Florenz Ziegfeld created his Follies in 1907, and the successful format continued on Broadway until 1931. The Ziegfeld Follies were extraordinarily elaborate revues inspired by the Folies Bergères in Paris. While being a high-class Vaudeville variety show, mixing comics, singers and speciality dancers, it was the Ziegfeld girls that made them a hit. That whiff of sex disguised as art presented by beautiful and often very talented young women.
There were two techniques to camouflage the near-nudity: tableau vivants which presented the semi-clad girls in non-moving artistic poses justified by the cultural references to great painters; and ballet, where to have women in extremely short tutus doing chaines around the stage was already the norm. The dance directors (choreographers were only for serious ballet!) brought a touch of class to revues that were sometimes sexy, but never vulgar.
Here are some of the photos of the ‘ballet’ stars of the Follies, including the stunning Louise Brooks who went on to cinema stardom, and Cyd Charisse as she appeared in the 1945 Hollywood movie Ziegfeld Follies.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.