Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Gerilyn Tandberg


With the collapse of Neoclassicism and its worn-out mythological subject matter, the middle class increasingly attended performances previously dominated by aristocratic audiences. New artistic tastes developed; people sought a return to nature and all its mysteries. An interest in folklore, fairy tales, legends, and old literature accompanied a timeless human need for periodic escapism and fantasy. Ballet became a major vehicle for that need. When Marie Taglioni initiated dancing on pointe as the Sylphide in La Sylphide (1832), ballet gained favor, and the Romantic era was born in dance. Ballet flourished, and new scientific methods for training dancers included a focus on the technical invention of the pointe shoe, which produced a totally new effect of weightlessness and femininity. For the first time, supernatural creatures could move on the stage with startling lightness. Overshadowed, male danseurs became mere porters of female sylphs, Wilis, peris, and other weightless mysterious creatures. Romantic ballet experienced three distinct phases. Its zenith phase, the 1830s-1840s, produced the well-known La Sylphide and Giselle. The decline phase, 1850s-1880s, introduced Coppelia and Swan Lake. The revival phase, 1890s prior to Diaghilev, yielded Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. All six ballets utilized enchantment/magic as an impetus for the action, and their plots depended upon enchanter characters to further that action. The treatment of particularly the female enchanter characters in the libretti, all written by men, exemplified the Romantic view and status of women in general. The idolized ballerina, the supernatural creature on the stage, epitomized women's fascinating combination of sensuality and innocence. Balletomanes found the duality erotic, and Romantic men sought simultaneously to exploit and protect the "weaker" sex. The evolution of these major Romantic ballets is evident through an examination of each ballet's plot and source(s) of the libretto, supernatural elements, and character treatment. The study exposes the groundwork underlying the magical elements surrounding the scenarios and characters' actions. It also examines reasons why female enchanters outnumbered male enchanters, and how they reflected the status of women in Romantic society.