Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ballet : Jean Baptiste Lully - The beginning of professional dancing

Professional dancers started to appear in 1630 and by 1659 were established figures. In 1672, composer, Jean Baptiste Lully formed a dance academy within the Academie Royale de Musique. This dance company survives today as the ballet of the Paris Opera. Lully's seriousness towards the study of dance led to the development of professional dancers as opposed to courtiers who could dance.

Jean George Noverre (1727) introduced ballet d'action or choreography based on character and situation rather than personal display. He was dissatisfied with the dress of dancers and held the belief they should not wear masks. Maximillien Gardel was the first to appear without his mask but the corps de ballet continued to use masks in grotesque roles until the end of the eighteenth century. During this time professional dancing masters became an integral part of court life.

Courtiers were trained in correct deportment and dancing from an early age. Dancing was used to political effect i.e. establishing the dominance of the French Court. The fashion for court entertainment in the French style spread across Europe. With the emergence of professional dancers, they influenced technique, and moved dance towards an expressive art form that was accessible to a broader audience.

The developing mercantile class meant a public existed with capital to be spent on leisure pursuits such as attending theatres. As the art form advanced with more dance and less speak it became more attractive to paying audiences. As professional dancers were evolving movement techniques appropriate to new audiences, choreographers were adapting their work to new spaces. In the Paris Opera and the many new theatres that appeared at the end of the eighteenth century, the perspective of the audience was radically changed. Instead of performing in a space surrounded by an audience on three sides, sometimes seated in raised galleries, dancers now were separated from their audiences and framed by a proscenium arch. Movement was now viewed in the frontal plane, which replaced floor pattern as the most visible spatial effect.

Technically, the use of soft, flat shoes by professional dancers allowed them to explore a range of movement different from that used in court dances. Jumps replaced the small springing steps and elevation became more and more important.

An ironic tragedy was Lully died in 1687, as a result of a self-inflicted injury he received by accidentally stabbing his foot with his time marking stick during a performance of Te Deum (a Latin hymn of thanksgiving to God). The wound festered and the foot became gangrenous and Lully died from blood poisoning.

Reviewed 10/01/2016

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