student profile: Miss Maria (mia) Tsikrikas


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Thesis work

Thesis title: Santlow and Haywood: Ballet and Literature in the Eighteenth Century World

Supervisors: Olivia MURPHY , Nicola PARSONS

Thesis abstract:

In the twenty-first century ballet is often treated as being synonymous with tutus, hair buns, as well as ideas of grace and femininity. So it is at first surprising to know that ballet, as we know, it was originally performed by the male aristocracy in France and that these amateur dancers, rather than women, wore something akin to a tutu. In fact, one of the first professional female dancers, Mademoiselle La Fontaine (1665-1738), did not appear on stage until Paris, 1681, in Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Le Triomphe de l’Amour. La Fontaine was among the first of a series of female dancers to incite a response from her literary world, with her appearance in Lully’s ballet earning her a mention in the French gazette, Mercure Galant, simply because she was a woman. From this point on female dancers across Europe would captivate and enrage their audiences, gradually shorten their skirts, attempt “manly” leaps and shock the public with their unfortunate absence of undergarments. English dancer, Hester Santlow (1690-1773), was among the first to experiment with a more masculine dance style, as well as to incorporate pantomime in her performances. Indeed, she was so popular in London that she reached a sort of celebrity status and her picture was circulated on snuff boxes. In a literary context the English dancer is all the more significant for her ties to the literary world. Within the first four months of her debut in 1706, Santlow was cited in Daniel Defoe’s A Review of the State of the English Nation (June 20, 1706). She would later appear in John Gay’s congratulatory poem Mr Pope’s Welcome Home from Greece (1720), alongside William Congreve, Jonathan Swift and Richard Steele. Even her ballet performances were not without the involvement of influential literary figures; the English dancer took one of two lead roles in John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717), which was produced with the support of Richard Steele. Indeed, Eliza Haywood’s (1693-1756) first novel, Love in Excess (1719-1720), contains some striking similarities with Weaver’s popular ballet. Both roughly the same age, Santlow and Haywood followed similar career paths in the theatre and their social circles subsequently overlapped.

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