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The Devil's Auction
March 13, 2012 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Why this lady is wearing a horse costume. previously.
"For the drama and the way it may happen to be played, and the plot or moral or meaning of it, nobody seems particularly to care. The point of interest is, first, the dancing; next, the dancers, and last, the scenery."

Eliza Blasina was performing in the ballet spectacle The Devil's Auction: Or, The Golden Branch.
It opened October 3, 1867, at Banvard's Grand Opera House and Museum, 1221 Broadway (30th St.), New York, NY. The venue changed hands several times, and was a burlesque house by the time it was demolished in 1920.
Banvard was a large scale painter, entrepreneur, and rival of P.T. Barnum. He made a 2000 feet portrait of the east bank of the Mississipi, made a fortune, painted the west bank, built a castle in Long Island, lost his fortune, and retired to South Dakota, where he died. His NY museum was only open for ten weeks - Barnum copied his exhibits, and advertised them better. For more about Banvard, see his obituary, this story about his riverboat adventures, and the essay collection Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World.

Back to The Devil's Auction. It was written by Arturo Cuyas i Armengol, a Catalan journalist living in New York, later to become a lexicographer, and pioneer of Scouting in Spain.

The Black Crook (considered the first book musical) had opened the year before, and was still in its record breaking 474 performance run. Attempting to rival this behemoth, the producer John De Pol went all in, allegedly hiring "eight first-class danseuses, selected from the Theatres of London, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Bordeaux, Turin, Munic, St. Petersburgh and other continental entre-pots, all of whom reach our shores with reputations for artistic excellence."
The huge production, with dancers, singers, actors, and musicians filling the stage amidst massive scenery, was difficult to mount. Even though its stage was already five feet wider than any other in New York, De Pol convinced Banvard to widen it yet another 20 feet to accommodate the action. This meant extra rehearsals after the stage was renovated and the re-opening of the theatre was twice delayed, further draining the showman's financial resources.
It featured haunted dells with multitudes of elves, combats, processions, trapeze acts, subterranean caves with giant reptiles, acrobatic jugglers, four Grand Transformation scenes, performing horses, castles that crumbled and others that burned, oriental revels, and even a quick-change artist, who rapidly donned the costumes of nine different nations, and performed the national dance of each.

What was the musical about? Here's a summary from the New York Times review:
"The Devil's Auction" is the name of a new spectacle produced for the first time at Banvard's Museum last night. It is a prose melo-drama in four acts, interspersed with singing and dancing. Of course the play itself is intended as a frame for pretty pictures of scenery and graceful motion; it tells the story of a young peasant girl whose vulgar old father has given her to a bad old Count for wife; of a young man in shabby clothes who loves the young girl of a servant maid, who is in love with a donkey which she has charge of, and of Cupid, the God of Love, who takes the lovers under his protection.

The play further represents how, on the wedding morning, the bad old Count takes his bride and the villagers for a little excursion up to the Castle of a deceased magician, whose stock of talismans, philters, potions, &c., is to be disposed of that day at auction; also how the auction does take place, and the bad old Count, the vulgar old father, the young man in shabby clothes and the servant-maid buy, each, an article formerly belonging to the dead wizard; also how it happens that every such article is a potent talisman that gratifies every wish of the possessor; also how the shabby young man wishes he were dressed up in good clothes and is immediately clothed in yellow satin; the young lady wishes she were with her lover, which happens straightway, and the young servant-maid wishes her donkey were a man, which he immediately becomes; also how the lovers are then pursued through the globe by the bad old Count and the vulgar father, and how they all occasionally find themselves in coral caves and El Dorado, and the Indian groves, and other distant places inhabited by charming young ladies who dance unceasingly, amazonian guards who are unceasingly countermarching in bewildering mazes, and lovely young women who are unremittingly similing and joyous.

For the drama and the way it may happen to be played, and the plot or moral or meaning of it, nobody seems particularly to care. The point of interest is, first, the dancing; next, the dancers, and last, the scenery."
Photos:
Another promo shot, similar to the horse one from the original post.
Here's some of the chorus line.
A stereogram of "Stoquela".

With the production a success, De Pol jumped ship with his company to the Academy of Music on Dec 3, 1867, a theater at E 14th & Irving Place, leaving Banvard without a show, and then moved the show to Boston.

It appears to have been revived and revised, possibly in the 1890s, by Charles H. Yale, some of the posters are for the "Everlasting Devil's Auction, 20th Edition and best ever", and the "Forever Devil's Auction, Everything new but the title". LoC has a bunch of stuff, including posters, probably mostly from the Chas Yale revival. It looks like it was still being performed in 1908 all over the place, occasionally to disastrous effect.

I'm no theatre expert, so there may be errors and omissions in here. Some of this is cribbed from "It was play or starve": acting in the nineteenth century American popular theatre, John Hanners.

Inspired by this comment, revised from this one.
posted by zamboni (25 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sort of a double from the 1890s exotic dancer post, but with so much more added information that it stands on its own.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 PM on March 13, 2012


This is what MetaFilter is for.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:38 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hah, a double? This is a grand elaboration on one of many photos, which was included without context. This is the [fantastic!] context.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:38 PM on March 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Now who can tell me why Ida Florence, the California Prize Beauty is in a "body stocking covered with transparent fabric, posed as statue" -- how does this classify as exotic dance/ burlesque/ whatnot?
posted by filthy light thief at 1:43 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The question is why aren't you?

Wearing a horse costume that is? I miss olden times.
posted by Fizz at 1:44 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes it is seriously worthwhile to ask "What's up with that?"


Because we were all wondering.



You know..the internet...horse costumes...times, being what they are...
posted by louche mustachio at 1:50 PM on March 13, 2012


Awesome!

"body stocking covered with transparent fabric, posed as statue" -- how does this classify as exotic dance/ burlesque/ whatnot?

Retronaut's description of those ladies as "exotic dancers" was inaccurate. They would have been called "professional beauties" at the time the photos were taken, and performed in all kinds of theatrical presentations.

The "tableau vivant" was a popular theatrical form of the late 19th century. Some of them were recreations of battle scenes, scenes from the Bible, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, etc., but in its most basic form it was basically a pseudo-classy way to see naked-ish ladies (i.e., ladies in body stockings).

Miss Florence is wearing a tableau vivant costume. The form was also called "living statues."
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:51 PM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


For the inquisitive, Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World also appears to be listed under Banvard's Folly: Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:52 PM on March 13, 2012


Thanks, Sidhedevil. And I believe Retronaut's description of the collection comes from the name of the collection itself: Charles H. McCaghy Collection of Exotic Dance From Burlesque to Clubs.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:55 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah. Well, I see how Mr. McCaghy couldn't be perfectly granular in his title considering the scope of his collection!

This scholarly article looks interesting (and reminded me of another name for the tableau vivant/living statue form, "poses plastiques"). I would like to see how the author gets from "Junoesque lady in transparent body stocking and chiffon" to "assertion of Australian political identity" but I am likely never to know.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:59 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


zamboni!!! You are a metafilter superhero!
posted by latkes at 2:03 PM on March 13, 2012


The question is why aren't you? Wearing a horse costume that is?

My profile pic says: your argument is invalid.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:04 PM on March 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


An interesting blog post about poses plastiques in the English music halls.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:04 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Shit Sidhedevil - that would also make a good FPP.
posted by latkes at 2:13 PM on March 13, 2012


My early comment was to forestall potential claims of doubleness and increase the post's chance of survival, because yes, this is awesome.
posted by JHarris at 2:20 PM on March 13, 2012


yeah, this is the opposite of a double. Deeper dive. good stuff!
posted by b1tr0t at 2:29 PM on March 13, 2012


eliza blasina is a horse, eliza blasina is a horse. well look at her dance like a look at her go like a look at her dance like a horse.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:35 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the Wikipedia page about one of the "first-class danseuses" Giuseppina Morlacchi (from the Boston link):
During her rise to fame DePol insured her legs for $100,000 after which newspapers claimed Moriacchi was 'more valuable than Kentucky'.
posted by maryr at 2:45 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shit Sidhedevil - that would also make a good FPP.

Indubitably. Do it, Sidhedevil- it would be fantastic to have a series of fractal posts, each expanding a detail of the previous one. It'd be all Metafilter CSI: “Enhance! Enhance! Enhance!
posted by zamboni at 2:48 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I third that suggestion, but understand if nobody follows through, as I just thought "damn it, I only have so many waking hours." And I'm only reading the posts (or trying, at least)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:01 PM on March 13, 2012


Came here to find a Sarah Jessica Parker joke.

This thread is almost as disappointing as Mass Effect 3.
posted by unigolyn at 3:02 PM on March 13, 2012


After I was kindly given access to the JSTOR article, I disappeared down the rabbit hole that is Augusta Sohlke (the principal dancer in the Devil's Auction).
I found this picture of her and although it does indeed look like her, it can't be right, the dates don't work. This is most definitely her in her prime though.
Although she died poor (information in the JSTOR article), her son Gus (who went on to produce theatre shows) did rather well by a lucky twist of fate [The story of how he discovered that a big inheritance lay waiting for him reads like a romance, with all the details of coincidences, of accidents of birth, of chance acquaintanceships that a skillful novelist might imagine]. I was sad to find that Augusta had quite possibly lost her marbles [MLLE. SOHLKE's DELUSION. A VICTIM OF HYSTERICAL MANIA] towards the end.
posted by unliteral at 4:10 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, not the principal dancer.
She performed in a siren dance at the conclusion of Act I, and in Act II, Sohlke danced in a Pas de Monstres and an Imperial Pas de Trois. However, the high point of the evening came in the "Abode of Bacchus" at the end of Act III when, following her performance in a Pas de Deux, Augusta Sohlke danced the Hungarian Polka. It was the success of this single divertissement which won her, for a time, a public following rivaling that of the long-established Maria Bonfanti, Prima Ballerina Assoluta of The Black Crook.
posted by unliteral at 4:44 PM on March 13, 2012


Shit Sidhedevil - that would also make a good FPP.

An FPP within an FPP within an FPP? That's just nuts!

**BWWAAAAAHHHH**
posted by jabberjaw at 5:11 PM on March 13, 2012


Fantastic zamboni. I want to give you the highest accolade I know, which is this (explanation here.)

And now I want to see this show. I think my only hope is if Amanda Palmer reads about it and gets a bee in her bonnet.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:08 PM on March 13, 2012


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