Dance - The Middle Ages And The Renaissance
( Originally Published 1924 )
CHRISTIANITY, like the religions of the Hebrews of old and the Greeks, employed dancing as an important part of the ritual of worship. During the greater part of a thousand years, the relation was not violently disturbed; the ballet d'action served in the mass before the altar, and in the "moralities" that long held favour as an agency of spiritual instruction. A clerical it was who eventually composed and staged the great pantomime which the many authorities place as the first modern ballet.
European society, slowly emerging from the mire of Roman manners, at length found itself hungry for beauty, and capable of intelligent use of pearls. The ballet masque was evolved, and long remained the supremely brilliant feature of noble festivities. Polite society, headed by a king, was the founder of the ballet as it is now known. But this was in modern times. The institution that had conserved choreography through the brutishness of the Dark Ages was the Church.
To one Father Menestrier is owed a compilation of data about dancing, especially in relation to religion. The good father was a Jesuit living in the seventeenth century, his book having been written about 1682. While his own comments are not always contributory to exact knowledge of choreographic detail, the facts he collected from a great variety of sources are important and interesting. In the following passage he definitely attaches dancing to the ritual:
"Divine service was composed of psalms, hymns and canticles, because men sang and danced the praises of God, as they read His oracles in those extracts of the Old and New Testaments which we still know under the name of Lessons. The place in which these acts of worship were offered to God was called the choir, just as those portions of comedies and tragedies in which dancing and singing combined to make up the interludes were called choruses. Prelates were called in the Latin tongue, Prcesules a Praesiliendo, because in the choir they took that part in the praises of God which he who led the dances, and was called by the Greeks Choregus, took in the public games."
The word "proesul" was the designation of the chief priest of the Salii, of early Rome.
Quoting from St. Basil's Epistle to St. Gregory, Menestrier writes further: "What could be more blessed than to imitate on earth the rhythm of an-gels?" ("Quid itaque beatius esse poterit quoin in terra tripudia Angelorum initari?") To this he adds: "Paytone+Ones have also existed who believed that these spirits had no other means of communication among themselves but signs and movements arranged after the manner of dances. After this we need not be surprised that Virgil, in the sixth book of the AEneid, makes the spirits dance in the Elysian fields."
The Emperor Julian was reproved by St. Gregory of Nazianzus, not for dancing, but for the kind of dances with which he occupied himself. "If you are fond of dancing," said the saint, "if your inclination leads you to these festivals that you appear to love so passionately, dance as much as you will; I consent. But why revive before our eyes the dissolute dances of the barbarous Herodias and the Pagans? Rather perform the dances of King David before the Ark; dance to the honour of God. Such exercises of peace and piety are worthy of an emperor and a Christian."
No more need be quoted to explain the adoption of dancing by the Church, and the regard in which it was held by the reverend fathers. By some of them, that is. Others held it in different estimation. Odon, Bishop of Paris, proscribed dancing in the twelfth century. Notwithstanding, the fifteenth and sixteenth see in Spain the so-called Villancicos de Navidad (a choreographic celebration of the birth of Christ) and the dances of the Seises, then as now performed in the Cathedral of Seville. The latter were authorised in 1439 by a Bull of Pope Eugenius IV. Their discontinuance was ordered by Don Jayme de Palafox, Archbishop of Seville. To settle the matter the Seises were taken to Rome and their dances shown to the Pope, who as a consequence approved their continuance.
France, too, declined to take the proscription seriously, as almost numberless documents and images attest. In 1584 the Canon of Langres, by name Jehan Tabourot, otherwise Thoinet Arbeau, wrote (in his seventieth year) his work called Orchesographie. He refers cheerfully to opposition: "We practice such merry-making on days of wedding celebrations, and of the solemnities of the feasts of our Church, even though the reformers abhor such things; but in this matter they de-serve to be treated like some hind-quarter of goat put into dough without lard." ("Maisils meriteroientd'y 'Ore traictez de quelque gigot de bouc niis en paste sans lard.") Not an infelicitous metaphor, after inquiry reveals that dough without lard bakes to the hardness of concrete, so that the aid of a hammer is necessary to crack the shell. What more satisfying disposal of dissenters from one's own opinions?
Proofs of the dance's tenacious inclination to embody itself in the worship of the vital new religion are many. Records of efforts to establish it are mingled with those of counter-efforts to expel it; on the one side a belief that worship is an emotional expression, on the other a leaning toward logic. Whether religious uplift is a matter of emotion or of reason is a question perhaps not wholly settled yet. Certainly the mediaeval writers recorded little to reflect a spirit of compromise—no concession that ritual or logic might advantageously be chosen with some reference to the psychology of the individual. At the suggestion of the Council of Toledo, a ritual rich in sacred choreography was composed by Saint Isidore, archbishop of Seville in the seventh century. Another century produced two occurrences of choreographic importance at about the same moment: from Pope Zacharias, a prohibition of dancing; from the Moorish invasion, preservation of the seven churches of Toledo. Of the two influences, the latter was deemed paramount. In the seven churches a mass known as the Mozarabe was established, continued in all of them through the generations of Moorish occupancy of the city, and is still celebrated daily in the cathedral. In the other six churches it was discontinued toward the middle of the nineteenth century. With accompaniment of the tambourine, whose resonance Saint Isidore characterised as "the half of melody," the service included solemn dancing of the style of the Saraband and the Pavane. Whether or not the choreographic features are still retained, the authors are unable to say.
Writing in 1731 a Discourse on Comedy, Father Pierre le Brun contributes the information: " . . . that while the preachers were saying their mass, buffoons, histrions, players of instruments and different other farceurs were made to come; this disorder is severely forbidden, as well as dances and the presentation of spectacles in the churches and cemeteries. The same prohibition is found in the synodic statutes of the diocese of Soissons, printed in that city in 1561. Dances were sometimes performed before the church, and there was not less objection made against the practice at that time. . . . Meanwhile it is disgracefully tolerated in some of the country parishes."
These "spectacles" were the vehicle that carried the mimetic ballet through the Dark Ages from Rome's licentious theatre and banquet hall to the stately salon of the Medici. Under the name of "moralities" they survive to this day in convents, though clipped as to their choreographic wings. Everyman, played a few years ago by Ben Greet and his company, was a re-creation of some of the elements of the early morality, plus speech and minus dancing. Love, aspiration, reverence; envy, fear, remorse and various other elemental abstractions that inhabit the human soul were the source of most of the morality's characters; the dramatic action consisted—usually if not always—in a simple treatment of the influences wrought by the varied forces on the des-tiny of a man. The man, no more and no less than the abstract qualities, was represented by an actor. Occurrences of man's life, both earthly and subsequent, were equally available as dramatic material. Apostles, angels and even God were of frequent representation.
A start was made in a direction destined to lead to the development of scenery. Whereas the Greek drama established the setting by means of spoken words (and the Roman apparently made no exception to the same practice), the early morality specified the setting by means of words or crude symbols marked on objects, the back wall, and other available surfaces: "forest," "front of house," "Heaven," "street," or whatever was necessary. Elaboration by degrees brought these primitive suggestions up to the point of real scenery, with practical mechanical devices for sensational entrances.
One must infer that the semiconstant opposition of the Church to these representations was necessitated by occasional forgetfulness of their sacred character. The pagan gods persistently lingered among the dramatis personae, undismayed by the fact that they were dead, and unshamed by the treatment their followers had ac-corded Christianity. Performers no less than authors were sometimes guilty of ribaldry ranging from the frivolous to the impious. "A canon playing entirely nude the role of Christ, and a clerk representing Saint Fran-cis in a scene of seduction, undressed in the same manner, were not at all spectacles of which the originators of the genre had dreamed."
Yet the good clearly outweighed the bad. And al-though repeatedly prohibited, no mention is found of dancing being severely penalised. Now at the altar and again at the feast it serves, in whatever capacity is required of it, until at length it comes into prominent connection with the strolling ballet.
For the morality play—or mystery, as it is otherwise known—becomes an elaborate affair, with casts and mechanical and scenic effects, on such a scale that it must collect more coppers than one town affords, in order to recover the initial expense of the production. On a scale sufficient to make an impression on its times was the spectacle designed to celebrate the canonisation of Carlo Borromeo, at Lisbon in 1610. In the words of Vuillier: "A ship, bearing a statue of St. Carlo, advanced toward Lisbon, as though to take possession of the soil of Portugal, and all the ships in the harbour went out to meet it. St. Anthony of Padua and St. Vincent, patrons of the town, received the newcomer, amid salvoes of artillery from forts and vessels. On his disembarkation, St. Carlo Borromeo was received by the clergy and carried in a procession in which figured four enormous chariots. The first represented Fame, the second the city of Milan, the third Portugal, and the fourth the Church. Each religious body and each brotherhood in the procession carried its patron saint upon a richly decorated litter.
"The statue of St. Carlo Borromeo was enriched with jewels of enormous value, and each saint was decorated with rich ornaments. It is estimated that the value of the jewelry that bedecked these images was not less than four millions of francs (£160,000).
"Between each chariot, bands of dancers enacted various scenes. In Portugal, at that period, processions and religious ceremonies would have been incomplete if they had not been accompanied by dancing in token of joy.
"In order to add brilliancy to these celebrations, tall gilded masts, decorated with crowns and many-coloured banners, were erected at the doors of the churches and along the route of the choreographic procession. These masts also served to show the points at which the pro-cession should halt, for the dancers to perform the principal scenes of their ballet."
A century and a half before this—in 1462—King Rene of Provence had organised an entertainment, at once religious and social, given on the eve of Corpus Christi. The word "entremet" was applied to the allegorical scenes, denoting "interlude," like the Italian "intermezzo." Other components of the representation were combats and dances. The affair as a whole was a mixture of the sacred and profane to which any idea of unity was completely alien: Fame on a winged horse; burlesque representations of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, riding donkeys (why represented, no one knows—but during three centuries the two were travestied in Corpus Christi processions) ; Mars and Minerva, Pan and Syrinx, Pluto and Proserpine, fauns, dryads, and tritons dancing to drums, fifes and castanets; Jupiter, Juno, Venus and Love following in a chariot. The three Fates, King Herod persecuted by devils, more devils pursuing a soul, it in turn protected by a guardian angel; Jews dancing around a golden calf; the' Queen of Sheba and suite; Magi following a star hung at the end of a pole; the Massacre of the Innocents; Christ and the Apostles—all were scattered through and among the groups of legendary beings of Greece. More dancers, a detachment of soldiers, and Death with a scythe following after all others, approximately completed the fantastic catalogue.
The entertainment as a whole was called by the king the Lou Gue. A number of the French popular dance airs that lasted for centuries are said to date back to it. Tradition credits the king with the composition of the work in all its branches—conception, ballets, music and all.
The childish lack of theme, or scheme, bars the Lou Gue and the entertainments that followed from any comparison with a ballet spectacle of later times, or of antiquity. But it bridged a gap to better things, kept the ballet in existence, and had the merit of being amusing. In eccentricity it may well be coupled with the celebration of the wedding of Charles the Bold and Margaret of .England; "fabulous spectacles imprinted with a savage gallantry," as M. Brussel puts it. The procession of the latter affair included a leopard riding a unicorn, a dwarf on a gigantic lion, and a dromedary bearing panniers of birds, "strangely painted as though they came from India," that were released among the company.
The fete organised by Bergonzio de Botta in 1489, showed a step in the direction of the ballet's destined progress. The occasion was the marriage of Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, with Isabel of Aragon. This fete employed the dance, music, poetry and pantomime in the adornment of a banquet; and the whole entertainment was unified with ingenious consistency. The description of it given by Castil-Blaze cannot be improved upon:,
"The Amphitryon chose for his theatre a magnificent hall surrounded by a gallery, in which several bands of music had been stationed; an empty table occupied the middle. At the moment when the Duke and Duchess appeared, Jason and the Argonauts advanced proudly to the sound of martial music. They bore the Golden Fleece; this was the tablecloth, with which they covered the table, after having executed a stately dance, expressive of their admiration of so beautiful a princess, and of a sovereign so worthy to possess her. Next came Mercury, who related how he had been clever enough to trick Apollo, shepherd of Admetus, and rob him of a fat calf, which he ventured to present to the newly married pair, after having had it nobly trussed and pre-pared by the best cook on Olympus. While he was placing it upon the table, three quadrilles that followed him danced round the fatted calf, as the Hebrews had formerly capered round that of gold.
"Diana and her nymphs followed Mercury. It is unnecessary to say that a fanfare of hunting-horns heralded; the entrance of Diana, and accompanied the dance of the nymphs.
"The music changed its character; lutes and flutes announced the approach of Orpheus. I would recall to the memory of those who might have forgotten it, that at that period they changed their instruments according to the varying expression of the music played. Each singer, each dancer, had his especial orchestra, which was arranged for him according to the sentiments in-tended to be expressed by his song or his dance. It was an excellent plan, and served to vary the symphonies; it announced the return of a character who had already appeared, and produced a varied succession of trumpets, of violins with their sharp notes, of the arpeggios of lutes, and of the soft melodies of flutes and reed pipes. The orchestrations of Monteverde prove that the composers at that time varied their instrumentation thus, and this particular artifice was not one of the least causes of the prodigious success of opera in the first years of its creation.
"But to return to the singer of Thrace, whom I left standing somewhat too long at the door. He appeared chanting the praises of the Duchess, and accompanying himself on a lyre.
"I wept, he went on, `long did I weep on the Apennine mount the death of the gentle Eurydice. I have heard of the union of two lovers worthy to live one for the other, and for the first time since my misfortune I have experienced a feeling of pleasure. My songs changed with the feelings of my heart. A crowd of birds fluttered down to listen to me; I seized these imprudent listeners, and I spitted them all to roast them for the most beautiful princess on earth, since Eurydice is no more.'
"A sound of brass instruments interrupted the bird-snaring virtuoso; Atalanta and Theseus, escorted by a brilliant and agile troop, represented a boar hunt by means of lively dances. It ended in the death of the boar of Calydon, which they offered to the young Duke, executing a triumphal ballet. Iris, in a chariot drawn by peacocks, followed by nymphs clad in light transparent gauze, appeared on one side, and laid on the table dishes of her own superb and delicate birds. Hebe, bearing nectar, appeared on the other side, accompanied by shepherds from Arcady, and by Vertumnus and Pomona, who presented iced creams and cheeses, peaches, apples, oranges and grapes. At the same moment the shade of the gastronomer Apicius rose from the earth. The illustrious professor came to inspect this splendid banquet, and to communicate his discoveries to the guests.
"This spectacle disappeared to give place to a great ballet of Tritons and Rivers laden with the most delicious fish. Crowned with parsley and watercress, these aquatic deities despoiled themselves of their head-dresses to make a bed for the turbot, the trout, and the perch that they placed upon the table.
'I know not whether the epicures invited by the host were much amused by these ingenious ceremonies, and whether their tantalised stomachs did not cry out against all the pleasures offered to their eyes and ears; history does not enter into these details. Moreover, Bergonzio de Botta understood too well how to organise a feast not to have put some ballast into his guests in the shape of a copious luncheon, which might serve as a preface, or argument, an introduction if you will, to the dinner prepared by the gods, demigods, Nymphs, Tritons, Fauns and Dryads.
"This memorable repast was followed by a singular spectacle. It was inaugurated by Orpheus, who con-ducted Hymen and Cupids. The Graces presented Conjugal Fidelity, who offered herself to wait upon the princess. Semiramus, Helen, Phaedra, Medea and Cleopatra interrupted the solo of Conjugal Fidelity by singing of their own lapses, and the delights of infidelity. Fidelity, indignant at such audacity, ordered these criminal queens to retire. The Cupids attacked them, pursuing them with their torches, and setting fire to the long veils that covered their heads. Something, clearly, was necessary to counterbalance this scene. Lucretia, Penelope, Thomyris, Judith, Portia and Sulpicia advanced, and laid at the feet of the duchess the palms of virtue they had won during their lives. As the graceful and modest dance of the matrons might have seemed a somewhat cold termination to so brilliant a fete, the author had recourse to Bacchus, Silenus and to the Satyrs, and their follies animated the end of the ballet."
The entertainment made a sensation. It was at the time of the Renaissance; the Occidental mind was awakening after a thousand years of sleep, and craved employment. Taste was being reborn, along with mentality. The pleasures of contact between minds was being rediscovered; the institution of Polite Society was rapidly finding itself.
To attempt to repeat the Bergonzio de Botta entertainment would have been to invite comparisons; to surpass it in any point but, magnitude would have been excessively difficult. Its influence on entertainments that followed directed itself toward the development of the masque, a form of musical pantomime that remained, through centuries, an indispensable adjunct of festal gatherings in the courts of the Continent and England. The characters in the De Botta production, it will be noted, were, with two or three exceptions, from Greek mythology. This was the culmination of a fashion that had been growing, and is fairly representative of the revival of learning then in progress. It was not until a few years ago that familiarity with classic tradition ceased to be considered a part of the education of a lady or gentleman. There is no reason to believe that the lack of such erudition makes one the less a lady or a gentleman; but its discontinuance is unfortunate for the pantomime ballet. In Greek mythology, both natural manifestations and mental attributes were personified. Not with the completeness of a catalogue, but enough to express a great many points by the mere presence of certain characters. Venus, Minerva, Diana; Dionysius, Orpheus, Apollo, Mercury—all were accepted symbols of certain human qualities. In relegating their acquaintance to the depository of cast-off mental furniture, people have failed to create new symbols to take the place of the old. Harlequin and Columbine we have, and a few others. But how many are the figures whose mere entrance, without the interruption of dramatic action, could be depended upon to introduce definite and recognisable ideas? Pantomime has to be explained on the programme nowadays; and as nobody gets to his seat until after the auditorium lights are down, the pro-gramme is unread and people complain that the characters lack meaning. Broadly, Modernism has devised for itself an education that teaches it to earn each day the cost of a thousand pleasures, but by which it is robbed of the power to enjoy any one of them.
Scattered through mediaeval choreographic history are allusions to an employment of chivalry as subject-matter of pantomime. But the idea never seems to have taken root, as is natural enough, considering the relation between dancing and armour—and armour was worn by the unfortunate dancers chosen to represent knights. The dance of chivalry was not an influence, and is mentioned only as a choreographic curiosity.
Bergonzio de Botta's great entertainment, as has been shown, led squarely up to the masque, one of the ballet's immediate forerunners. Meantime the Church's contribution to the art was no longer a matter of moralities for the edification of mediaeval rustics; high dignitaries, proceeding partly under ecclesiastical inspiration and partly under tolerance, were evolving a choro-dramatic form that took no second place to the masque in preparing the way for the art that was to come. Sixteenth-century Rome and Florence saw "sacred representations" in which were utilised the Saltarello [see chapter on Italian dances], the Pavane, the Siciliana, la Gigue, the Gaillarde and la Moresca. The last was accompanied by heel-tappings, like many of the dances of Spain today. Its music survives in Monteverde's opera Orfeo, written at the beginning of the seventeenth century ; in other words, music was beginning to be worth while. More important than any other single acquisition, to say the least, was the alliance of some of the monarchs of form and colour to whom half the glory of the Renaissance is due. Of Ariosto's Suppositi, presented in the Vatican in 1518, the decorations were by Raphael. Andrea del Sarto, Brunelleschi and Cecca enriched with their sacred figures the mimo-dramas played in Florence. In Milan, Leonardo da Vinci lent to the reality and beauty of the religious ballet the palette from which was painted the "Mona Lisa." Furthermore, it is not to be supposed that these and other masters of line, colour and the drama of light were not called to the aid of ballet grouping and movement. The period leaves no record of a great ballet composer or director. It does leave reason to believe, nevertheless, that in grouping and evolution, as well as decoration, music and accessories, these sacred representations lacked nothing to en-title them to a respectable place in the annals of opera ballet. Steps were still primitive, but sufficient unto their day.
Authorities disagree as to which one of several performances is entitled to the recognition due the first presentation of modern ballet. As a matter of accuracy, any decision should be made only after considering exactly which of several species of modern ballet is meant. For the organisation of the first ballet spectacle con-forming to the multiple standards of modern excellence, the honour seems to be deserved by Catherine de Medici. True to her family traditions, she took it as an expression of beauty for its own sake, and developed it in accordance with French genius for order and form, as is described in later pages. But the first production of opera ballet, in the sense of a divertissement or inter-mezzo composed to interpret sentiments of dramatic action that it precedes or follows, the consensus of authority attributes to a work of Cardinal Riario, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. He composed and staged in Castel San Angelo a number of productions in which the ballet was important, during the latter part of the fifteenth century. Besides Pope Sixtus IV, Alexander VI and Leo X were strongly in sympathy with the movement to exalt choreography to its ancient and proper estate. The educated aristocracy of various Italian cities gave it support and protection. Important among these champions was Lorenzo de Medici, with his rare combination of means and scholarly understanding of the arts. Savonarola acidly charged him with softening the people by means of pagan spectacles, while Lorenzo went on adapting and composing.
The Jewish element of Italian society contributed its part to the new art's development. At Mantua, where the Jews formed a numerous colony, they built a theatre on the models of antiquity. Productions were directed by Bernard Tasso, father of the author of Jerusalem Delivered. Torquato himself went in 1573 to produce La Pastorale, which was a feature of a celebration given on the Island of the Belvidere, near Ferrara.
The ballet entertainment was fashionable; no great event was complete without it as a supplement. The visit 0f the Duke of Anjou (the future Henry III) to Cracow was the occasion of a fete whose historic importance was the discovery of a genius in ballet arrangement, Baltarazini, otherwise known as Beaujoyeulx.
Catherine de Medici sent for him to take charge of the choreographic entertainments of the French court, the Marshal de Brissac acting as intermediary. "Baltarazini dit Beaujoyeulx" had his first great opportunity in 1581, on the occasion of the marriage of the Duc de Joyeuse. Le Ballet Comique de la Reine was the designation of the offering; it was an addition to the now growing list of tremendous successes. Full details are recorded in the journal of one L'Estoile, and in L'Art de la Danse by Jean Etienne Despreaux. To repeat them in full is neither necessary nor possible: the amiable L'Estoile in particular experiences all the delight of a simple soul surrounded by several days' proceedings of which not a single detail is anything less than amazing. The lords and ladies appeared in a fresh costume every day, a new practice of whose extravagance L'Estoile writes with a mixture of awe and disapproval.
Old Testament story and mythology already familiar. Fountains, artificial fire and aquatic machines lent their several notes of richness and variety. Important from the point of view of the amateur of the ballet is a comment on the geometrical precision that governed the ballet's groupings and corps movements: "d'une rectitude qu' Archimede n'eut pas desavoue." The true and mod-ern note of form in grouping had been struck, and the standard of exactness set that was to become the back-bone of the ballet of later centuries. As the first artistically logical relation of dancing to the sentiment of the whole work had been effected in the "sacred representations" of Italy, so Le Ballet Comique de la Reine seems to have been the first work of the kind to be produced under a modern (which is to say ancient Greek) understanding of the laws of harmony of line.
The performance lasted from ten o'clock in the evening until four in the morning. Estimates of its cost range from six hundred thousand to a million dollars (three to five million francs). Of tournaments, presents and numberless other items of the several days' celebration the cost is reckoned apart from that of producing Le Ballet Comique. Apart from lavishness, there is interest in the fact that queen and princesses participated. They represented nereids and naiads.
England, meantime, was in nowise ignoring the ex-ample of Continental neighbours. Pantomimes she had under the names of "mysteries," "dumb-shows" and "moralities"—religious, and melodramatic, and variously proportioned mixtures of both. They figure in the history of the English drama, as a source of plots for the early playwright. Though the translation of gesture into word filled a want felt by a part of the people, it subtracted nothing from the popularity of the masque. Henry VIII was its patron, and occasionally took part in it. Elizabeth carried it on. Francis Bacon, with whom love of stage representation was a passion, wrote plots —and dialogue where it was needed. Charles I brought it to a climax of taste and opulence. Inigo Jones—of whose high merits as an artist evidences are extant—designed decorations. Ben Jonson was accustomed to write the book for important productions. A notable work of collaboration of the two, with the addition of Lawes, the musical composer, was a masque presented at Whitehall by the Inns of Court in 1633. The cost is stated as £21,000. Although a ballet was perhaps the principal feature of the production, its composer is not named in the records. England's failure to credit the original genius may or may not bear some relation to her sterility as a contributor to the dance. With sup-port, both sentimental and material, she has been lavish —in the wake of other nations' enthusiasms. . Of invention she has given nothing of consequence. We therefore turn our attention again to France, where history was busy.
Henry IV was of a happy disposition; the dance in his reign was happy in motive, and healthy in growth. To give time to its practice none was too high in station or serious in mind. Sully, the Paytone+One, profiting by training given him by the king's sister, played a part in one of the fetes. The journal of L'Estoile mentions the production of eighty new ballets during the twenty-one years of the reign. U
The nature of Louis XIII was taciturn; an influence that caused the ballet to oscillate between the sombre and the trivial. The monarch himself played "The Demon of Fire" in La Delivrance de Renault, in 1617. Of Le Ballet de la Merlaison that he produced in 1635, he composed the dance music.
A whim of this reign is to the credit of the Duke of Nemours. To contrive a choreographic composition "docile to his rheumatism," he composed in 1630 a Ballet of the Gouty. Meantime the dance was becoming frivolous, if not licentious. To rectify its shortcomings Richelieu applied himself—not to preaching damnations of dancing in general, but to the creation of an allegorical ballet of the sort he thought suitable. Quatre Monarchies Chretiennes, played in 1635, is a result of his efforts; "full of pageantry the most opulent and morality the most orthodox," in the word; of Robert Brussel.
The regency of Anne of Austria developed nothing in particular; a delicate character enveloped the dance in conformity to the regent's disposition and taste. But distinct progress was not destined to' take place until the reign of Louis XIV, founder of the national ballet academy, perhaps the most helpful patron the dance ever had, and as devoutly enthusiastic an amateur performer as ever lived. He played prominent parts in ballet pantomimes to the number of twenty-six.
The date of the founding of the ,school, L'Academie Nationale de Musique et de la Dasise, is 1661. From that time, through several decades, developments follow with extraordinary rapidity, and it so many different directions that it is impossible to follow them consecutively. Great performers begin to appear ; artists whose work enraptures the public by grace of beauty alone, signifying that execution had been awakened. Mlles. Prevost and Salle were contemporaies and rivals, each with a great and ardent supporting faction. Of the latter's personality, it is of interest that she was a friend of Locke, author of Human Understanding. Her popularity is gauged by her pay for a single performance in London, namely, something over two hundred thou-sand francs. ' The amount probably includes the considerable quantity of gold and jewels thrown to the stage during the performance, for enthusiasm appears to have reached the point of mania. This admiration was won without very rapid movement, Salle believing only in the majestic; or any high or very broad steps, which did not exist in the ballet in her time. To have stirred the public as she did without these resources argues a degree of grace and expressiveness less earthly than heavenly.
Yet her reputation was to be eclipsed by a girl who was studying during the very hours when Salle was gathering laurels. Camargo was her name. She was born in Brussels, daughter of a dancing master. To natural grace and health she added an inordinate fondness for dancing, and eager facility for learning its technicalities. Parental vacillation and educational theories cripple many an artist's career at its beginning. But Camargo's father being a dancing teacher, there was just one thing for the child to do in the natural course of events, and that was to learn to dance.
At the age of ten, her art attracted the attention of a patroness, and she was sent to Paris to study under Mlle. Prevost. In the corps de ballet at the opera she bolted into public notice by joining impulse to accident. One Dumoulin, on a certain occasion, missed his musical cue for entrance to perform a solo. Mlle. Camargo leaped from her place and executed the solo to the delight of the audience. Introduced at court, her triumph so affected Prevost that she discontinued her pupil's instruction. It was no longer needed. Camargo's genius had carried her beyond the reach of jealousy, or even the active intrigue that her ex-teacher directed against her.
Her matrimonial and other social ventures were con-ducted with such an air of candour, and were of such a diversity that they are, above all, amusing. She was a much-petted personage at court, and an esteemed friend of the king. In general she was known "as a model of charity, modesty and good conduct." She was given a maiden's funeral.
Castil-Blaze writes of her: "She added to distinction and fire of execution a bewitching gaiety that was all her own. Her figure was very favourable to her talent: hands, feet, limbs, stature, all were perfect. But her face, though expressive, was not remarkably beautiful. And, as in the case of the famous harlequin,
Dominique, her gaiety was a gaiety of the stage only. In private life she was sadness itself."
In a technical sense she may be regarded as the first modern. Her work comprised all that constituted the ballet up to her time; to the resources that came to her as an artistic heritage she began a process of addition that was to be carried on by successors. She is credited with the invention of the entrechat, for instance; and here many readers will find themselves confronted by the need of some explanation of ballet technique as a means of intelligent discussion of the dancing of modern times. Before that chapter, however, it is not amiss to glance over the old dances from which the ballet, up to the foundation of the Academy in 1661, derived most of its steps.
The Gavotte, the Minuet, the Pavane, the Saraband, the Tordion, the Bourree, the Passecaille, the Passepied, the Chaconne, the Volte, the Allemande, the Gaillarde, and the Courante—these were the dances whose measures were trod by courtiers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Among those who have been moved to study these old dances during the past few years to the end of reconstructing them, no one is more fortunately equipped for the task than the only resident of America who has applied himself seriously to the subject, Mr. John Murray Anderson. He is at once a dancer, an educated man, and for years a devoted student of the social aspect of western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A period of months that he recently spent in the choreographic libraries of Europe, and in joint study with others similarly engaged, has resulted in the opportunity to see in America a fine and true representation of the old court steps. With Miss Margaret Crawford, Mr. Anderson posed for the accompanying photographs of the Gavotte, the Minuet, the Bourree, and the Tordion. The groupings were selected with view to indicating the character of each dance. Collectively they give a good idea of the school of formality in which the French ballet was conceived, and from which it received its determining influences.
From the beginnings of time, people who give entertainments have followed a practice of employing per-formers of dances characteristic of various peoples. With appropriate costume, the dances caracteristiques give a synopsis, or essence, of the picturesque aspect of the people the dancer represents. Sixteenth-century nobility availed itself of the entertainment value of these folk-dances, as Athens did in its golden days and as Lon-don and Newport do to-day. In such manner did French society gather its material for many of the dances that eventually became identified with the ballroom.
The Gavotte is of such origin. A few generations of languid cultivation refined the life out of it, though it was at first a comparatively active dance. After drop-ping nearly into disuse it was revived and popularised by Marie Antoinette, for whose rendering of it Gluck composed music. After the Revolution, with its paralysing influence, the Gavotte was once again revived—and revised—by Gardel, premier danseur of the Opera, in a composition based on music by Gretry. But this composition was not of a kind for the execution of any but trained dancers of the stage, Gardel having made it a metier for the exploitation of his own capabilities. Among new elaborations the simple little jumping steps and the easy arabesque that distinguished the Gavotte of earlier days were lost.
The Tordion is another dance of lively origin. Some-times' it was made a vehicle for the grotesque, such as black-face comedy—let no one be surprised that the "coon comedian" of to-day is an ancient institution. It was stepped briskly, even in the stately environment of court. The- position of the foot with the heel on the floor and the toe up was not adopted by the ballet, but is found in .folk or "character" dances in all parts of Europe.
The Allemande also was a dance of movement; so was the Volte. In the former the roan turns his partner by her raised hand; in the costume of the time, the whirl is very effective. The Volte is supposed to be the immediate ancestor of the Waltz.
The Saraband came into France from Spain, where it was tremendously popular as la Zarabanda. It dates from the twelfth century, and was praised by Cervantes. Its character justifies the belief that it comes from Moorish origins. It is a solo dance making noble use of the arms, and is executed with a plastic relaxation of the body. A distinctly Oriental mannerism is its quick shift of the foot, just as it is placed on the floor, from the customary position of toeing out to a position of toeing in. The foot-work, moreover, has little more than slow glides. Its exotic qualities, nevertheless, are subordinate to its Occidental courtliness; like all the other dances of polite society, it conformed to the etiquette of its time and place, notwithstanding improprieties of which it had been guilty in earlier centuries.
Marguerite de Valois was fond of the Bourree be-cause, according to tradition, she had an extraordinary natural endowment in the shape of feet and ankles. And the skipping step (related to the modern polka-step) of the Bourree necessitated the wearing of a shorter skirt than the mode of her day permitted for ordinary use. It never was a rigorously formulated composition, perhaps because it never became very popular at court. It contributed to the ballet the latter's useful pas de bourree, and continues as a diversion of the peasants of Auvergne, where it originated.
The Passepied was one of a family known as les branles, whose family characteristics are ill defined, de-spite the frequency with which the term is used by seventeenth-century writers. In England the word became "brawl." It was the Branle du Haut Barrois in which gentry costumed themselves as the shepherds and shepherdesses perpetuated by Watteau. Another, the Branle des Lavandieres, was based on pantomime of the operations of the laundress. In the Branle des Ermites, monk's dress was worn. In that of the Flambeaux, torches were passed to newly selected partners, as in a present-day cotillion figure; it was a fashionable figure at wedding celebrations.
Tabourot's amiable hints for the elegant execution of branles probably are not directed at the court. But they are illuminating. "Talk gracefully, and be clean and well shod; be sure that the hose is straight, and that the slipper is clean . . . do not use your handkerchief more than is necessary, but if you use it, be sure it is very clean." There is more; but, after all, why violate illusions ?
The Chaconne, like the Saraband, came to France from across the Pyrenees. The dance of the Seises in the Seville Cathedral is said to be a Chacona unchanged from its sixteenth-century form.
The Gaillarde is sometimes grouped with the Tordion, from which; it differs in the respect that the theme of its steps is little jumps, while the Tordion is, for the most part, glided. One form of it, however, "Si je t'aime ou non," contained some energetic kicks. Indeed, it was of a character to exercise heart and muscle; excellence in some of its steps "was looked upon as an accomplishment equal to riding or fencing." To that form of it known as "Baisons-nous Belle" was attached interest of another- variety, in the shape of kisses exchanged between partners. "A pleasant variation," comments the venerable Thoinet-Arbeau. A variation employed to prevent monotony in some of the other dances as well, among them the early Gavotte.
The Courante was one of the more formal dances, never having been popular even in its origin. It was the Courante that was favoured by Louis XIV, during his many years of study under a dancing master. He is credited, before he was overtaken by the demon of adiposity, with having executed the Courante better than any one else of his time. In style it has been compared to the Seguidillas (q. v.) of Spain.
Of all, the dances most typical of the formality of the most formal society western civilisation has produced are the Minuet and the Pavane. Both might be characterised as variations of deep bows and curtsies. In the Pavane photographs it will be noted that instead of taking hold of her partner's hand, the lady rests her hand on the back of his.
Hernando Cortez is said to have composed the Pavane (Spanish Pavana) and introduced it in the court of his land on returning from America. If so, lie was a solemn person, as well as dignified ; to the imposing grace of majesty the dance joins the aloof grandeur of a ritual.
These qualities gave to it the office of opening great court functions. Brocades and armour and swords promenaded very slowly around the room, each couple making its reverence to the monarchs before proceeding to the steps of the dance. These were few, simple, and slow; there were many curtsies, retreats and advances, during which last the gentleman led the lady by the up-raised hand, while following her. Poses and groups were held, statue-like, for a space of time that allowed them to impress themselves on the vision. So fond was Elizabeth of England of the Pavane (in writings of her land and period spelled Pavin and otherwise) that it was more than whispered that excellence in its performance was more valued than statesmanship as a basis of political favour.
The Minuet's formality was graded. Le Menuet du Dauphin, le Menuet de la Reine, le Menuet d' Exaudet and le Menuet de la Cour were its four species, the stateliness increasing in the sequence mentioned. The accompanying Minuet photographs of Mr. Anderson and Miss Crawford are of the form de la Reine. The "mirror" figure is perhaps its most salient feature—a pretty bit of expression accompanying an interlacement of arms whose composition comes as a climax to strikingly ingenious and gracious arm movements.
The popularity of the Minuet, in its various forms, was practically unlimited; lonely and cheerless indeed must have been the social life of the man who did not dance. After the decline of the Pavane it continued as an inseparable adjunct of gatherings of all degrees of conventionality within the scope of a polite mode of living. At court balls, at the romping Christmas parties of English country places; in the remote homes of Virginia planters, at governor-generals' receptions, in the palaces of intendants in the far North it saluted, made coquetry with fan and eye, incarnated in gallant figures the brave and reverent spirit of chivalry. Pictures represent its performance in home surroundings during daylight; slight pretext seems to have served as occasion for its performance. In connection with this popularity it must be remembered that, even in its simpler forms, so much as a passable execution of the Minuet was far from easy to acquire.
Let it be understood that the grand ballet of to-day did not spring full-grown from the dances above enumerated. Some of their forms continued unchanged through years of academic influence. Present-day "elevation," as scope of high and low level is called, the great leaps, great, turns, and, in short, most of the dazzling elements of today's ballet are the accumulated contribution of individual artists f rom time to time. Taglioni, of the middle nineteenth century, is the last to add notably to the classic ballet's alphabet of steps. It is not unsafe to say that the next few years will see its range increased: the Russians, avid for new things, have ran-sacked Egyptian carvings and Greek vases. Trained to perfection in the technique and philosophy of their art, they are incprporating intelligently the newly rediscovered with the long familiar. But a concrete idea of their relatioin to the art, or of the art itself, cannot be had without some acquaintance with its actual mechanics; it is time to consider the salient steps on which most Occidental dancing is based, and which the ballet has reduced to perfect definition.