The Chorus Girls Make a Dragon: 1893

ali baba headline

GIRLS MAKE THE DRAGON

Startling Stage Realism Ingeniously Made of Harmless Material.

[Boston Herald]

There are, indeed, tricks in all trades, and, as theatrical business has become more or less of a trade, it follows that it has its tricks. “In “Ali Babi,” the big spectacle presented by the American Extravaganza Company at the Globe Theater, there appears at a given hour something which makes a man who has been drinking feel queer, while the prohibition contingent look at it with horror and then with delight. This is the snake, or as it is billed, the dragon, and it is forty feet long. It is a very ingenious affair, and was made in Paris by M. Ganet, the master of properties of the Chatelet Theater.

The body of the reptile is nothing more nor less than twenty young women who travel on all fours, and who, at the right moment and a given signal, jump up and reveal themselves as diabolical sprites. They are clad in gray tights and green bodices, and on their heads are little horned skull caps. The article of attire that gives to each the appearance of apportion of the serpent’s body, and which, when the twenty girls creep along in follow-the-leader fashion, makes a wriggling, creeping snake of monstrous size, is a satin-lined cloak of thin canvas, which is roughly painted and mottled in green, yellow and white to represent the scales of a reptile’s hide.

The awe-inspiring, bird-like head, with rolling, ghastly eyeballs and crocodile jaws, serrated with rows of cruel, sharp teeth, is said to be the most ingenious part of the affair. It is made of papier mache and wicker work, light enough for a boy to carry, and, with devices inside to move the jaws and eyes.

The eyes are swung on a pivot and worked by means of a spiral spring. The huge jaws are hinged, and a stout lever inside, with the aid of a little muscle, makes them snap and yawn ferociously. Each nostril is shaped like the crater of a volcano, and the aperture from which the molten lava would come is replaced by a little alcohol lamp, the faint, blue flame of which cannot be seen from beyond the footlights. Over each of these lamps the fan-shaped mouth of a long tube comes. About six inches from the lamp and connected with the tube is a receptacle for lycopodium. When the boy who manipulates the apparatus concludes that it is proper for the dragon to make an imposing display of its ferocity, he blows through the tube, the powdered club-moss seed is scattered over the alcohol flame and makes a ghastly bluish and altogether startling flash.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 March 1893: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The dragon was a high-light of the Ali Baba entertainment and was invariably mentioned in reviews and advertisements.

“The Dance Diabolique,” executed by twenty secundas, who are metamorphosed from a monster fire-breathing dragon…. The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 1 January 1893: p. 6

And

The ballets of “Ali Baba” are three in number, and are novel in both movement and costuming. They are a Nautch dance in the first act, a demon dance in the second act, in which a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon is instantaneously transformed into a score or more of dancing sprites… The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 23 April 1893: p. 10

 Victorian stage designers were most ingenious, creating on-stage sand-storms and thunderous tempests. Costume designers peopled the stage with fanciful animals and made fairies fly.  A forty-foot dragon would have been a mere bagatelle.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was unable to find a photo-gravure of the ensemble en dragon, but she was able to locate an illustration of one of the costumed young ladies.

ali baba dragon chorus girl costume

A thumbnail sketch of the costume of one of the chorus who made up the body of the dragon.

The dragon dance sounds like an uncomfortable occupation, even for the young and lithe. Mrs Daffodil suggests that a more appropriate name for the entertainment would have been “Creeping Beauty.”

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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One thought on “The Chorus Girls Make a Dragon: 1893

  1. Pingback: Shoeing for a New Play – Theatrical Footwear: 1901 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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