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Paris, 1841; the view from Bournonville

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Among the letters to his wife that appear, newly translated, in the current edition of Dance Chronicle (see the Books, Magazines and Critics forum) are a few of August Bournonville's assessments of what he saw in Paris. (These letters were written during his exile from Copenhagen, right before he did Napoli.)

Here are a few samples. It should be remembered that Bournonville did not view Romanticism as the high water mark of ballet, but as a sentimental, money-hungry period in which art became trickery :)

"I shall now give you a little picture of the state in which the Ballet finds itself here in Paris.".......Perrot...wants like the devil to compose, and, with this end in view, has completely given up training. The fact of the matter is, he has taste and facility and now, when they do not even ask balletmasters themselves to invent their subjects, but, instead, force them to stage the ideas of [professional] librettists--indeed, will not even read their scenarios--you can imagine that this position, while not honorable, is at least powerful. Add to this that these librettists (may Heaven turn its back on them, and the world forget their scenarios) have a dominant say in the casting of roles, and the choice of the music composer; consequently, all the balletmaster is actually repsonsible for is the general scenic arrangement."....

"In this way, Coralli and Mazilier have managed to slog along unimaginatively. With great financial effort, a number of rather successful ballets have been produced.....Everyone is bemoaning the decline of dance; operas steal the ballets' thunder, receipts drop off, managers become delirious at the mere mention of ballets. ... Many of the finest danseuses do not appear for a fortnight at a time, yet mediocrities must be used."

"The ballets, which actually have very thin plots, have now been made three hours long and by making every dance into a character dance, they have become so monotonous that one cannot tell them apart. Some nice and surprising touches have been adapted by everyone, so that they are differentiated only by their degree of exaggeration. Corps de ballet is beneath contempt. And as for ensemble, interaction, groupings, etc etc -- there simply aren't any. It's all a muddle, and the male dancers are what we, in Copenhagen, would call ditch-diggers."

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