Modernity as Trauma and Frederick Ashton’s World War II Ballet, Dante Sonata

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    What is perhaps striking about the period in British Ballet history just at the onset of the Second World War and present during the conflict is the relatively non-balletic character of the works created. These ballets were greatly appreciated by their audiences and seemed to favour a much more pronounced expressionist form of concert dance. This essay looks specifically at one of the first of these works, Dante Sonata, created by Vic Wells Ballet choreographer Frederick Ashton and premiered in the winter of 1940. It is a twenty minute piece, performed in bare feet, and explores the complex and violent relationship between two groups of men and women, while reworking nineteenth century artists’ interpretations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I argue that these characteristics suggest a desire to recapture the imagined order and plenitude of an earlier historical era as a form of coping with the trauma of modernity inflicted by the twentieth century development of Total War. In particular, I highlight how dance can be a panoramic object of analysis for understanding the cultural zeitgeist of the early twentieth century; and consequently, how movement can be a response to trauma in specific socio-historic moments.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherModernism/Modernity Print Plus
    EditionVolume 3, Cycle 4
    Media of outputOnline
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019


    • Modernity
    • Cultural Trauma
    • Ballet
    • World War One Era
    • Dance Expressionism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Arts and Humanities(all)


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