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Ashton personally identified himself with women and delighted in creating roles for women, especially for his favorite ballerina, Margot Fonteyn. A virtuoso of his craft, Ashton worked in a wide range of styles.

Among his works are a ballet to the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts (1933-1934); abstract ballets such as Monotones (1965); and full-length works such as Cinderella (1948), in which he created a delightful role for himself as the Elder Ugly Sister; and La Fille mal gardée (1960), perhaps the wittiest ballet ever created. He was a founder and chief choreographer of London's Royal Ballet.

French-born Maurice Béjart studied classical ballet but early in his career established an individual style, which, new at the time, combined classic dance with modern jazz, and acrobatics with musique concrète, as in his Symphonie pour un homme seul (1955). European based, his own company, under various names, became one of the world's foremost troupes, with continuous international tours.

Often infused with mysticism and ritual, as in his ballet Boléro (1960), or with sexual drama, as in Nijinsky: Clown of God (1971), Béjart's total spectacle ballets attracted huge new and young audiences that filled sports arenas, including New York's Madison Square Garden, as rock concerts do now.

Béjart created an autobiographical ballet in which he was featured as the Princess in The Sleeping Beauty. In this scenario, the evil fairy's curse on the baby Maurice was "You will be short."

Amsterdam-born choreographer Rudi Van Dantzig is a founder of the Dutch National Ballet and has created ballets for major companies throughout the world. He uses his personal experiences and feelings as a gay man as a source for his work, as in Monument for a Dead Boy and The Ropes of Time (1970). His autobiographical novel For a Lost Soldier, the story of a twelve-year-old Dutch boy's love affair with one of the Canadian soldiers who liberated his village from the Germans, was made into a major motion picture in 1994.


Today almost every major city in America has a ballet company in its cultural center. But although the ballet industry has always been a gay-friendly work place, currently "don't ask, don't tell" is the prudent policy.

As ballet companies are now big business, financed by sexophobic government agencies, conservative foundations, and cautious businesses, and with a concern for "family entertainment" (the annual Nutcracker for children is the greatest money-maker in the New York City Ballet repertoire), there is great emphasis on gymnastics, with an eye to breaking records in the manner of sports, at the expense of creative explorations of life and sexuality.

In the generally sterile atmosphere of institutionalized ballet today, a few joyous exceptions have been sighted, notably from England, such as Matthew Bourne's (b. 1960) fabulous Swan Lake (1996), in which the Prince is still in love with an enchanted swan--who happens to be a man--and David Bintley's (b. 1957) Edward II (1995) for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, an explicit account of Edward's passionate love for Piers Gaveston. These are evidence that the ballet can still be a medium for gay expression and provocative, thrilling theater.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh

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arts >> Overview:  Dance

Artistic dance has proven to be a haven for glbtq people, who have made significant contributions in almost every area, including as choreographers, performers, and teachers.

arts >> Ashton, Sir Frederick

Sir Frederick Ashton may be described as the choreographer who most fully defined British ballet in the twentieth century.

arts >> Ballets Russes

The Ballets Russes represents not only a crucial turning point in dance history, but as one of the earliest gay-identified multinational enterprises, it is a milestone in gay history as well.

arts >> Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Combining dance, cross-dressing, and comedy, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo both parodies and celebrates classical ballet.

arts >> Béjart, Maurice

Maurice Béjart was a significant presence in late twentieth-century dance as a result of his reinvigoration of classical ballet and his creation of palpably homoerotic dances that celebrate male beauty.

arts >> Bourne, Matthew

Perhaps the most acclaimed British choreographer working today, Matthew Bourne is best known for his homoerotic updatings and deconstructions of classic ballets.

arts >> Cadmus, Paul

American painter Paul Cadmus is best known for the satiric innocence of his frequently censored paintings of burly men in skin-tight clothes, but he also created works that celebrate same-sex domesticity.

arts >> Diaghilev, Sergei

For Russian nobleman Sergei Diaghilev, who revolutionized music, the visual arts, theater, and dance, homosexuality may have been integral to his creativity.

social sciences >> Gustav III, King of Sweden

Gustav III, King of Sweden, was an enlightened despot who encouraged a remarkable flowering of art and culture.

arts >> Helpmann, Sir Robert

Actor, dancer, and choreographer, Sir Robert Helpmann was present at the creation of premier ballet companies in both Great Britain and Australia.

arts >> Joffrey, Robert

American dancer, choreographer, and teacher Robert Joffrey created a major dance company and promoted gender parity in ballet.

arts >> Kirstein, Lincoln

Although best known for his contributions to the development of American ballet, Lincoln Kirstein was an important figure in the shaping of twentieth-century American culture generally.

arts >> Lifar, Serge

Fiercely ambitious, Serge Lifar used his extraordinary looks and charismatic personality to rise to the ranks of leading international ballet dancers and choreographers of the twentieth century.

arts >> Lynes, George Platt

American photographer George Platt Lynes made his fame as a fashion and portrait photographer, but his greatest work may have been his dance images and male nudes.

arts >> Menotti, Gian Carlo

One of the leading classical composers of the twentieth century, Gian Carlo Menotti not only had a distinguished career, but also achieved acclaim at a time when his uncloseted homosexuality could have been a major barrier.

arts >> Nijinsky, Vaslav

One of the greatest dancers and most innovative choreographers in the history of ballet, Vaslav Nijinsky embodied the sensuality and sexual ambiguity associated with the distinctive new art of the twentieth century.

arts >> Nureyev, Rudolf

The greatest dancer of his time, Rudolf Nureyev also gave the world a new and glamorous image of a sexually active gay man.

literature >> Rimbaud, Arthur

Because his writing stresses liberation, the French "boy-poet" Arthur Rimbaud, whose art is based solely on his individual creativity, is a progenitor of modern gay poetics.

arts >> Robbins, Jerome

Bisexual choreographer and director Jerome Robbins was both a great choreographer of classical ballet and a Broadway innovator, but he was fearful that he might be outed.

literature >> Shakespeare, William

As one of the key figures that western civilization has used to define itself, William Shakespeare stands in a complicated, fiercely contested relationship to homosexuality.

arts >> Soto, Jock

One of the most influential ballet dancers of his time, Jock Soto has been instrumental in shaping the role and identity of the contemporary male dancer.

literature >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

arts >> Thomson, Virgil

Critic and composer Virgil Thomson was a pioneer in creating a specifically American form of classical music that is at once "serious" yet whimsically sardonic.

arts >> Van Dantzig, Rudi

As artistic director and resident choreographer of the Dutch National Ballet from 1971 to 1991, Rudi van Dantzig brought his company to international attention and created a body of choreographic work that explores such issues as the place of homosexuality in our time.

literature >> Verlaine, Paul

The poetry of Paul Verlaine celebrates both heterosexual and homosexual activity, including lesbian relationships.

arts >> Wheeldon, Christopher

Christopher Wheeldon is one of the most innovative and acclaimed classical ballet choreographers working in the dance world today.


Baril, Jacques. Dictionnaire de Danse. Paris: Microcosme/Éditions du Seuil, 1964.

Chujoy, Anatole, and P. W. Manchester, comps. and eds. The Dance Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967.

Craine, Debora, and Judith Mackrell, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Karsavina, Tamara. Classical Ballet: The Flow of Movement. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1962.

Koegler, Horst, ed. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet. London: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Tarasov, Nikolai Ivanovich. Ballet Technique for the Male Dancer. New York: Doubleday, 1985.

Vaganova, Agrippina. Basic Principles of Classical Ballet: Russian Ballet Technique. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1965.

Wilson, G. B. L. A Dictionary of Ballet. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1974.


    Citation Information
    Author: Turnbaugh, Douglas Blair  
    Entry Title: Ballet  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 16, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
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    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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