A GLIMPSE OF THE SPECTRAL WOMAN: ROMANTIC BALLET AND THE GOTHIC
The age of romantic ballet – especially in its focal point, the Paris Opéra between 1831 and
1845 – is known for signalling the rise of the ballerina from entertainer to cultural icon. She was the heroine of fantastic stories in which the surface of reality was cracked, allowing a glimpse of other worlds populated by supernatural female characters; an incarnation of the sublime, idolised by audiences and critics. Yet, there was a brutal contrast between the dazzling perception of the stars and the workaday reality of most ballerinas. Romantic ballets often explored the limited possibilities for women in French society, and sometimes even presented otherworldly alternatives through the use of Gothic elements. This article explores how an image of delicate, spectral femininity was constructed on the Parisian stage and press, and to what extent the characters of romantic ballet – and the women portraying them – could be dancing against that same imagery.
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