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Karsavina, Mallarmé, and Mauclair

A Literary pas de trois in Early Twentieth-Century Dance Criticism

Sasha Rasmussen


The early twentieth century saw a renewed critical interest in the expressive potential of dance, sparked by the overwhelming success of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Taking Camille Mauclair's 1912 review “Karsavina et Mallarmé” as a point of departure, this article explores contemporary attitudes toward the dancing woman, the sexual potential of her body, and the desire to transcend (or erase) her corporeality. For Mauclair, Mallarmé's writings provided an intellectual lens through which dance could be detached from the physicality of the danseuse and recast as a serious artistic and intellectual pursuit. This article argues that Mauclair and other critics who sought to abstract dance from the dancer collectively articulated a cohesive alternative to the supposed “physical imperative” of this period.