimisation and moralisation in the art of choreography that was now endowed with a mythography. However, other discourses revealed a contrario the dancing body’s aberrations, sometimes a source of laughter sometimes a source of fear. The purpose of this survey of literary and iconographic depictions is to reveal the ‘two bodies of dance’: on the one hand, the metaphorical body, magical and glorious, that shaped the Romantic scene; on the other, the fallible and constrained body that was the inevitable counterpart.
Bénédicte Jarrasse is professor of modern literature with a PhD in comparative literature. She devotes her research to the dialogue between literary texts and the performing arts, theatrical dance in particular, in 19th-century Europe. She is a member of the team of the ‘Discours sur la danse’ project for the Observatoire de la Vie Littéraire of the Université Paris-Sorbonne.