‘Questing for an Appropriate Style of Dance’ A Review Essay on Sylvia C. Ellis, The Plays of W. B. Yeats: Yeats and the Dancer

  • Richard Allen Cave
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


THE RESEARCH AND SCHOLARSHIP that, on the author’s admission, over fifteen years have gone to the making of this volume are nothing short of prodigious. The result is of value not only to the Yeatsian scholar but also to researchers in the fields of dance, theatre and cultural history. Sylvia Ellis’s inspiration was Frank Kermode’s pioneering study, Romantic Image of 1957; but she has pursued in considerable depth what he often chose merely to gesture at in attempting to define the significance of dance and dancer within Yeats’s work. Her overall focus is different in that she is seeking to determine the intellectual and cultural milieu, the zeitgeist, within which Yeats came inexorably to create his dance plays. The study falls into four lengthy chapters; the first three each approach Yeats’s work from different perspectives (the plethora of literary and theatrical depictions of Salome; the growing interest in Britain after the 1850s in all manifestations of Japanese culture and their underlying aesthetic principles; and the range of genres of theatre dance available to Yeats and his circle of friends after 1890); the final chapter brings all this material together as the basis for an interpretation of Yeats’s many plays for dancers, which here include The Land of Hearts Desire, The Cat and the Moon, The Resurrection, The King of the Great Clock Tower, A Full Moon in March and The Death of Cuchulain.


Final Chapter Stage Direction Theatre Dance Theatrical Depiction Imaginative Engagement 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Richard Allen Cave

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