A ballet within a ballet
John Craton


Scene: A ballet studio, circa 1910

The ballet begins with a group of young ballet students arriving for the start of class. General hubbub ensues until Madame arrives — a very hard and dour instructor who obviously is a strict disciplinarian — at which everyone comes into line as Madame begins the daily exercises by pounding her large staff on the floor. The class goes through a standard routine of exercises (pliés, tendus, ronds de jambe, fondus, etc.), but throughout Emilia has difficulty keeping up and makes many mistakes. Madame has no patience with those who cannot perform to perfection. She expresses great displeasure with Emilia throughout, leading the other students in the class to laugh at and ridicule the struggling student. Madame tries to get Emilia to keep up by pounding her heavy staff on the floor, but Emilia simply cannot master the routines. In frustration, Madame sends Emilia to the corner where she cowers and can only watch as the prima ballerina (and obvious teacher’s favorite) comes forward to rehearse a portion of her pas seul that she is to dance in an upcoming recital. After the rehearsal of part of the pas seul, Madame dismisses class, and she and the students file out, turning off the lights as they exit.

Unnoticed by the other students, Emilia has been left behind in the corner, and after everyone leaves and the studio is locked she comes out from where she was sitting. She picks out a phonograph disc, winds the Victrola, and proceeds to practice on her own in the darkened studio. She practices diligently, though still making the occasional misstep, until, exhausted, she lies on the floor and goes to sleep.

The following morning the other students arrive and turn on the lights. Emilia awakes, and the other students laugh at her for having become locked in the studio the night before. Madame then arrives, looks disgustedly at Emilia, then proceeds to start the rehearsal of the pas seul as all the others watch attentively. Shortly into the dance, the prima ballerina stumbles and turns her ankle very badly. It becomes obvious that she will not be able to dance in the upcoming recital, so the other girls look at one another to decide who will take her place. But since the pas seul is so demanding, none of the girls is able. Finally Emilia steps forward to the laughter of all the others. Despite the ridicule, she motions for the pianist to begin, and she proceeds to dance the entire pas seul flawlessly. Both Madame and the other students are dutifully impressed, and the ballet concludes with their congratulating Emilia on her newfound virtuosity. End of ballet.

[N.B. As structured, the ballet would call for only two soloists, the rest of the action being performed in group. It also is constructed with an all-girl cast in mind, but if there are male dancers available the pas seul should be a pas de deux. Instrumentation requires only a piano. Ballet length approximately 23 minutes. Please write to inquire about score availability.]

(in order of appearance)

Classroom of ballet students, including
The prima ballerina and

Audio Files

Exercises, Part 1
Exercises, Part 2
Exercises, Part 3
Exercises, Part 4
Prima ballerina enters
Pas seul rehearsal
Studio closes for the night
Emilia practices at night
Emilia sleeps/Next morning
Prima ballerina begins the pas seul
Emilia dances the pas seul
Concluding celebration

Copyright © 2017 by John Craton

Photos from the 8 October 2022 premiere

(Or watch the entire ballet on Google Drivevideo by Jayce Lovett)

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