Dissertation Index

Author: Bell, Matthew T.

Title: Rhythmic Gesture in Classic Ballet: Awakening Tchaikovsky\'s Sleeping Beauty

Institution: The University of Texas at Austin

Begun: June 2015

Completed: March 2017


Ballet music serves a dual function: it articulates a rhythm and meter to facilitate 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 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.

Keywords: rhythm and meter, ballet, music and dance, choreo-musical analysis, semiotics, metrical dissonance, dance history, rhythmic gesture


Chapter 1. The School of Paris: Rhythm, Meter, and Balletic Convention
1.1 A Theory of Types and Temps: Carlo Blasis’s Code of Terpsichore
1.2 Four Introductions
1.3 Overview: Rhythmic Practice in Tchaikovsky’s “Imperial” Ballets

Chapter 2. Lost in Translation: Making Sense of Metric Type and Phrase Rhythm
2.1 The Problem of Metric Type
2.2 Two Variations for Mr. Pavel Gerdt
2.3 Musical Meaning through Embodied Cognition
2.4 Conclusion

Chapter 3. Divertissement 1: Le Sommeil Magique

Chapter 4. Reconsidering Metrical Dissonance
4.1 Fundamentals: Identifying Metrical Dissonance
4.2 Embodied Metaphors: Conceptualizing Metrical Dissonance
4.3 Processes: Mapping Metrical Dissonance
Six Fairy Variations: Prologue, no. 3 Pas de six
4.4 Conclusion: Tchaikovsky’s Balletic Legacy

Chapter 5. Divertissement 2: Le Tourbillon

Chapter 6. Meter and Rhythm in Perspective: Petipa’s Grand pas
6.1 “From Petipa to ‘Grandpa’”
6.2 The Ballet Blanc as Sub-Genre
6.3 Divertissement 3: Le Oiseau Bleu
6.4 Conclusion

Chapter 7. Conclusion: Reviving Classical Ballet

Appendix: Concepts Pertaining to Rhythm and Meter
Glossary of Ballet Terminology
Glossary of Rhythm and Meter Terminology


Matthew T. Bell

Date Listed: 04/28/2017

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