The legacy of ancient pantomime on the 18th-century stage

The dance reform developed in the 18th century took ancient Greco-Roman pantomime as its inspiring model. The contemporary interest in this sophisticated dance form led to a revival of attention to the treatise of the Greek rhetorician Lucian, On the Dance, written in the second century AD. It has been argued that the pivotal role of the Lucianic dialogue was fostered by two main reasons; first, it was an ancient and authoritative antecedent, which granted intellectual and aesthetic propriety to the new dance form; even more importantly, it provided firm evidence that dance had once been an autonomous and dignified art able to narrate complex stories as well as express a wide range of human emotions. It was thus through the reading of Lucian that dance reformists felt entitled to claim that dance should have a narrative plot intended in the Aristotelian sense and keenly resorted to ancient tragedy and epic as the source of thematic repertoire for their creations. Building on the work of Ismene Lada-Richards and Edward Nye, I plan to investigate further the relationship dance innovators stressed between Aristotle's formulation of coherent dramatic action and ancient pantomime and its 18th-century implementation in the creation of the ballet d'action.

Alessandra Zanobi
Symposium Title: 
Dancing in the theatre of Europe in the long 18th century 2012
Author affiliation: 
The Archive of Performance of Greek and Roman Drama, University of Oxford