chapter  2
43 Pages

Canonical crossings: Narratives and forms revisioned

The fascinations and desires revealed in the quotations above point towards the range of rationales and methodologies evident in reworkings. Illuminating diverse choreographic strategies, this chapter focuses upon the ways in which choreographers have unhinged old dance texts to replay them upon the contemporary stage in revisionary ways. Drawing on, and elucidating, specific examples, I review the content, form and reception of six reworkings, produced in four different countries, of four nineteenth-century ballets. In tracing some of the common strategies and recurring themes evident in recent examples of reworkings, this chapter

starts with dances that retain key structural invariants of their source ballets (for example, dances by Ek and Bourne) and shifts to those that use the ballet within an eclectic context and for radically different purposes (for example, Tankard and Stewart). (See chapter 1 for a discussion of invariants in reworkings.)

I consider the grip of canonical discourse, reflecting upon the extent to which the canon as traditionally constructed continues to impact upon the reading of these dances. What reverberates throughout this chapter is that, however radical or subversive a particular reworking may be, the tenacious web of canonicity always attempts to reassert itself. As Susan Bennett, in her discussion of adaptations of Shakespeare, notes, this ‘remains the argument against the revival/rewriting of … [a] classical text: that containment is an inevitable effect’ (Bennett 1996: 145). While containment may or may not be an inevitable effect, reworkings do offer a proliferation of reconceptualisations of bodies and identities, and a recurring theme in the reworkings discussed in this chapter is the divergence from conventional representations of identity. Whether counter-canonical or not, these reworkings have clearly rewritten and recast the ballets at their source across the lines of gender, race, class and sexuality. My writing invokes these political dimensions, for these dance reworkings have the potential to engender a rethinking of seemingly fixed identity categories and aesthetics. Thereby I bring attention to the ways in which reworkings engage in aesthetic and social dimensions to speak back to, as they simultaneously intersect with, their sources.