Dance libretto as social text: the Italian dance librettos in the Cia Fornaroli collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Libretto' means 'little book' and is from the Italian, used mainly to denote the words, as distinct from the dance and the music, of a dance performance or opera or musical play. The dance libretto is a written text, mostly in prose or (less commonly) in verse, of the complete plot of a dance performance. During the 18th and 19th century the libretto listed, with the summary of the story, also all the names of the individuals who participated in making the dance performance. It was sold at theaters to help the audience understand the performance and to establish a kind of early copyright for the choreographer. Occasionally, the librettos mention specific gestures and dramatic movements. Typically written by the choreographer, the dance libretto was often inspired from mythical, literary, or historical sources. But whatever its putative source, the libretto was also a very special kind of literature that resulted from the interaction among socialised norms of existence, cultural politics, body ideologies, stage theories and individualised senses of identity. At the risk of anachronism, the libretto is the "hypertext" of the past. As such, the libretto can be considered as a social text from which one can understand the social tensions between performing arts, literature, movement, gesture, and the relationships on which society is based.
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