In the multifarious complexity of discourses opened up by nineteenth century world exhibitions the role of the moving body has a relevance that still deserves to be investigated. In this realm, dance performances of different types stand out as significant moments that not only often accompanied the success and marked the memory of specific exhibitions; they also constructed and reproduced a particular kind of discursivity that lies at the core of the whole world exhibitions “phantasmagoria of capitalist culture” (Benjamin). Among others, the Italian Ballo Excelsior, which premiered in Milan in 1881, is one of the most significant cases, a great global success aimed at spreading the ideology of ‘progress and civilization’ first to the Italian newborn nation and then all over the world. It somehow anticipated the First National Exhibition, introducing the audiences not only to its ideological stances, but also to the forms of reception and perception the exhibition would impose. The essay traces, first of all, the link with the 1881 Milan exhibition, reconstructing the circumstances of the first staging of the ballet and its national reception. Then, the nexus between the ballet’s aesthetic and ideological features is analyzed, both from the specific point of view of dance history and from the broader perspective of cultural studies, also discussing the definition of ‘kitsch’ aesthetics, often mentioned in relation to this work. Thereafter, the essay looks at the global success the ballet had in the years to follow, highlighting the changes it underwent, both at an ideological and formal level, in order to meet the expectations of this new dimension through an articulation of the national and the global. Finally, it proposes some reflections on how this articulation is also an imagination of a framed diversity, an artifact whose structure frames otherness into a phantasmagoric construction, something which deeply characterizes the kind of Western discursivity world exhibitions are a part of.

Dancing for the World: Articulating the National and the Global in the Ballo Excelsior’s Kitsch Imagination

ADAMO, SERGIA
2014

Abstract

In the multifarious complexity of discourses opened up by nineteenth century world exhibitions the role of the moving body has a relevance that still deserves to be investigated. In this realm, dance performances of different types stand out as significant moments that not only often accompanied the success and marked the memory of specific exhibitions; they also constructed and reproduced a particular kind of discursivity that lies at the core of the whole world exhibitions “phantasmagoria of capitalist culture” (Benjamin). Among others, the Italian Ballo Excelsior, which premiered in Milan in 1881, is one of the most significant cases, a great global success aimed at spreading the ideology of ‘progress and civilization’ first to the Italian newborn nation and then all over the world. It somehow anticipated the First National Exhibition, introducing the audiences not only to its ideological stances, but also to the forms of reception and perception the exhibition would impose. The essay traces, first of all, the link with the 1881 Milan exhibition, reconstructing the circumstances of the first staging of the ballet and its national reception. Then, the nexus between the ballet’s aesthetic and ideological features is analyzed, both from the specific point of view of dance history and from the broader perspective of cultural studies, also discussing the definition of ‘kitsch’ aesthetics, often mentioned in relation to this work. Thereafter, the essay looks at the global success the ballet had in the years to follow, highlighting the changes it underwent, both at an ideological and formal level, in order to meet the expectations of this new dimension through an articulation of the national and the global. Finally, it proposes some reflections on how this articulation is also an imagination of a framed diversity, an artifact whose structure frames otherness into a phantasmagoric construction, something which deeply characterizes the kind of Western discursivity world exhibitions are a part of.
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