From the author:
This book traces the importance of modern ballet on
the thematic plots in Willa
Cather’s novels and aims to create new ways of
reading her texts.
By the turn of the century
pioneers of modern dance were following in
Duncan’s footsteps, seeking a new
type of expressive movement that would free them from the staid
conventions of European classical ballet.
A similar transition was taking place in Russia, producing an
exciting reform that resulted in Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
So by the time
Cather’s interest was
kindled there were three major professional schools of dance: the
traditional classical ballet of Italy and France; the modern or barefoot
dancing promoted by
Duncan; and the modern ballet of
the Ballets Russes. Cather dismissed the first type as being antiquated, and the
second style as being unskilled.
Her artistic interest lay in the Russian company that produced
such talent as Anna Pavlova whom,
according to her friend
Shepley Sergeant, Cather revered as “a superlative mistress of coordination and
one of the times when Willa Cather’s world “broke
in two” was when she first saw Anna
Pavlova and Michael Mordkin
perform at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1910.
From that point on, dance could be categorized as being either
pre-Pavlovian ‘entertainment’ or post-Pavlonian ‘high art.’
For although there appears to have been no sequential growth
pattern in Cather’s treatment of dance themes in her short stories, they
do reveal two very distinct ‘before’ and ‘after’
phases that seem to commemorate the moment when modern ballet was
accepted into the Kingdom of Art.
adopts and adapts traditional ballet synopses and characterizations,
incorporating them into her earliest novels in an increasingly complex
and multi-layered fashion.
She appears to have sustained the ballet theme throughout her oeuvre,
devising new and intricate ways of synthesizing and reworking this
classic material – often using ballet plots to subvert and reverse the
surface readings of her works.
The Appendix provides a unique list of the major
dance performances presented in the New York area from 1906 (the year
Cather moved to the city) until
1940 (when she published her last
derives from Lillian
Moore’s notebook entitled Metropolitan
Opera Solo Dancers and Choreographers (1906-1910), and from
meticulous research from advertisements, reviews and articles in the
New York Times (1906-1940).
From the readers:
Cather and the Dance, Wendy
Perriman opens a new field for Cather scholars: the world of the dance.
Her remarkable scholarship is a pathfinder’s breakthrough to
another field of knowledge relevant to the work of Willa
It offers new insights into transatlantic modernist culture.
boasted that she would never repeat herself, and in this book Perriman
shows that she also applied that principle to ballets and dances that
she wove into her creations.
Cather’s subtle allusions reveal her comprehensive knowledge of
and taste for the dance.
prodigiously thorough survey of such allusions generates a short history
of dance performance in America . . . .
it seems, could heroize the artists of the ballet as she also did those
of the stage. An audience
member relaxes here while learning new material, for we follow the
informed instruction of a seasoned dance historian who is also a fine
Skaggs, Ph. D.
Series Editor of The Willa Cather Series (Fairleigh
Dickinson University Press),
and late Baldwin Professor of Humanities (Drew
and the Dance is “a substantial addition to the scholarly corner
devoted to uncovering traces of the dance in literary writings . . . .
[it] will prove invaluable to dance scholars . . . . [Perriman] has done
her fellow researchers a service.”
Lisa Ferrugia Atkinson
Dance Chronicle (Volume 34, Issue 2, 2011): 330-335.