Soviet and American Cold War Ballet Exchange, 1959–1962
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CitationSearcy, Anne Ashby. 2016. Soviet and American Cold War Ballet Exchange, 1959–1962. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe spring of 1959 marked the beginning of a hugely successful ballet exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted over three decades. In this dissertation, I examine the opening years of this exchange, when ballet suddenly became an important arena for political and aesthetic conflict between the world’s two superpowers. Ballet had a significant place in the cultural Cold War. Russians considered it a national art form, while Americans were proud of their young but innovative companies. Soviet and American ballet underwent surprisingly similar aesthetic shifts during the mid-twentieth-century, away from realistic narrative ballets and towards musically-focused ballets. Despite these similarities, critics and audiences often saw the touring works through their own domestic political and aesthetic lenses, interpreting them in very different light from their creators and creating a series of deep aesthetic misunderstandings. The exchange tours were enormously popular, and yet the curtain onstage could be just as iron as the one in the middle of Europe.
I employ a transnational perspective, drawing on a combination of Russian and American sources to investigate both the conciliatory and the alienating effects of the exchanges. Using reception theory as a model for understanding cultural diplomacy, I show how ballet played a substantive role in developing the Soviet-American relationship, though not always for the better. In the short term, the goodwill generated by the successful tours helped normalize relations between the Soviet and American governments at a time when nuclear conflict was a real threat. However, the cultural misunderstandings raised by the ballet tours also formed part of a pattern of miscommunication and circular internal discourse that contributed to the inability of the two superpowers to resolve or mediate their opposing world views. At the same time I argue that the very misunderstandings generated by Cold War exchange continue to inform American attitudes towards ballet. Reexamining the ballets performed during the tours through the defamiliarizing process of exchange can suggest new ways of interpreting 20th-century ballet aesthetics.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33493533
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