Unlikely Engagements: Ballet in Pantomime in Late Victorian London

Prof. Alexandra Carter
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Despite an abundance of projects and policies aimed at enhancing accessibility in the arts, there is still a not uncommonly held notion that certain kinds of arts can only be engaged with by certain sectors of the community. This is particularly the case with ballet, for despite a long history of access policies it is still perceived as an art form which is mainly amenable to an elite audience. By revisiting history, however, such a conception can not only be revealed as flawed but also as one arising from a deliberately constructed historiography by the prime movers of British ballet history.

From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, ballet was an integral part of pantomime for popular audiences. It comprised the mass spectacle so dearly loved by the Victorians and the presence of the pantomime fairy in point shoes and tutu lived on well in to the twentieth century.

Appropriating, amongst other theoretical discourses, Foucault's (1966) notions of synchronic/ archaeological approaches to the construction of knowledge and the relationship between knowledge and power (genealogy), and using late nineteenth century pantomime as an example, this paper exposes the ways in which ballet has been watched by a far broader audience than conventional history leads us to believe. The relevance of this case study to today resides in the claim that it is not arts activity per se which militates against audience/participant engagement but the context in which it is presented and the manner it which it is critically received and historically preserved.

Keywords: Dance, Ballet, Pantomime, Popular Culture
Stream: Audiences, Analysing Artforms
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Unlikely Engagements

Prof. Alexandra Carter

Professor in Dance Studies, Dance Department
School of Arts, Middlesex University


I joined Middlesex University in 1985 and have continued to contribute to under- and post-graduate programmes in Dance and Performing Arts, as well as supervision of research students. My own research degree, awarded by the University of Surrey, was on ballet in the London music halls and I continue to explore the interface between ballet and popular culture. I edited the Routledge Dance Studies Reader (1998) and Rethinking Dance History (2004) and published the sole authored text Dance and Dancers in the Victorian and Edwardian Music Hall Ballet (2005). Have served as a Panel member and now Convenor of the Arts and Humanities Research Panel 7 and on the Editorial Board of Dance Theatre Jurnal.

Ref: A06P0066