The Beginnings of Classical Ballet
The Beginnings of Classical Ballet
THE quotation above is capable of many interpretations. The Balet comique de la Royne (1581) has been a convenient point at which to commence a history of ballet. This spectacle, which bore little resemblance to present-day ballet, was the climax of seventeen fetes given by Catherine de Medici to celebrate the betrothal of the Duc de Joyeuse to Marg-uerite de Lorraine-Vaudemont. It can also be interpreted as a climax of the Renaissance in France, when authors, hhaving studied the theories, principles, technique and effects used in the plays of Greek dramatists, believed they were producing something similar.
The end (or object) of the production might be regarded as an expression of Catherine de Medici’s hopes that by understanding the truths hidden in its symbolism and allegory: „Hearts would be softened and opposite opinions be brought together“ (Champion) and the Protestant members of her court would see the errors of their ways and return to the Catholic church.
To ffind the seeds from which Balet comique and later ballets stem a search must be made amongst the dance rituals of primitive Greek tribes where originally the dancing of the group was everything, but where finally the priests and acolytes eeliminated all others from the ceremony and continued their dance before a wondering audience. At this point in religious ritual the story of dance as entertainment might be said to begin because the performers had consciously to discipline themselves and their movements to communicate the meaning of the ritual and fili the now limited dance space. Thus a definite technique of dance started to develop. Although this bore little or no relationship to classical dance technique it had this in common with it: in both the movements had to be so displayed that the audience saw them to the best advantage.
THE BIRTH OF GREEK TRAGEDY
The dramatis personae and themes of classical ballet began to emerge as the tragodia—or goat-song—took shape uunder a priest who was also a poet. As he sang the tale of his god, so his acolytes danced and mimed that god’s deeds, whilst the audience at the climax or end of the recital, would join in the ritual by performing the appropriately expressive dance of rejoicing, sorrow, Bacchic frenzy and the like.
This form of ritual changed character when, inspired by the poems of Homer, a secular form of dramatic entertainment appeared in which bard and dancer-mime expressed tthrough chant and gesture the deeds of some great hero, his relationship to the gods and the fates determining his life and death; Thespis, the father of Greek tragedy, introduced actors, thereby allowing dialogue in which the players could respond and exchange comment, and thus enlarged the scope of the drama.
The public love of this form of entertainment grew as the second actor became as important as the first and led a chorus, who not only interpreted the words directly into action, as the first dancer-mimes had done, but also reacted expressively to the speech of both actors. This task ultimately led the chorus also to create the background and at¬mosphere against which the hero’s deeds could be depicted. At a later stage poets began to compete for the honour of presenting such plays at the Olympic Games and other events linking the citizens of the Greek towns together.
The tragedy chosen was played as an act of homage to a city’s god. Its purpose was to fire the imagination and spirit of the townsfolk. It had to appeal to everyone, therefore its plot was limited to certain traditional themes in which the heroes, who were likened to gods, performed or wwere expected to perform deeds and acts that were known. There had to be generalization because both the characters and their actions had to be recognized as belonging to that theme upon which a particular plot was based. It is from the generaliza¬tions of action and character that the libretti of many later dramatic plays and ballets have developed, and the techniques of classical choregraphic design.
THE GENERALIZATION OF ACTION AND CHARACTER
The tragedy frequently took the form of a trilogy with each play forming, as it were, an act of the whole in which the events presaging and influencing a hero’s deeds and his life in the hands of the gods and the fates were so discussed that they would convey some poli¬tical or moral lesson.
The same characters appear in play after play and their actions, emotions and moods are discussed by the various authors in much the same terms. The heroes Theseus, Jason, Her¬cules and Ulysses not only have similar types of adventure, but are likened to each other in gesture, action and looks. The sad heroines Andromache, Hecuba, the faithful sisters or daughters Antigone, Elektra, Iphigenia and the tragic Cassandra are given similar dramatic manifestations of emotion, mood aand action.
The gods and goddesses make infrequent appearances, but, like their servants Mercury and Iris, when they do it is always with those qualities and attributes with which they have been associated. Moreover from the time of Euripides, their main task was frequently to descend as the deus ex machina and deliver some comment or explanation of the drama, or even make some prophecy as an epilogue to the play.
THE BIRTH OF GREEK TRAGEDY
The dramatis personae and themes of classical ballet began to emerge as the tragodia—or goat-song—took shape under a priest who was also a poet. As he sang the tale of his god, so his acolytes danced and mimed that god’s deeds, whilst the audience at the climax or end of the recital, would join in the ritual by performing the appropriately expressive dance of rejoicing, sorrow, Bacchic frenzy and the like.
This form of ritual changed character when, inspired by the poems of Homer, a secular form of dramatic entertainment appeared in which bard and dancer-mime expressed through chant and gesture the deeds of some great hero, his relationship to the gods and the fates determining his life and death; Thespis, the father of Greek tragedy, introduced
actors, thereby allowing dialogue in which the players could respond and exchange comment, and thus enlarged the scope of the drama.
The public love of this form of entertainment grew as the second actor became as important as the first and led a chorus, who not only interpreted the words directly into action, as the first dancer-mimes had done, but also reacted expressively to the speech of both actors. This task ultimately led the chorus also to create the background and aat¬mosphere against which the hero’s deeds could be depicted. At a later stage poets began to compete for the honour of presenting such plays at the Olympic Games and other events linking the citizens of the Greek towns together.
The tragedy chosen was played as an act of homage to a city’s god. Its purpose was to fire the imagination and spirit of the townsfolk. It had to appeal to everyone, therefore its plot was limited to certain traditional themes in wwhich the heroes, who were likened to gods, performed or were expected to perform deeds and acts that were known. There had to be generalization because both the characters and their actions had to be recognized as belonging to that ttheme upon which a particular plot was based. It is from the generaliza¬tions of action and character that the libretti of many later dramatic plays and ballets have developed, and the techniques of classical choregraphic design.
THE GENERALIZATION OF ACTION AND CHARACTER
The tragedy frequently took the form of a trilogy with each play forming, as it were, an act of the whole in which the events presaging and influencing a hero’s deeds and his life in the hands of the gods and the fates were so discussed that they would convey some poli¬tical or moral lesson.
The same characters appear in play after play and their actions, emotions and moods are discussed by the various authors in much the same terms. TThe heroes Theseus, Jason, Her¬cules and Ulysses not only have similar types of adventure, but are likened to each other in gesture, action and looks. The sad heroines Andromache, Hecuba, the faithful sisters or daughters Antigone, Elektra, Iphigenia and the tragic Cassandra are given similar dramatic manifestations of emotion, mood and action.
The gods and goddesses make infrequent appearances, but, like their servants Mercury and Iris, when they do it is always with those qualities and attributes with which they have bbeen associated. Moreover from the time of Euripides, their main task was frequently to descend as the deus ex machina and deliver some comment or explanation of the drama, or even make some prophecy as an epilogue to the play.
That some form of discipline was enacted is clear from de Martene’s De Antiquis Monarchum where he quotes a tenth-century document analysing over three hundred gestures used by Benedictine, Cistercian and other religious orders during the hours of silence and in Divine Service. It cannot be said that these gestures were the exclusive prop¬erty of the Christian Church. Nothing could be further from the truth as many of them are used and understood by people of all creeds and nations today. It would seem, therefore, that the pantomimi themselves gave regular form to the most common of their gestures, and the monks and nuns in their desire for regulation, directed these into rigid formulas of movement. Amongst these formulas are many which are the conventional gestures of the classical ballets d’action.
THE FIRST BALLET SPECTACLES
It is impossible to date with any accuracy the first spectacle to be associated with the term ballet. Father Ministries mentions the thirteenth-century horse ballets. Others find the eelaborate masking, mummings, masquerades and balls of a slightly later period, a more feasible beginning as then a definite style of court dance with a proper technique of move¬ment began to be used. Some of these were organized round a theme which demanded little more than the wearing of appropriate costumes. A more useful pointer to the future shape of ballet as a spectacle might be an entertainment quoted by Prunieres in Le Ballet du Com en France avant Benserade et Lully. When Philip the Good of Burgundy married Isabel of Portugal (1430) he founded theknightly Order of the Golden Fleece to the Glory of God and the Propagation of the Holy Faith. Following the example of the Church’s religious processions, he introduced into the solemn proceedings a cart containing mummers who enacted the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, whilst a bishop preached a sermon likening the story of Jason to the Crusading Knights battling to rescue the Holy land from the Infidel.
The fact that this story lent itself so easily to symbolism and allegory made it a popular theme for other festive occasions, notably that staged by Bergonza di Botta for his famous dinner-ballet in honour of tthe marriage of Isabella of Aragon to the Duke of Milan (1489). But this was only one of many magnificent entertainments given throughout Savoy and Northern Italy during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Each was given to celebrate some notable event, staged throughout the town by the various authorities and contained wonderful scenic devices designed by such artists as Leonardo da Vinci.
The Mould of Classical Ballet:
I The Academic Background
WHILST the fantastic spectacula were staged outside in the streets and squares of the North Italian towns, they contained something for everyone. Scenes from plays by Terence and other classical authors were jostled by highly symbolical processions and groupings, fire¬works, water-shows, juggling, acrobatics, circuses and the rest. There was a place for the many different kinds of player. Those performers descended from the pantomimi and jongleurs were perhaps the most valued because they fitted into any form of entertainment. They were both vocal artists and dancer-mimes, and on being thrown out of some noble household for a ribald joke, or offending by clever innuendo, could go out into the streets and poke fun at those who irritated or oppressed the townsfolk, or indulge in some other popular „ploy.“ But
once dinner-ballets and similar entertainments began to be staged in¬side the palaces of prince or prelate, only the more serious player could be used, because the scope of such spectacles was more limited. They were staged for some specific purpose, therefore only those who would conform to the discipline of words fraught with meaning and dance-steps moulded to spell out some complicated symbol would be employed.
THE PART OF THE PHILOSOPHERS
The production of the dinner-ballets and similar entertainments given in honour oof a marriage or of the signing of a treaty, the welcoming of a hero or other like occasion was the responsibility of learned philosophers. On all such occasions the leading figures brought important spiritual advisers in their train, thus the various alliances united families, states and also learned men.
The task of these last was to advise on political and other eventualities and to help pro¬duce the spectacles which, it was hoped, would strengthen the significance of the union and bbe a compliment to those participating.
These meetings of philosophers sometimes led to the forming of academies where dis¬cussions took place to elucidate the writings of the great classical authors and bring about the reconciliation of pagan and Christian dogmas by tthe use of symbolism and allegory.
The Revival of Learning in France gained impetus when Francis I invited leading philo¬sophers and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci to his court. But it was not until his son, Henri II, married Catherine de Medici that lavish entertainments began to be staged. Catherine was an astute woman and realized that the struggle for power between the vari¬ous religious factions had to be resolved. She was quick to invite the help of learned Frenchmen of all parties to take part in the religious and political debates, and also to help stage the numerous festivities which she felt were needed to enhance the prestige of the court.
Jean-Antoine de Baif was a member of the ggroup known as the Pleiade amongst whose interesting activities was their attempt to revive the theatre of the Greeks. De Baif invented a system ofvers mesures in order „To unite music with dance, song and measure as in the ancient days of Greece,“ so that the moral effects of the music would bring about the desired result. In practice this system was a method of making the metrical rhythm of the words form the basis of the musical rhythm. Thus tthe verbal declamation determined the timing and phrasing of the notes and these in their turn, determined the timing of the steps and gestures.
Theoretically the work of De Baif and the Pleiade was far more than drawing up rules for the composing of vers mesures. Like academicians elsewhere they interpreted the term music in the widest possible sense—everything to do with the Muses—and believing that no art, particularly that of living, could be practised without strict ethical and intellectual discipline, they drew up and discussed the educational syllabus required by those who wished to join in their activities. It suggested that the education of the French academicians, who were also courtiers, was to be complete in every detail as was that of the earlier Italians, whose education has been so brilliantly analysed by Castiglione in The Courtier (1528).
Henri III (Catherine de Medici’s third son) became interested in the work of De Baif’s academy on hearing of the „effects“ it supposedly had on its audience. Being a highly reli¬gious man and inheriting the throne of a country still torn between rival factions, despite Ins mother’s efforts to unite the parties, he felt the need of staging religious processions to the great ccathedrals and monasteries as well as more lighthearted entertainments in an attempted reconciliation.
After he had visited a concert given by De Baif and taken part in some of the debates of the Pleiade, a contemporary, Sauval, wrote „All Ballets and masquerades were conducted by De Baif and Maudit.“ The king was so impressed by the „effects of the music,“ that De Baif and his colleagues were invited to compose the anthems and music and to help design the symbolical attributes and banners to be carried by Henri and his courtiers in penitential processions, as well as to take part in the debates, which Henri arranged at his own palace, and in the entertainments arising therefrom.
BALET COMIQUE DE LA ROYNE I58I
The author of The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century, Frances A. Yates, not only gives the history but also a brilliant analysis and interpretation of the many spectacular entertainments given throughout the life of Catherine de Medici and notes that a Huguenot, Agrippa d’Aubigne, who attended the palace debates when a member of the captive Henri of Navarre’s suite, claims to have invented Balet comique de la Royne.
The ballet is always attributed to Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx (or Baltazarino Belgiojoso), who ccame to Paris as valet de chambre with Catherine de Medici. This Italian musician and dancing-master seems to have acted as producer for a work prepared by many hands chosen for the task by Catherine herself. There is no evidence that the Pleiade was collectively involved in the production, but individually they and their followers were extremely active in staging the seventeen fetes given in honour of the Joyeuse marriage. Moreover as the De Baif academicians had had much experience in staging similar entertainments, it is not surprising that certain items found in their earlier works were repeated and enlarged upon, because their influence undoubtedly penetrated all spheres of art, and Balet comique de la Royne must be quoted as one of the first ballets in which a proper synthesis of the arts was made in the sense that Diaghilev was to make it more fully understood some four hundred years later. It is perhaps useful to take note of some of these earlier items in order to emphasize the importance of the Pleiade in establishing the recognized style of the ballets du cour.
At the Fontainebleau fetes (1564) when he received the Papal Ambassadors after the Council of Trent, Charles
IX was wakened one morning by Three Sirens on the canal outside his window singing verses by Ronsard describing how Charles would restore peace. They were followed by Neptune (who symbolized the king) and immediately a nymph appeared on the rocks to signify „That the woodland deities would return with the return of peace,“ an item to be repeated with little alteration in the first part of Balet comique.
At the Fontainebleau fetes (1564) when he received the Papal Ambassadors after tthe Council of Trent, Charles IX was wakened one morning by Three Sirens on the canal outside his window singing verses by Ronsard describing how Charles would restore peace. They were followed by Neptune (who symbolized the king) and immediately a nymph appeared on the rocks to signify „That the woodland deities would return with the return of peace,“ an item to be repeated with little alteration in the first part of Balet comique.
The Bayonne fetes (1565) were given in hhonour of Catherine’s daughter, Isabel, wife of Philip of Spain and for these De Baif wrote a masquerade where the King of France van¬quished the Fairy of the Pyrenees, who had enchanted some knights and maidens; an action to be rrepeated in Balet comique where Circe twice casts a spell over some nymphs. But it is more important to note that this masquerade introduced groups of peasants, each group performing a folk dance as an allegorical figure representing their province was brought into the hall. This idea was copied in later French ballets and it undoubtedly helped to introduce new steps into classical dance.
After the Pleiade became a recognized academy they included a ballet, Paradis d’Amour, in the fetes they organized for the wedding of Henry of Navarre and Marguerite de Valois (1572). Parts of the action of this work closely resembled that of Balet comique and it con¬tained an elaborate sequence of geometrical figures danced to musique mesuree by TTwelve Nymphs representing the Virtues, whilst the diagrams themselves were supposed to repre¬sent Eternal Truths; a subject to be repeated and enlarged upon in the grand finale of Balet comique.
The Mould of Classical Ballet:
II The Staging of the Classical Ballet a’Action
BY the beginning of the eighteenth century the formulas for creating classical ballets were set. The various French academicians laid down that the Greek or Roman themes be given proper allegory and symbolism to suit the purpose of the entertainment. TThe action was set in words and music, and divided into three or four parts linked and enlivened by entrees of dancers. The formulas for classical technique were being developed by French academicians from the work of earlier dancing-masters, and the amateur courtiers were rapidly giving place to professionals in the opera-ballets where solo virtuosity instead of the configuration of group dance commanded attention.
The development of virtuosity was largely due to the Commedia dell’Arte companies. These groups of players, originally servants of noble Italian households, were expected to behave like courtiers. This was particularly true of the innamorati (serious lovers) who received similar education. Because they were actors playing the roles of courtiers, they understood the need of perfecting the requisite techniques of dancing, music and the like in order to create the right impression by properly phrasing and accenting each step, gesture and pose. Similarly the comic characters, particularly the Harlequins and Colum¬bines, who were the dancers of the companies, not only studied fashionable court dance so as to poke fun at grand manners, but enlivened their technique with newly invented steps or borrowed from some folk dance, acrobatics or tumbling. Something of the virtuosity of the Commedia dell’Arte ddancers is described by De Brosses, who speaks of one young woman who executed twenty entrechats without pausing and „clicked her heel eight times at each leap.
And she did this for all the entrepas for which our masters are so admired. Indeed compared with her supple grace, La Camargo seems like a block of stone.“
These remarks were written about a beautiful pupil of Fassano, leader of a group of travelling players, when he introduced her to Paris. Fassano himself introduced complex steps of elevation and batterie to the Russian dancers of St. Petersburg, when he took over their training from Lande. He was perhaps the most prominent of the Italian dancers to enrich the technique of the classical dancers when the state and court theatres began to be established. Having a technique of their own, the Italian Commedia dell’Arte players were probably the only type of professional able to teach young artists the various kinds of ballet, whether tragic or comic. The ordinary dancing-master had still to make his dancing theatrically effective, instead of making it conform to the etiquette of the ballroom.
But the Italian comedians did not rely on virtuosity only. Like other travelling players they performed in the ppopular theatres as well as at court, and in the former a freer type of play, not dependent on words, was more acceptable, especially during the interludes where miming, dancing and the like were welcomed „Because the eye is quicker to seize upon the meaning of a gesture than the ear to seize upon the meaning of a word—unless one has been specially educated to rely on hearing instead of seeing.“
THE ENGLISH SCENE
For all the influence of the Commedia dell’Arte and other travelling players on both official and unofficial French theatres, the next step forwards in the development of ballet was taken by John Weaver in England when he presented The Loves of Mars and Venus at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (2nd March, 1717). This was the first classical ballet d’action in which the dancers conveyed meaning through movement without the aid of actors or singers to explain the action.
Although The Loves of Mars and Venus can be considered as a development of the French ballet du com and the opera-ballets, and is closely linked to their traditions, it is also a development of certain English theatrical traditions. England had an extremely vigorous theatrical life of her own whilst
these French and Italian entertainments were developing and it differed slightly from that on the continent.
Firstly there were no official bodies to direct all art towards one purpose. Even the elaborate court mummings, maskings and masques had something for everyone as had the earlier mystery, miracle and morality plays, and the drama which developed from these sources; Shakespeare’s plays are superb examples of the rich variety of the English theatre. There are symbolism and allegory in them as in the wwork of other playwrights, but these are only secondary considerations, the action is the essential ingredient.
Secondly „the dancing English,“ whose love of dance was first noted by Saint Augustine, were making greater use of dance and mime in all their entertainments by the reign of Elizabeth I than were other peoples. This was particularly important in the masques and anti-masques which frequently included specially arranged dances, perhaps to create the necessary atmosphere for a more important piece of poetry, or tto depict some comic characters playing a major part in creating satirical or witty diversion during a serious production.
hirdly professional dancers appeared in English masques earlier than in ballets else¬where. The masque sometimes required as long as fifty days’ rehearsal. TThe producer, therefore, seems often to have used the highly accomplished morris dance teams, whose virile stepping had played an important part in earlier folk and religious dramas. Indeed the morris dance had served as a basic technique for such players as Will Kempe and George Jolley, whose lively performances in England and on the continent have been well recorded.
JOHN WEAVER (1673-I760)
A glance at the advertisements of The Daily Courant from 1702 to 1730 will give any reader an excellent idea of the various items presented on one evening at the London theatres of that time. Plays of Shakespeare and other dramatists appear and as well Italian singers, acrobats, jugglers and novelty acts. Messieurs Balon and Dupre are advertised to ddance on the same bill as Mrs. Santlow (later Mrs. Booth), Misters Weaver and Thurmond, to name only a few of the stars. Amongst their items are a New Morris, The Highland Lilt, The Whip of Dunboyne, The Dutch Skipper (who later becomes drunken!), Spanish and Italian entrees and dances for Harlequins, Scaramouche and other Commedia dell’Arte characters.
John Weaver worked in London from 1702 to 1733 as a dancer (sometimes playing Harlequin, which suggests a more than average technique), as tteacher, and ballet-master. He brought an analytical as well as a practical mind to the problems of dance on the stage, which, he asserted, differs from that performed in society and made out his case in his reply to Addison and Steele in The Spectator when he also mentions the publication of his Essay Towards a History of Dancing.
THE BALLET D’ACTION IN PARIS
Although Luigi Riccoboni, the Italian comedian, was not a dancer, except that as a „serious lover“ he performed contemporary court dance, he helped to link French and English ballet. Firstly he placed on record his impressions of certain English actors, particularly those of Garrick to whom he dedicated his History of the Theatre. Because of his eminence, his writings were studied by other players anxious to profit from his experiences, and to learn about the influence „things English“ had on many continental thinkers and reformers in all fields during the eighteenth century. The most outstanding features of the English theatre for Riccoboni were the naturalness of the acting, the lack of official direc¬tives which narrowed theatrical art elsewhere thus driving it into conventional channels, the direct approach to human problems, particularly as shown by Shakespeare, and the more ttolerant attitude of the audience towards innovations. The last point was of vital importance to such reformers as Noverre, Dauberval and Didelot, and later Diaghilev, because any experiment was at least allowed to proceed, even if it were finally given an adverse verdict.
Secondly although Riccoboni was firmly grounded in the traditions of the Commedia dell’Arte, he also believed in the value of contemporary ideas. It was perhaps his sense of the need for experiment which led him to persuade his son, Francois, to introduce Salle’s Pygmalion to Parisian audiences, feeling no doubt that the inclusion of a serious work in the otherwise comic ballet repertoire of his company would enhance their reputation and make his Theatre italien an even stronger rival to the Opera comique, who staged somewhat similar items.
This introduction of a serious ballet a“action into the repertoire of a more or less per¬manently settled company helped to develop the expressiveness of their classical dance, because its success led to other productions in a similar vein. One of these, produced by Francois Riccoboni, Les Filets du Vulcain (1738), seems to have been based on Weaver’s libretto and contained similar dances. For example „Mars and Venus dance to a light mmelody, a kind of well-expressed dialogue which outlines the inception of their mutual tender feelings.“ Vulcan dances a monologue of „raging jealousy,“ and there was a „pas de trois“ of infidelity.
Further innovations were made at the Theatre Italien by Jean Baptiste de Hesse, a dancer from the Netherlands, who joined the company in 1734, dancing as a figurant in Pygmalion and later becoming ballet-master. Many of his ballets were of the same comic genre as earlier works based on the Commedia deU’Arte characters, but he also staged several tragic ballets d’action and some lighter pastoral pieces which greatly influenced other chore-graphers, because of their dramatic unity and well-balanced action. It seems that from 1740 De Hesse initiated a firm system of artistic training which ensured that his entire cast and not merely the leading players, were able to dance not only with technical facility, but also to give expression to their movement. There was thus a uniformity of emotional quality in the dances of both soloists and corps de ballet, which made such a work as his Ads and Galatea (1753) appear to his contemporaries as a „genuine tragedy pantomime“ with a unity of action and purpose.
VIENNA — HILFERDING (1710
– 68) AND ANGIOLINI (1723 – 96)
It was while the first classical ballets d’action were being staged in Paris that the Viennese dancer, Franz Hilferding, came to study and on his return to Vienna, began to experiment, staging such highly dramatic works as Racine’s Britannicus, Crebillon’s Idomenee and Vol¬taire’s Alzire in the form of ballets in which the entire action was expressed through gesture. These works were on the same lines as the scene performed by M. Balon and Mile. PPrevost. But he also presented other ballets of a lighter, more lyrical nature, where dance took precedence and was reinforced by expressive movement, following the example of Weaver and Salle.
Hilferding, like De Hesse, did not confine his serious and more lyrical works to strictly classical themes, but frequently introduced pastoral subjects, and in his comic ballets rejected the usual stock Commedia dell’Arte characters and used instead themes drawn from real life, preferably from the countryside. This enabled him to design ddances charac¬teristic of threshers, charcoal-burners and the like that became an important feature in the ballets he and his pupil, Angiolini, were to produce during their long service in St. Petersburg, where the latter attempted and succeeded in giving stylized fform to some of the highly expressive Russian folk dances.
When Gasparo Angiolini took over the leadership of the Viennese ballet on Hilferding’s departure for St. Petersburg (1757) he made further efforts to integrate dance, gesture and music. At this time the Viennese State Theatres were under the direction of Count Durazzo, whose wide study of the European theatres and anxiety to further the arts of opera and ballet led him to promote whatever would eliminate the senseless conventions and arti¬ficialities into which the opera seria and opera-ballet had fallen. His was greatly influenced by his friend, Count Algarotti, whose writings and lecture to the English Royal Society (1750) on the reform of opera served as a theoretical basis for mmany other contemporary writers on similar subjects; notable among them was Noverre who sometimes used Algarotti’s own ideas, merely substituting the term ballet for the term opera in his Letters on the Dance (1760).
Angiolini’s first works, apart from some national ballets intended to reveal the spirit of certain peoples in whose customs and dances he was interested, were little different from those of Hilferding. These met with such success that he produced his first important dramatic ballet d’action, Don Juan bbased on Moliere’s play Le Festin de Pierre with music by Gluck (1761). In this he was clearly trying to create a dance-drama instead of the mimo-dramas or pastoral idylls of his master. It was also in essence different from the strong dramas with their realistic gestures then being produced by Noverre at Stuttgart, following that master’s study of Garrick in Shakespeare’s plays, which broke all the academic rules to which Noverre had been accustomed during his training in Paris.
Don Juan was a success and was played more frequently than any other dramatic ballet staged during the latter half of the eighteenth century.
It is not possible to discover the details of Angiolini’s choregraphy for Don Juan, yet from contemporary writings it is clear that Count Durazzo presented this „drama expressed through dance“ as a protest against the senseless artificialities or merely sensuous succession of dance divertissements strung together by vocal explanation of the usual state theatre ballets. The music too was unlike that used elsewhere. Gluck’s score did not consist of the usual academically formed dance numbers. Doctor Burney mentions that after Gluck’s visit to England (1745) he „Endeavoured to write for the voice more in the natural tones of tthe human affections and passion than to flatter the lovers of deep science and difficult execution.“ These remarks are equally true of the music for Don Juan, where Gluck emphasized the varying emotional content of the three acts by setting each in a different key and so phrasing the different phases of each episode that they arrived at a proper climax. This same sense of the vitally descriptive power of music to enhance the emotional content of the dance is equally obvious in Gluck’s later score for Semiramis, Angiolini’s next important work, and in the dances for such operas as Orpheus which Angiolini also arranged.
Angiolini, like his master Hilferding, worked on the theory of choregraphic design and has left on record some valuable comments on the production of a dramatic ballet d’action in his introduction to Semiramis (1765), and in two letters to Noverre (1772), written when his anger was roused by Noverre’s personally made claim to be the „unico riforma-tore della danze pantomima“; a claim repudiated because Angiolini believed Hilferding had a right to this title, not only because he had staged dramatic ballets d’action, but also because he had entirely dispensed with the crude comic ballets aand had done away with the conventionally elaborate costumes and masks.
Angiolini’s first letter to Noverre is a criticism of the latter’s Agamemnon, a vindication of Hilferding’s position in history, and a refutation of Noverre’s argument that ballet should not be governed by the same rules as drama. His second letter is a criticism of Noverre’s Letters.
Angiolini attacks Agamemnon and incidentally other Noverre ballets, because the unity of action is disrupted by the introduction of a second action as well as unnecessary divert¬issements. He also accuses Noverre of neglecting the other two unities. Angiolini makes his own viewpoint on this difficult problem clear in his libretto for Semiramis: „One’s first thought is that the three unities of time, place and action are almost as necessary to Danse-pantomimes as to comedies and tragedies.“ By the unity of place he understands the action occurs in one place, in one town; by the unities of time and action he believes it is difficult to prolong the action and not keep it within twenty-four hours; firstly because it is tiring, if not impossible for the main characters to dance for any length of time; secondly because it is impossible to include other episodes without confusing
This singleness of purpose seems to have marked all Angiolini’s work as choregrapher and may have been the reason why his Semiratnis did not meet with immediate success. It was too closely based on Voltaire’s drama from which he eliminated all but the main action and principal characters. This proved to be too dramatic and too little relieved by dance to please the Viennese public, although they came to appreciate its merits later when Noverre’s own ballets appeared to tthem to be top-heavy with action and divertisse¬ments. Noverre’s works also seemed to lack that sensitive feeling for the music, which had been obvious when Angiolini worked with Gluck. Mozart noted Noverre’s insensitivity when he complained to his father that the great man, having commissioned Les Petits Riens, added „Six old miserable ariettas written by others,“ to pad out the action.
Towards the Romantic Ballet of the Nineteenth Century
IT was the great theorist of classical dance, Carlo Blasis, who noted the iimportance of Bordeaux when he was on tour and who believed it to be the fountainhead of ballet production as opposed to Paris, where, he asserted, every dancer must go if only to perfect his technique. From before the French RRevolution and for some years afterwards the Bordeaux ballet was under the leadership of Jean Dauberval, who had studied and worked with Noverre, and whose inability to gain permission for experiment at the Paris Opera had sent him to the provinces. In Bordeaux he produced many different kinds of ballet about which Parisian critics complained that sentimentalism and melodrama had replaced the tragic nobility of Noverre. But it would seem that although Dauberval did utilize such themes, he was working towards a more flexible type of technique, which could be adapted to suit the style of each work instead of basing it, like the older ballet-masters, upon the strict formulas of classical dance, conventional gesture and an occasional use of ssome folk or Commedia dell’Arte idiom.
JEAN DAUBERVAL AND THE DEMI-CARACTERE BALLET
(1724 – 1806)
Dauberval’s famous ballet, La Fille mal gardee (1789), is one of the oldest and one of the first purely demi-caractere ballets in the repertoire. Like Galeotti’s Les Caprices du Cupidon, which is the oldest ballet and was produced in Copenhagen (1786), it has passed through the hands of many ballet-masters and has lost its original choregraphy. Yet its importance should not be minimized for in its original form iit helped to establish a new and im¬portant type of ballet, which allowed choregraphers more scope to design dance styles of their own.
La Fille mal gardee was based on Egidio Duni’s comic opera of that name produced in Paris and introduced to the ballet stage some real-life village characters seen tlirough the eyes of authors and players for the popular theatres. They were part of the Commedia dell’Arte traditions, but were shown in a contemporary setting. The original score, com¬piled by an amateur, consisted of folk-dance tunes supplemented by popular airs.
Until La Fille mal gardee was produced by Perrot in 1848 Dauberval’s choregraphy seems to have remained practically unchanged except for the introduction of the pointes for the 1828 Paris production by Aumer (Dauberval’s pupil). According to contemporary accounts, Dauberval’s choregraphy fell into three distinct categories: it was a character dance, or dances of character, or it was a special type of dance based on classical technique, an important distinction which became of the utmost value to Dauberval’s pupils.
Dauberval seems to have understood character dance to be one in which the dancers changed their own nationality or status into that of some other country or environment, and used tthe characteristic gestures, steps, rhythms and qualities found in a particular type of folk dance – a definition which also included the court and social dances he arranged to create local colour in other ballets. Thus in La Fille mal gardee, Dauberval arranged dances based on the dances of Southern France and the Basque Provinces for the corps de ballet playing the roles of peasants and villagers.
DANCES OF CHARACTER
A dance of character Dauberval understood to be one in which the dancer changes his or her personality and presents instead the portrait of some clearly defined individual derived from the study of his character, idiosyncrasies and specialized movements. In these dances Dauberval’s characters had descended from the old Greek comedies by way of the Commedia dell’Arte and included a scheming old woman (mother or nurse), traditionally played by a man en travesti; a cunning and wealthy villager with a simpleton son (foolish zany, or clown) and a marriage broker, for whom Dauberval used some of the stock tricks of the Harlequinade.
But the two categories described above did not completely satisfy Dauberval’s need to establish a style for all the characters. His heroine and hero, Lisa and Colin, were descended from CColumbine and Harlequin, who had become the real dancers of the Commedia dell’Arte. He therefore devised a specific form of classical dance which he himself termed the demi-caractere.
This demi-caractere dance was based on the classical formulas of his day and had gradually been making its appearance in the dances of the nymphs, shepherds and other rustic characters in the pastoral scenes of ballets and operas by Lully, Rameau, Gluck and the ballet-masters mentioned earlier.
But withDauberval, this softly graceful form o£demi-caractere work was greatly developed and became strongly characterized by the use of special ports de bras, in which the strict rulings of the academic school were very frequently ignored. Arms were not kept rounded, nor did they move in one piece, so to speak. They could be bent at wrist or elbow, or used in movements borrowed from the typical attitudes of a peasant in some dance or work process. Dauberval is said to have used the false positions described by Weaver and Noverre for both arms ...