Above: Lekythos (oil flask) depicting a woman dancing with satyrs; early 5th c. BCE.
Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Articles from the
Oxford Classical Dictionary
dancing | comedy | dance reception | festivals | gestures | hetairai | masks | mime | music | prostitution | religion | symposium | theatre staging | tragedy
This book examines the ancient Greek chorus and its afterlives in western culture. Choruses, though absolutely central to the social, political, and religious life of classical Greece, no longer hold the same broad importance in modernity, yet the attraction of the Greek chorus has proved a strong impetus to reimagining. Artists and thinkers have continually appropriated Greek choruses to their own ends, and the body of these engagements constitutes a rich and hitherto-unexplored area of the reception of classical antiquity. Exploring the choral tradition from archaic Greece to the present across a variety of different media, the volume thematically juxtaposes perspectives on choruses to create a dialogue between ancient and modern contexts. Following a substantial introduction, the four sections of the book discuss the place of the chorus within scholarship, aesthetic and philosophical perspectives on the chorus, reflections on absences of the chorus, and the social and communal potential of the chorus. Each section considers antiquity and modernity in counterpoint, at once de-familiarizing ancient contexts of the chorus and defining crucial moments in modern choral traditions.
Choral Mediations in Greek Tragedy
ed. Bernard Gagné & Marianne Govers Hopman, 2013
This volume explores how the choruses of Greek tragedy creatively combined media and discourses to generate their own specific forms of meaning. The contributors analyse choruses as fictional, religious and civic performers; as combinations of text, song and dance; and as objects of reflection in themselves, in relation and contrast to the choruses of comedy and melic poetry. Drawing on earlier analyses of the social context of Greek drama, the non-textual dimensions of tragedy, and the relations between dramatic and melic choruses, the chapters explore the uses of various analytic tools in allowing us better to capture the specificity of the tragic chorus. Special attention is given to the physicality of choral dancing, musical interactions between choruses and actors, the trajectories of reception, and the treatment of time and space in the odes.
New Directions in Ancient Pantomime
ed. Edith Hall & Rosie Wyles, 2008
This is the first comprehensive and illustrated study of the most important form of theatre in the entire Roman Empire - pantomime, the ancient equivalent of ballet dancing. Performed for more than five centuries in hundreds of theatres from Portugal in the West to the Euphrates, from Gaul to North Africa, solo male dancing stars - the forerunners of Nijinsky, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov - stunned audiences with their erotic costumes, subtlety of gesture, and dazzling athleticism. In sixteen specially commissioned and complementary studies, the leading world specialists explore all aspects of the ancient pantomime dancer's performance skills, popularity, and social impact, while paying special attention to the texts that formed the basis of this distinctive art form.
Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet
For more than four hundred years, the art of ballet has stood at the center of Western civilization. Its traditions serve as a record of our past. Lavishly illustrated and beautifully told, Apollo’s Angels—the first cultural history of ballet ever written—is a groundbreaking work. From ballet’s origins in the Renaissance and the codification of its basic steps and positions under France’s Louis XIV (himself an avid dancer), the art form wound its way through the courts of Europe, from Paris and Milan to Vienna and St. Petersburg. In the twentieth century, émigré dancers taught their art to a generation in the United States and in Western Europe, setting off a new and radical transformation of dance. Jennifer Homans, a historian, critic, and former professional ballerina, wields a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice. Her admiration and love for the ballet, as Entertainment Weekly notes, brings “a dancer’s grace and sure-footed agility to the page.”
Alan Hughes presents a new complete account of production methods in Greek comedy. The book summarises contemporary research and disputes, on such topics as acting techniques, theatre buildings, masks and costumes, music and the chorus. Evidence is re-interpreted and traditional doctrine overthrown. Comedy is presented as the pan-Hellenic, visual art of theatre, not as Athenian literature. Recent discoveries in visual evidence are used to stimulate significant historical revisions. The author has directly examined 350 vase scenes of comedy in performance and actor-figurines, in 75 collections, from Melbourne to St Petersburg. Their testimony is applied to acting techniques and costumes, and women's participation in comedy and mime. The chapters are arranged by topic, for convenient reference by scholars and students of theatre history, literature, classics and drama. Overall, the book provides a fresh practical insight into this continually developing subject.
Above: Terracotta statuette of a dancing woman; 3rd century BCE. Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Above: Marble relief with a dancing maenad; ca. 27 BCE-14 CE. Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
The Theatricality of Greek Tragedy: Playing Space and Chorus
Ancient Greek tragedy has been an inspiration to Western culture, but the way it was first performed has long remained in question. In The Theatricality of Greek Tragedy, Graham Ley provides an illuminating discussion of key issues relating to the use of the playing space and the nature of the chorus, offering a distinctive impression of the performance of Greek tragedy in the fifth century BCE. Drawing on evidence from the surviving texts of tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, Ley explains how scenes with actors were played in the open ground of the orchestra, often considered as exclusively the dancing place of the chorus. In reviewing what is known of the music and dance of Greek antiquity, Ley goes on to show that in the original productions the experience of the chorus—expressed in song and dance and in interaction with the characters—remained a vital characteristic in the performance of tragedy. Combining detailed analysis with broader reflections about the nature of ancient Greek tragedy as an art form, this volume—supplemented with a series of illustrative drawings and diagrams—will be a necessary addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in literature, theater, or classical studies.
The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet: Images of Wine and Ritual
In deepening our understanding of the symposium in ancient Greece, this book embodies the wit and play of the images it explains: those decorating Athenian drinking vessels from the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The vases used at banquets often depict the actual drinkers who commissioned their production and convey the flowing together of wine, poetry, music, games, flirtation, and other elements that formed the complex structure of the banquet itself. A close reading of the objects handled by drinkers in the images reveals various metaphors, particularly that of wine as sea, all expressing a wide range of attitudes toward an ambiguous substance that brings cheer but may also cause harm. Not only does this work offer an anthropological view of ancient Greece, but it explores a precise iconographic system. In so doing it will encourage and enrich further reflection on the role of the image in a given culture.
Dance and Ritual Play in Greek Religion
In private and in public life, the ancient Greeks danced to express divine adoration and human festivity. They danced at feasts and choral competitions, at weddings and funerals, in observance of the cycles of both nature and human existence. Formal and informal dances marked the rhythms of life and death. In this book, Steven Lonsdale looks at how the Greeks themselves regarded the act of dance, and how dance and related forms of ritual play in Greek religious festivals served a wide variety of functions in Greek society. The act of worship, he explains, often implied engaging in collective rites regulated by playful behavior, the most common forms of which were group hymns and choral dances.
When the eighteenth-century choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre sought to develop what is now known as modern ballet, he turned to ancient pantomime as his source of inspiration; and when Isadora Duncan and her contemporaries looked for alternatives to the strictures of classical ballet, they looked to ancient Greek vases for models for what they termed 'natural' movement. This is the first book to examine systematically the long history of the impact of ideas about ancient Greek and Roman dance on modern theatrical and choreographic practices. With contributions from eminent classical scholars, dance historians, theatre specialists, modern literary critics, and art historians, as well as from contemporary practitioners, it offers a very wide conspectus on an under-explored but central aspect of classical reception, dance and theatre history, and the history of ideas.
Music and the Muses: The Culture of Mousikē in the Classical Athenian City
ed. Penelope Murray & Peter Wilson, 2004
What was the role of mousike in Greek life? Broader in its implications than the English "music," mousike, the realm of the Muses, lay at the heart of Greek culture. Yet, despite its centrality, its social and intellectual implications have rarely been investigated. In these new and specially commissioned essays leading experts analyze the political, religious, and ethical significance of musical performance in the classical Athenian city, and open up a new field of investigation in cultural history.
Athenian Tragedy in Performance: A Guide to Contemporary Studies and Historical Debates
Foregrounding critical questions about the tension between the study of drama as literature versus the study of performance, Melinda Powers investigates the methodological problems that arise in some of the latest research on ancient Greek theatre. She examines key issues and debates about the fifth-century theatrical space, audience, chorus, performance style, costuming, properties, gesture, and mask, but instead of presenting a new argument on these topics, Powers aims to understand her subject better by exploring the shared historical problems that all scholars confront as they interpret and explain Athenian tragedy. A case study of Euripides’s Bacchae, which provides more information about performance than any other extant tragedy, demonstrates possible methods for reconstructing the play’s historical performance and also the inevitable challenges inherent in that task, from the limited sources and the difficulty of interpreting visual material, to the risks of conflating actor with character and extrapolating backward from contemporary theatrical experience. As an inquiry into the study of theatre and performance, an introduction to historical writing, a reference for further reading, and a clarification of several general misconceptions about Athenian tragedy and its performance, this historiographical analysis will be useful to specialists, practitioners, and students alike.
The analysis of the dynamic nature of rituals has become a heuristic tool for the investigation not only of religious behaviour and beliefs, but also for the study of social practice and communication in ancient and modern societies. From public assembly gatherings and funerals to celebration of cult feasts or the honouring of individuals, rituals mark socially important occasions, define beginnings and endings, and aid social transitions. Thus, rituals carry all kinds of messages intended to support and express the performance of those involved, and to create the desired results. The present volume brings together a collection of articles on rituals in the Graeco-Roman world, focussing on the interconnection between ritual as a means of communication and communication as a ritual phenomenon. In regarding rituals as an interface in the realm of cultural practices, the contributors demonstrate the manifold function of ritual communication in the life of ancient communities.
Below: Terracotta column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water) depicting Dionysus among dancing satyrs and maenads; ca. 550 BCE.
Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.