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Otto, Ulf ORCID: 0000-0002-3528-6972 (2015): Enter Electricity: An Allegory's Stage Appearance between Verité and Varieté. In: Centaurus, Vol. 57, No. 3: pp. 192-211
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Abstract

At the end of the 19th century, electricity made its entrance on stage, embodied and personified by female dancers. Analysing one such entrance of electricity in a celebratory ballet‐pantomime, shown during the 1891 International Electrotechnical Exhibition in Frankfurt, the paper contextualizes the allegorical appearance within an in‐depth discussion of the exhibition and its aesthetics. Stressing the ideological implications of the gendered embodiment, and its imaginary and dissimulative potentials, the analysis focuses on the necessity of the spectacular arrangement for electricity's entrance at the end of the 19th century and shows that it is not only indebted to traditions of allegorical personifications but also to the vulgarized presentation of the naked female in popular theatrical setups like the café chantants, music halls and Tinteltangel. A mixture of sparsely clad limbs and antique‐style drapery served to naturalize the new electric power and obscure the underlying social tensions. The unseen engineers in the audience who made the dancers appear and shine with the help of the machinery they prided themselves on were faced by women on stage, openly and seducingly returning their gaze. Deviating from the voyeuristic theatre dispositif of the literary bourgeoisie, the industrial intelligentsia was rehearsing an exhibitionist theatricality that reconfigured how power was exercised in spectacles.