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Ballet of Nations – Bath Spa University

Ballet of Nations

An interdisciplinary project that combines literature, dance, history and film.


The Ballet of Nations: A Present-Day Morality is a an allegoric, pacifist satirical response to WWI written in 1915 by Vernon Lee, with illustrations by Maxwell Armfield. It was publicly recited twice in a contemporary context, but had never been fully realised as a theatrical production. 

The project

The Ballet of Nations is a collaborative short film interpretation of Vernon Lee's original text that brings together dancers from the Impermanence Dance Theatre Company with students from Bath Spa's BA (Hons) Dance course.

Organised by Dr Grace Brockington (University of Bristol), the project benefits from support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the University of Bristol.

"For a quarter or so of a century, Death's celebrated Dances had gone rather out of fashion. Then, with the end of the proverbially bourgeois Victorian age, there set a revival of taste."

Vernon Lee, The Ballet of Nations 

The film

The story

Our film interpretation of The Ballet of Nations will tell  the story of Satan instructing Ballet Master Death to assemble an orchestra of human passions to provide the music for a corps-de-ballet of Nations to perform the danse macabre of war. 


The film will include a cast of dancers and actors, a new composition, highly stylised costumes, a toy theatre, and will be shot in a combination of indoor and outdoor locations. A
narrator will read passages from the text throughout the film, to both elucidate the narrative and give emphasis to the rich and evocative language of the text.

The tragedic themes of the text, illuminated by Armfield’s Grecian-style illustrations, will be foregrounded in the film by a chorus who will animate and abstract the text throughout the film, cutting in and out of other scenes. The development of these elements will draw on Impermanence’s acclaimed choreographic techniques to abstract text into movement.

Costumes and design

Costumes, designed by Pam Tait, will be highly modern, full of colour and eccentricity. They will reference artists of the group in question, and channel the symbolist and Pre-Raphaelite ideas and palettes.

The aesthetic of the film will be eclectic, timeless, vivid, inventive and away from the naturalistic, to this end commenting on the aestheticisation of war through theatricality and design.

The film will also aesthetically reference contemporaries of Lee and Armfield. A Toy Theatre, evoking the Victorian fascination with miniature and based on the designs of Edward Gordon Craig will again emphasise the performative elements of the Theatre of War.

The score

Composer Robert Bentall will create a new electronic score, using references and quotes from the music of composers who were associated with this particular group of pacifist artists, as well as direct musical instructions laid out in the text.

The score will integrate the narration and dialogue, providing a basis for the choreography and will then be woven with the final edit in postproduction. 

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