‘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.