Chat & Chowder with Anne Searcy | Ballet in the Cold War


December 7


06:00 pm - 07:00 pm

Event Category:

Chat & Chowder

WorldBoston’s Chat & Chowder features key authors on international affairs in an engaging setting. Even virtually, the spirit of Chat & Chowder persists! We encourage everyone to BYOCB (Bring Your Own Chow(der) & Beverages), and also to join us for the informal post-Chat Chat with WorldBoston members and other friends (separate Zoom link will be provided). Longtime and first-time chatters alike are welcome! In 1959, the Bolshoi Ballet arrived in New York for its first ever performances in the United States. The tour was part of the Soviet-American cultural exchange, arranged by the governments of the US and USSR as part of their Cold War strategies. This book explores the first tours of the exchange, by the Bolshoi in 1959 and 1962, by American Ballet Theatre in 1960, and by New York City Ballet in 1962.

The tours opened up space for genuine appreciation of foreign ballet. American fans lined up overnight to buy tickets to the Bolshoi, and Soviet audiences packed massive theaters to see American companies. Political leaders, including Khrushchev and Kennedy, met with the dancers. The audience reaction, screaming and crying, was overwhelming.

But the tours also began a series of deep misunderstandings. American and Soviet audiences did not view ballet in the same way. Each group experienced the other’s ballet through the lens of their own aesthetics. Americans loved Soviet dancers but believed that Soviet ballets were old-fashioned and vulgar. Soviet audiences and critics likewise appreciated American technique and innovation but saw American choreography as empty and dry.

Drawing on both Russian- and English-language archival sources, this book demonstrates that the separation between Soviet and American ballet lies less in how the ballets look and sound, and more in the ways that Soviet and American viewers were trained to see and hear. It suggests new ways to understand both Cold War cultural diplomacy and twentieth-century ballet.

ASearcy Headshot 2019 smaller file.jpg

Anne Searcy is an Assistant Professor of Music History at the University of Washington, where she researches the intersections of music, politics, and dance. Dr. Searcy’s first book, Ballet in the Cold War: A Soviet-American Exchange, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in fall 2020. The book analyzes the American and Soviet cultural diplomacy programs, focusing on tours by the Bolshoi Ballet in the United States and by American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet in the Soviet Union. Dr. Searcy has also published articles on the ballet Spartacus and the musical Hamilton. She holds a Ph.D. in music from Harvard University and a B.A. in history and music from Swarthmore College. Before coming to the University of Washington, she taught at the University of Miami.

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