Event, Reviews

Frankenstein dances to 200 years: A Review of “Frankenstein at the Ballet”

On Wednesday, February 28, 2018 students studying Frankenstein attended the lecture “Frankenstein at the Ballet: Mary Shelley and Her ‘Hideous Progeny,’” by Professor Ellen Peel from San Francisco State University. Right away, Peel related the 1800’s novel to the daily life of students in the Silicon Valley by drawing parallels between the creation of Frankenstein, and the creation of Facebook. She posed the question, “Has Facebook created its own monster of the 21st century?”.

image of zuckerberg and frankenstein creature

Prior to the discussion facilitated by Peel, San Jose State University ENG-10 Section 1 students were familiar with the background of Mary Shelley, ranging from her early life to her death. Peel reiterated the importance of Shelley’s life and how it relates to the novel. For instance, tragedies including the death of Mary Shelley’s own mother and her child may have directly influenced one theme of Frankenstein, “Can the idea of birth also mean death?” (Peel). Peel says that this concept may be illustrated with characters fainting as a representation of rebirth. This idea leads to another theme and hypothesis portrayed in Frankenstein by Shelley, “Are origins of people similar to origins of stories?” (Peel). Is it possible that Mary Shelley was comparing the creation of a novel to the creation of a creature?

The topic of beauty and movement was also discussed by Professor Peel. This is relevant in particular to the San Francisco Ballet’s portrayal of Frankenstein. According to Peel, “The visual medium of ballet represents the vision and movement of special bodies,”. This is important because while the creature in the novel Frankenstein was seen by his creator Victor as unusually ugly, the combination of the costumes, makeup, and movement makes the creatures in the SF ballet particularly beautiful.


One result of reading the novel and then watching the ballet may be helping the audience choose who to sympathize with. For instance, a reader of Frankenstein may have preconceived judgments or positive or negative feelings toward the creature. However, after watching some scenes from the novel portrayed through the ballet’s movement and music, the reader may feel differently after the performance.

According to Peel, “The “Frankengenre” has become a cautionary tale for the physical and conceptualized body.” While the idea of beauty is subjective, the movement and music of ballet is deemed by many to be inherently beautiful. This directly contradicts the stigma of the hideous or unintelligent Frankenstein monsters displayed by mainstream media 

boris karlof frankenstein
Boris Karloff, as Frankenstein’s monster


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