The Making of a Choreographer: Ninette de Valois and Bar aux Folies-Bergère

by Beth Genné

woman in dance poseFounder of Britain’s Royal Ballet, Ninette de Valois was a visionary with the managerial genius of a CEO. She was also a choreographer, one of the best in Britain of the 1920s and 1930s, and one of only a handful of women working internationally in the medium of ballet. Between 1925, when she left Diaghilev’s famed Ballets Russes, until 1934, when she created Bar aux Folies-Bergère for Marie Rambert’s Ballet Club, she choreographed a score of exciting, modern works that put her Vic-Wells Ballet at the forefront of the British dance avant-garde – even as it began mounting the Russian classics.

How this happened is the story that Beth Genné tells in The Making of a Choreographer. Quoting liberally from de Valois’s writings and from interviews with her, Genné introduces the many remarkable figures who nurtured her: Lilian Baylis, William Butler Yeats, Bronislava Nijinska, Serge Diaghilev, Terence Gray, Marie Rambert, and many more. With clarity and more than a touch of passion, Genné explains what de Valois learned from them and how she applied their "lessons."

The last part of the book is about the making of Bar aux Folies-Bergère. Inspired by the renowned Manet painting, the ballet teamed not only the founding mothers of British ballet but also such legendary personalities as ballerina Alicia Markova, designer William Chappell, and choreographers Frederick Ashton (as a member of the cast) and Antony Tudor (as stage manager for the production). The book ends with a facsimile and transcription of de Valois’s thirty-six-page loose-leaf notebook recording the ballet’s choreography and additional comments by Marie Rambert. Now in the archives of the Rambert Dance Company, London, this unique document is a rare example of de Valois’s working method as a choreographer.

Beth Genné, a noted American historian of British ballet, teaches dance history and art history at the University of Michigan. She is currently completing a book on dance in the film musicals of Vincente Minnelli and the team of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.

Title: The Making of a Choreographer
Author: Beth Genné
Pub date: 1996
7 x 10 in. 139 pp. (text), 35 pp. (score), 26 illus.
ISBN 0-9653519-1

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