Music, dance, and female creativity in early twentieth-century American performance

Simonson, Mary Elizabeth, Department of Music , University of Virginia
Will, Richard, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Hudson, Elizabeth, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Puri, Michael, Department of Music, University of Virginia

Music, Dance, and Female Creativity in Early Twentieth-Century American Performance By Mary Elizabeth Simonson A plethora of female performers emerged within American art and entertainment in the first decades of the twentieth century. Creating and staging pieces that combined music and dance in venues ranging from opera houses and concert halls to vaudeville theaters and film, these women were ubiquitous, popular, and a significant part of tum-of-the century American musical life and culture. Actively adapting and amending (often European) musical texts, they created and performed new acts and roles, displaying onstage shifting body politics and practices, new forms of art and entertainment, and the strong, symbiotic relationship between music and movement.

In this dissertation, I explore a series of four of these performances: the dancing Salomes that swept the United States during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Isadora Duncan's written and danced relationship with Richard Wagner's opera scores and theories, ballerina Anna Pavlova's film version of D.F.E. Auber's 1828 opera La Muette de Portici, and choreographer Michel Fokine's Les Sylphides, as staged by Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes during their 1916 American tour. These performances, I argue, challenge and enhance musicological narratives and methodologies in several ways. First, they offer unique insights into early twentieth-century American musical tastes, practices, and identities, as well as notions of American musical identity. Second, they reveal the fluid relationships between composer, performer, and audience, encouraging expanded definitions of creativity and authorship. Finally, and most importantly, they foreground the close historical connections between music and dance traditions, the ways in which music and movement inflect one another onstage, and the embodied nature of performance.

In recent years, both "performance" and "the body" have been increasingly invoked in musicological scholarship as a means of complementing and complicating familiar readings of musical works. Both have also increasingly taken on an amorphous, slippery quality. In this dissertation, I am interested in demystifying these terms by returning to the sights and sounds of each performance, the physical and musical gestures that each entailed, the reactions of audience members and critics, and the ways in which each of these performances reflected and constructed the cultural moment in which it was conceived and presented.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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