Rhythmic gesture in classic ballet : awakening Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping beauty
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Rhythmic gesture --- a recurring pattern of exertions over time --- is the most commonly noted site of parallelism between the sounds of music and the movements of dance, whether in studies of eighteenth-century concert music or in choreo-musical analyses of twentieth-century ballet. This dissertation focuses on the role of rhythmic gesture in music for nineteenth-century “classical” ballet, analyzing rhythmic aspects of Tchaikovsky’s music for Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker, together with historical dance notations of the ballet-master Marius Petipa’s choreography. Ballet music serves a dual function: it articulates a rhythm and meter to regulate the performance of dance steps, and signifies expressive states and dramatic ideas. Chapter One proposes that rhythmic gesture and meter fulfill both functions, following Carlo Blasis’s multivalent use of the word temps. Chapter Two finds that Tchaikovsky’s music for Sleeping Beauty utilizes two contradictory metric types --- each of which represents a different conceptualization of the musical phrase --- and explores how this distinction might affect a dancer’s sense of musical and physical weight. I posit that the contrast between metric types is exploited to expressive ends. Chapter Four explores what Harald Krebs has termed “metrical dissonance” in terms of embodied metaphor, demonstrating that Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores develop and intensify latent metrical dissonances suggested by characteristic dance rhythms, shift our sense of metrical “gravity,” and organize entire dances or suites of dances in long-range metrical processes. In addition to these chapters, two short Divertissements (Chapters Three and Five) offer standalone analytical vignettes: the first, of Tchaikovsky’s transformation of leitmotifs in Sleeping Beauty; the second, of the intersections between metrical dissonance, dance, and topic in an ensemble piece from Nutcracker. Chapter Six contextualizes Tchaikovsky’s rhythmic technique, explored in detail, within the conventions of Petipa’s standardized grand pas plan --- a focal node of discourse for divergent twentieth-century critical and choreographic traditions. I present contrasting choreo-musical analyses of Sleeping Beauty’s “Vision” pas d’action and “Bluebird” pas de deux to demonstrate how our attention to the rhythmic gestures of Tchaikovsky’s music allows us a window into both the technical and expressive facets of Petipa’s historical choreographic style.