‘The flowers were at a ball last night’ Ephemerality and Festivity in 19th-Century Flower Ballets

In the middle of the 19th-century,  the  phantasm  of  flowers  as  animated  beings  (Andersen’s Little Ida’s Flowers; Grandville’s Les Fleurs animées) and the concept of floriography which encoded singular blossoms with a particular meaning, both converged in  the  idea  of  flower ballets. Most notably in Paolo Taglioni’s Thea, which was originally produced in 1847 for Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, restaged in Berlin in the same year and later reproduced in Milan in 1867, dancers incorporated various flowers and formed  floral-ornamental  tableaus. Eventually this connection between dance and floral  festivity,  which  had  already  been established by Andersen’s 1835 fairy tale, found a late echo in the costume design by Wilhelm (Charles William Pitcher) for the Bell Flower Ballet in the pantomime Dick Whittington as performed at Crystal Palace on 24th December 1890. Why is the  transitory  nature  of  both flowers and dance so dominantly linked to the notion of festivity? This paper will deal with the relationship to 19th-century flower ballets and will ask: which aesthetical presuppositions and socio-political conditions govern the idea of festively dancing flowers and how were  they realized in costume design and choreographic arrangements?

Alexander Schwan is a research associate at the Institute of Theatre Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. He studied Protestant theology, Jewish studies and philosophy in Heidelberg, Jerusalem and Berlin, and theatre directing at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Frankfurt/Main. He is currently completing his dissertation entitled Dance as a Spatial Inscription. Graphism in Postmodern and Contemporary Choreography in affiliation with the DFG Research Training Group Notational Iconicity. His main areas of research are romantic ballet, postmodern dance, dance and religion, and floriography.




Alexander Schwan
Symposium Title: 
Dancing for Anniversaries and Occasions: Chamber, Court, Theatre & Assembly 2015
Author affiliation: 
Institute of Theatre Studies, Freie Universität Berlin