Posted by: kkhans | May 24, 2009

Friday I explored the Richelieu site of the library, which is just completely different from Mitterrand. It is located in the center of the city in a gorgeous building. It is the kind of building I would imagine if someone told me they were researching in France. Everything there is done by hand; you fill out your book request and someone goes upstairs to get them for you. I guess it felt a lot more comfortable because of the smaller size, and the friendlier people. I spent the day in the arts de spectacle, or performing arts, department. The librarian gave me the catalog for the main collection there which was donated by A. Rondel. There is a whole section of the collection devoted to the court ballets. Now I have even more books to go through, which is good because they are almost all primary sources.

I was reading a book about writing dance on Friday. The author describes ballet as l’art de l’éphémère, the ephemeral or fleeting art. Today we can record ballets on video, but in the seventeenth century the only way to remember dance was through written description. No system of dance notation had been invented at the time. While engravings of depictions of the set designs or costumes exist, it is almost impossible to get a well rounded picture of these court ballets. Therefore, I am trying to gather as many primary sources as possible while I’m here. I am reading courtiers descriptions of the spectacles, reading the original ‘scripts’ for the ballets, and learning about the writers, composers, choreographers, set and costume designers to try to create the best image I can of the ballets and how they functioned in the court society.

First though, I want to give you all a better idea of what is meant by a ballet de cour or a comédie-ballet. Both of these types of ballet are specific to the 17th century. At this time, ballet was an art form primarily for men. All good young gentilhommes would receive dance training to help them with balance, strength, grace and discipline, kind of like some football players do today. There was no such thing as pointe, and for a long time women were not allowed to dance in the court ballets although they would have learned ballroom dances. During Louis XIV’s reign, the king began to allow women to dance in his ballets, even mixing nobles and professional dancers, which was quite an innovation. These ballets were a mix of dance, comedy, mime, music and theatre; basically anything to amuse the king and his court. The dances would have been much simpler than what we consider as ballet today, especially since the men were in high heels and extremely heavy costumes. Louis XIV began dancing in these ballets at the age of 12. At this time in particular, the ballets were used to enforce an image of the young king’s power over his subjects. He would often have monologues in the middle of the ballets where he would speak as a character about his absolute power. These ballets only had a very loose somewhat unorganized plot, composed of many different entrées, or entrances, with many different characters ranging from humans to animals and mythological creatures. Furthermore, the ballets were not created for purely artistic reasons. Rather, they were created when the king decided he wanted to dance in a new ballet to entertain his court. Overall, the ballets were completely different from our current concept of ballet, but I find it so interesting to see how much the art form has developed over time.

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[…] Friday I explored the Richelieu site of the library, which is just completely different from Mitterrand. It is located in the center of the city in a gorgeous building. It is the kind of building I would imagine if someone told me they were researching in France. Everything there is done by hand; you fill out your book request and someone goes upstairs to get them for you. I guess it felt a lot more comfortable because of the smaller size, and the friendlier people. I spent the day in the arts de spectacle, or performing arts, department. The librarian gave me the catalog for the main collection there which was donated by A. Rondel. There is a whole section of the collection devoted to the court ballets. Now I have even more books to go through, which is good because they are almost all primary sources. (more…) […]

It sounds like you are learning so much while in Paris! I hope you enjoy it and keep me posted about all your findings 🙂 Enjoy!!!!!!

Sounds like a fascinating study. Certainly is a different entertainment culture than we take for granted today.

Gene Roche

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