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Musical Feet: The Interaction of Choreography and Music in Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins’s Fancy Free

  • Author(s): Short, Rachel E.;
  • Advisor(s): Levy, Benjamin;
  • Paul, David
  • et al.

The ballet Fancy Free premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1944, marking the beginning of the creative collaboration between composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins. Although numerous scholars have written biographical accounts about Bernstein and Robbins, few have focused on how their creative activities intersect. This dissertation presents a choreomusical analysis of the ballet that integrates choreographic analysis with rhythmic and metric analysis, exploring the intertwining relationships between music and dance.

My dissertation, “Metrical Feet: Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins’s Ballet Fancy Free,” is an interdisciplinary project, exploring the complementary aspects of their creative artwork. I use a framework that focuses on rhythm and meter, paying close attention to choreographic and musical accents, phrase lengths, meter changes, and alignments or misalignments between musical or choreographic phrases and notated meter. My reassessment is grounded in concerns of metrical embodiment, addressing not only how they play out for a listener of music, but also how they fit into experiencing the larger total artwork of ballet.

My analysis considers the music and dance steps separately; then aligns dance analysis alongside music analysis to see how they inform each other. I argue that complementary choices in music composition and choreography can clarify formal delineations, shape motion within sections, and produce distinctive onstage characters. Within the ballet’s duet, the dancers’ knowledge that they are dancing affects the shape of both music and dance, giving nuance to the narrative flow. The placement and repetition of rhythmic and choreographic phrases help distinguish the personalities of each sailor during the solo variations. I take this in-depth look at selections from Fancy Free to illustrate how choreomusical analysis can enrich our understanding of ballet music, opening up a new area of inquiry in music and dance scholarship.

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