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silvy

how did the Enlightment influence ballet (if at all)?

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I was asked to find a relation between the Era of the Enlightment (XVIII century) and ballet, meaning, if the ideals of the philosophers of this era (which in turn would help trigger the French Revolution) exerted some kind of influence on ballet as an art form.

I can only think vaguely of "Le Chevalier Noverre" and his "Lettres sur la danse et les ballets", and his "ballet d'action", but still, I cannot seem to draw a clear relation.

Does anyone have some hints on this?

Thanks so much

Silvy

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Well, ballet is an art form that came of age during the Age of Enlightenment, so I'd say the influence is everywhere -- the mathematical precision of French ballet, the patterns taken from/suggesting the gardens at Versailles, the placing everything into neat little categories. Read Lincoln Kirstein's "A Short History of Classical Theatrical Dancing" to start. That should be available everywhere (on line from www.alibris.com if not from amazon.)

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An obvious source is Ivor Guest's very comprehensive The Ballet of the Enlightenment which came out about a decade ago.

The period, from a dancer's perspective, was covered by George Balanchine Foundation researcher Judith Chazin Bennahum in a book I believe is out of print. From their site:

Judith Chazin Bennahum, principal researcher, Orphée aux Enfers

A former dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and the Santa Fe Opera Ballet, Gigi Bennahum is now known as a scholar, writer, choreographer, and educator. She is author of many articles as well as three books: Dance in the Shadow of the Guillotine (Southern Illinois University Press, 1988)... On the faculty of the University of New Mexico, she is the chair of the Department of Theater and Dance and an associate dean of the College of Fine Arts.

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I think answering this question would require specifiying what you mean by "ballet," or, rather, what sort of "ballet" you're most interested in tracing the lineage of. If you mean ballet that most resembles modern-day ballet then you probably mean the romantic ballet of the early 1900s; a neat comparison then could be made between the romantic ballet and the relationship of the Enlightenment to literary Romanticism. Later 18th-C writers and thinkers were concerned with "sensibility," that is the importance of the role our senses play in forming our ideas and perceptions. The Romantic poets built on--as well as reacted against--these and other Enlightenment thinkers' ideas. One idea that took shape at the end of the eighteenth century was differentiating between the "great" and the "(merely) beautiful"--the difference b/t, say a mountain and a flower (or, in literary terms, between Milton and a popular ballad), the former being more significant than the latter. (A distinction that I think helpd to exclude ballet from serious aesthetic consideration for a long time.) Edmund Burke is a great figure in this regard for talking about the difference between "mere" theater and reality. A great topic; I have more bibliography if you are interested.

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Well, ballet is an art form that came of age during the Age of Enlightenment, so I'd say the influence is everywhere -- the mathematical precision of French ballet, the patterns taken from/suggesting the gardens at Versailles, the placing everything into neat little categories

Now I am confused :blink: Because I thought that Ballet as an art form had developed during Louis XIV reign (i.e., 16th century) and that the geometrical patterns reflecting the perfection of Versailles palace stemmed from that century. As far as my limited knowledge goes, I thought there was a period afterwards in which ballet masters opposed the use of masks and the fact the "entrees" ballet consisted of, and when they thought that ballet should convey meaning in itself, with a plot and pantomime (I am thinking of Noverre).

I was asked to draw a relation between this 2 things by some members of the Masonry, to whom the ideals of the Enlightnment are apparently very dear.

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Ballet history starts in the late 16th century with Catherine de Medici's Magnificences. There was a flowering under Louis XIV in the late 17th century, but the late 17th century is considered part of the Age of Enlightenment (sometimes the late baroque period is separated as "the age of reason" but many scholars link the two into a long period encompassing the late baroque and the neoclassical; that's the short version.)

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I agree with Alexandra -- Newtonian Enlightenment principles are pervasive in ballet, they form the foundation of the science. Ballet technique is the result of the application of French rationalist principles to what was already known of anatomy as it relates to dancing -- the very idea of working en croix is Cartesian geometry -- the dancer in his/her box facing avant stands at the crossing of the x, y,and z axes, and it all derives from thinking logically in that manner from there.

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...Ballet technique is the result of the application of French rationalist principles to what was already known of anatomy as it relates to dancing -- the very idea of working en croix is Cartesian geometry -- the dancer in his/her box facing avant stands at the crossing of the x, y,and z axes, and it all derives from thinking logically in that manner from there.

Thanks for the insight, Paul. As a mathematician, I appreciate that most important of all mathematical ideals, Cartesian coordinates. The 20th Century's key mathematical idea (probably, still needs some more distant historical perspecitive), Topology, involves the continuous tranformation or deformation of that ideal. Very interesting, how ballet has charted a like course.

Perhaps slightly OT, regarding the idealist, his intellectual rival, and ballet, there is Richard Watson's book, Descartes's Ballet:

In his 54th year, Rene Descartes went to Stockholm at the invitation of Queen Christina. He caught pneumonia there and died on February 11, 1650. It is said that because Descartes refused to dance, Queen Christina charged him with writing the verses for a court ballet, La Naissance de la Paix....

http://www.staugustine.net/Descartessballet.html

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