Say ‘Shakespeare’ here at the Institute and eyes light up. Add ‘ballet’ and the light dies. And yet at least thirteen of Shakespeare’s plays have been turned into ballets, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, and Othello.
The most famous Shakespearean ballet is Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which formed my MA dissertation subject. In 1979, Fatma Necla Ciktgil did her dissertation on “The Ballet Versions of Shakespeare’s Works”, with chapters on Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Both dissertations are available for consultation at the SI Library.
Six productions of Romeo and Juliet are available on DVD in our Audio Visual room, dating from 1954 to 2012. Two of them even come with special features, allowing you deeper access in the world of Shakespeare ballet. The ballet is well worth seeing, even if you’re not a ballet fan. The story-telling through dance is beautiful to watch and the scenery is often stunning.
Despite growing popularity of Shakespeare ballets, there is little written material on it. However, the books we have here at the Library are a valuable source of information. Camille Cole Howard’s The Staging of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as a Ballet speaks for itself. An article by Nancy Isenberg in Shifting the Scene: Shakespeare in European Culture edited by Ladina Bezzola Lambert and Balz Engler explores John Cranko’s choreography of Romeo and Juliet. Arthur Graham’s Shakespeare in Opera, Ballet, Orchestral Music and Song, contains chapters on Romeo and Juliet and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; discussed again in Regina Buccola’s Critical Guide to the play.
There also newspaper reviews to browse on productions of the various Shakespeare Ballets. Just look up “SHAKESPEARE (W.) Ballets” in the SI Library newscutting index file.
The Library resources on Shakespeare and ballet were invaluable to me while writing my dissertation. I hope this encourages you to explore this brave new world and discover Shakespearean ballet for yourselves.
Hannah Perrin, Library Support Assistant
Hannah’s current exhibition in the SIL focuses on a production of Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan and staged at the O2 Arena in 2011. This exhibition will be up for the whole of July – do come and see!