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From Medici to Jooss: Four Centuries of Crazy Incestuous Dance Action

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welcome to dance history.
sydney skybetter | skybetter@nyu.edu | @sydneyskybetter

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everyone has an angle.
History is not objective. Also: my French pronunciation sucks.

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let’s just say it starts with
Catherine de Medici.
(1519-1589)



✤   Italian born, married into the
    French court.

✤ ...

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From Medici to Jooss: Four Centuries of Crazy Incestuous Dance Action

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Slides from Sydney Skybetter's Dance History 1 Lecture, "From Medici to Jooss: Four Centuries of Crazy Incestuous Dance Action."

Slides from Sydney Skybetter's Dance History 1 Lecture, "From Medici to Jooss: Four Centuries of Crazy Incestuous Dance Action."

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From Medici to Jooss: Four Centuries of Crazy Incestuous Dance Action

  1. welcome to dance history. sydney skybetter | skybetter@nyu.edu | @sydneyskybetter
  2. everyone has an angle. History is not objective. Also: my French pronunciation sucks.
  3. let’s just say it starts with Catherine de Medici. (1519-1589) ✤ Italian born, married into the French court. ✤ Murdered over 70,000 Huguenots. ✤ Rumored to have eaten babies. ✤ Initiated the development of ballet.
  4. Ballet de Polonais (1573) ✤ Catherine de Medici figured-dance showpiece to celebrate the coronation of her son. ✤ Featured dance stylings of Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx.
  5. Ballet Comique de la Reine Louise (1581) ✤ Beaujoyeulx appropriated mythological themes to affirm Henry III’s throne. ✤ The work was a fracking spectacle the likes of which the world had never seen: it had a unified aesthetic and plot. ✤ Featured a palace, a garden, a townscape, a groto, an organ, a gilded vault, numerous chariots and floats.
  6. slouching towards Louis XIV. ✤ Catherine de Medici ✤ Henry III (son of Catherine) ✤ Louis XIII (son of Henry III) ✤ Louis XIV (son of Louis XIII)
  7. Ballet de la Nuit (1653) ✤ Debuts a 14 year-old Louis XIV as Apollo the sun king (le roi soleil), featuring music by Jean-Baptiste Lully. ✤ 12 hour work featuring 45 entrees, including beggars, werewolves, cripples, shepherds, Venus, Diana, three ballets-within-a-ballet, a demonic sabbath, monkeys, and a burning house.
  8. Pierre Beauchamp ✤ Born into family of French dancing masters. ✤ Dancing master to Louis XIV. ✤ Invented Beauchamp–Feuillet notation, and codified the five balletic positions. ✤ Lead dancing master of the The Académie Royale de Danse.
  9. Jean Baptiste Lully ✤ Born Italian citizen, became a court dancer to Louis XIV, then promoted to premier composer and producer. ✤ Stabbed himself in the foot with a baton. Died of gangrene. It was awful.
  10. Molière ✤ Introduced an intermediary form between the court ballet and the proscenium ballet called the comedies-ballet. ✤ Oft writerly collaborator of Lully and Beauchamp. ✤ Died in a fit of tuberculotic irony, and had a lung hemorrhage while acting the role of a hypochondriac on stage.
  11. This is kinda what it all looked like. ✤ (From Le Roi Danse, directed by Gérard Corbiau.)
  12. towards the proscenium... ✤ With more dancing masters graduating from the Academie Royale de Danse, a professional class of dance artists emerged, and the technical distance between the “amateur” and “professional” started to grew. ✤ Figured dancing lost favor towards individual athleticism and virtuosity.
  13. towards the proscenium... ✤ Louis XIV stopped dancing in 1670, per his incredible corpulence, and the era of the court ballet in the halls of power was over. ✤ Professionals take performance roles, and a new dancerly spectatorship emerges that distinguishes between watcher and watchee. ✤ WWSFS? (What Would Susan Foster Say?)
  14. Académie Royale de Danse (1661) ✤ Inaugerated a new class of professional dancers, eventually becoming the Paris Opéra.
  15. genealogy of ballerina drama ✤ Françoise Prévost, a dancer with Louis XIV and star of the Paris Opéra, originates Les Caractères de la Danse (Types of the Dance, 1726). Effectively the death of court ballet. ✤ Plot: Soloist enacts a rococo plot involving a shepherd, the god amour, etc, to all and sundry “popular” music. ✤ Prévost taught the solo to Marie Camargo and Marie Sallé while they were students at the Opéra, and they all hated each other.
  16. Marie Camargo (1710-1770) ✤ Brilliant technician who took scissors to her skirt so that her cabrioles would be more visible. After decades of very, very, very conservative “costuming,” this is a revolution in performance garb. ✤ Invented caleçons de precaution (“panties of precaution”), a precursor to the tutu. ✤ Paved the way for petit allegro.
  17. Marie Sallé (1707-1756) ✤ In contrast to Camargo, Sallé was a brilliant actress and mime that brought characters alive within a dancerly context. ✤ Dared to perform without a pannier, skirt, or bodice, but controversially performed her Pygmalion (1734) in a “Greek” tunic for the sake of realism. ✤ Anticipated Noverre’s balletic reforms and theatrical conventions to come. ✤ Because of her non-conformance with gender norms, she was accused of frigidity, among other things.
  18. Noverre and Ballet d’Action ✤ Salle’s Pygmalion was performed all over Europe, including by a young Jean- Georges Noverre (1727-1810). ✤ Took Salle’s work as a guide, and wrote “Letters on Dancing and Ballets,” a popular dance manual. ✤ Took over the Paris Opéra in 1776, an appointee of Marie Antoinette.
  19. "Destroy the masks and we shall gain a soul!" The No(verre) Manifesto (Ballet d’Action) ✤ No to masques! Let the dancers be expressive. ✤ No to insane plots! Stage action should be logical and coherent.  ✤ No to independent collaborators! All artistic personnel should work together. ✤ No to tonnelets! Costumes should be sensible and timely.
  20. et cetera. ✤ Noverre ✤ Gaétan Vestris (danced with Noverre, helped popularize his ideas. First to dance w/out mask.) ✤ Jean Dauberval (pupil of ✤ Auguste Vestris (“God of the Noverre, and took over Dance,” was a lead dancer at the the Paris Opéra with...) Paris Opéra for almost 40 years). ✤ Maximilien Gardel (Soloist at the Opéra...)
  21. Dauberval ✤ Left the Paris Opéra for Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux in 1789. ✤ Choreographed La Fille Mal Gardée two weeks before the storming of the Bastille. ✤ Incorporated “peasant” dress and folk steps with balletic technique.
  22. La Fille Mal Gardée ✤ Plot: Girl loves boy. Girl’s mother attempts to arrange marriage with some other rich boy. There are histrionics and chicken dances. Also: a happy ending.
  23. This is not the original La Fille Mal Gardée, like, at all. But you get the idea. ✤ (Choreography by Alicia Alonso after Dauberval, with Ballet National de Cuba.)
  24. revolutionary war sucks for dance. ✤ Pierre Gardel (Maximilien’s brother, 1758- 1840) takes over at the Opéra, and produces all sorts of patriotic tripe. ✤ On the plus side, there is a forced departure from aristocratic conventions and support, leading us to....
  25. ROMANTICISM! ✤ Ballet starts appropriating from other art forms, including (but definitely not limited to) Romantic poetry and literature. ✤ Notion of “romanticism” is at odds with the notion of enlightenment / aristocratic rationalization of everything. Think chaos and strong feeling versus order and refinement. ✤ Preoccupation of the exotic, oriental “other” and women as supernatural characters.
  26. La Sylphide (1832) (is not Les Sylphides) ✤ First major romantic ballet. ✤ Choreographed by Filippo Taglioni, with his daughter Marie Taglioni in the lead. ✤ Plot: Scottish (exotic!) farmer (James) falls in love with a magical sylph (magical!) on the morning of his wedding (irony!). Farmer chases sylph. Evil witch gives farmer scarf to trap sylph. Scarf kills sylph. Farmer’s fiancee marries best friend (twist!). Evil triumphs.
  27. This is the La Sylphide by Bournonville... It’s the only version that survived... apologies... ✤ (Erik Bruhn & Carla Fracci from 1962)
  28. Marie Taglioni ✤ - Her "style" of ballet is called "Danse Ballonné," characterized by lightness and leaps. ✤ - Characterized by Théophile Gautier (writer, defender of Romanticism) as the "Christian" dancer. ✤ Trained daily by her father, who was arguably the first truly sadistic ballet master. ✤ Brought dance en pointe to new levels of artistry.
  29. Fanny Elssler (GASP! A RIVALRY!) ✤ Brought to the Opéra to be a foil to Marie Taglioni in 1834. ✤ Originates a solo called “La Cacucha” (a “Spanish” dance with tight footwork). On the basis of its success, then appropriates wildly from Poland and Italy. ✤ Dubbed the “Pagan” dancer by Gautier.
  30. enter Giselle (1841) ✤ Libretto by Gautier, choreography by Perrot (Grisi’s husband) and Coralli (resident ballet master), with Giselle played by Carlotta Grisi. (GASP! A RIVALRY!) ✤ Plot: Peasant girl falls in love with nobleman in peasant drag (Albrecht). Girl discovers his secret, goes #&$%ing crazy and kills herself. Girl becomes a willi who, unlike her bloodsucking fiend friends doesn’t hate men. Girl saves boy’s life from dance to death.
  31. Why are the willis trying to murder me? ✤ Per the stories of Heinrich Heine (source material for Giselle) willis are the spirits of virgin girls who die before they get married, enjoy dancing naked in town squares, and sucking the blood of young men. ✤ Just so we’re clear: the willis are sexually frustrated, angry virgin vampires.
  32. Terrible video quality, but here’s Alicia Alonso explaining Giselle’s mad scene. ✤ (Giselle, choreographed by Alicia Alonso after Perrot and Coralli.)
  33. The willis in full man-killing force, tossing Hilarion into a lake. ✤ (Kirov Ballet’s Giselle, choreographed by Petipa.)
  34. Things get transnational. ✤ Alumni of the Opéra ✤ August Bournonville (studied go abroad, and Paris’ under Auguste Vestris at the dominance in ballet Opéra) takes over the Royal is challenged. Danish Ballet. Opa! Bournonville technique. ✤ His La Sylphide (1836) is one of the ✤ Charles Didelot (studied canonical works of romantic under Noverre and ballet. Dauberval at the Opéra) and takes over the Imperial Ballet. Opa! Russian balletic tradition. ✤ His Flore et Zephyr (1796) used wires to fly ballerinas across the stage... Think Streb in Russia. (Kirstein, 136)
  35. The Franco Prussian war sucks for dance. ✤ The Paris Opéra is shut down around 1870 as Germany bombs France. Yet in Russia, a stable monarchic power remains in the hands of the tzars, and Didelot, Elssler, Taglioni (anybody who was anybody) dances there eventually. ✤ Prevalence of women-centered ballets decreases male performers and roles, often resulting in balletic “girlie” shows. On the plus side, less lethal stage lighting! ✤ Digression: Business models of dance; aristocratic support versus prostitution?
  36. Marius Petipa and the Über-Classical Ballet. ✤ Marius Petipa (danced with Vestris in Bordeaux) moved to St. Petersburg in 1847. Takes over the Imperial School at St. Petersburg in 1849. ✤ Created the contemporary notion of a “classical” ballet, with its emphasis on order and form (over emotion), pas de deux structure (pas, male variation, female variation, coda), and divertissements.
  37. Sleeping Beauty (1890) ✤ Choreography by Petipa, with music by Tchaikovsky. ✤ Plot: Princess Aurora is cursed by the witch Carabosse to die. Lilac fairy commutes sentence to sleeping for 100 years until a prince kisses her. There is sleeping. Then Prince Désiré (subtle, no?) is hunting with his dude friends when the Lilac fairy reveals Aurora. There is kissing, a marriage, and lots of caractère dancing.
  38. Entrance and Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty ✤ Margot Fonteyn performing with The Royal Ballet, with choreography by Petipa.
  39. La Bayadère (1877) ✤ Choreography by Petipa, with music by Minkus. ✤ Plot: “Indian” temple dancer (Nikiya) loves “Indian” warrior (Solor). The lead “Brahmin” loves Nikiya... intrigues ensue... Nikiya is bitten by a snake... dies... Solor takes some opium, dreams of Nikiya, and is about to marry another woman when the “Gods” kill everyone. Nikiya and Solor are reunited in death. ✤ Blackface.
  40. Solor’s Variation from La Bayadère ✤ Baryshnikov’s Gold Medal winning performance at the Moscow International Ballet Competition.
  41. Nikiya’s Death from La Bayadère ✤ Choreography by Nureyev after Petipa, at the Paris Opéra. ✤ Anyone else reminded of Giselle? Also: note that the sets look like Louis XIV’s...
  42. Swan Lake (1895, redux) ✤ Choreography by Petipa and Ivanov (second balletmaster in the Imperial Ballet), music by Tchaikovsky. ✤ Plot: Boy (Prince Siegfried) goes huntin’ for swans with his dude friend Benno. A swan (Odette) turns into a girl, and boy falls in love. To break swan spell, he has to marry her. Boy is pressured into marriage by his mother, and Odile (who he confuses for Odette due to the evil Rothbart) does many fouettés. He declares love to the wrong woman. Drama drama drama. Odette and Siegfried throw themselvs in a lake. Plus side: united in life after death.
  43. and then there’s the queer angle... ✤ Many, many queer readings of Swan Lake. Even though this originates from a time before “homosexuality” existed, Tchaikovsky felt cursed by his “buggeromania,” and he (and his collaborators) were variously obsessed with the totally insane / gay Bavarian king Ludwig II, who in turn, was obsessed with swans. And so on.
  44. but PS... ✤ Petipa was the first to choreograph 32 fouettés, executed by rock star Pierina Legnani.
  45. Pas de Quatre (primo classicism) from Swan Lake ✤ American Ballet Theater performing choreography by Ivanov and Petipa.
  46. Black Swan Pas de Deux ✤ Choreography by Alicia Alonso, after Petipa, on the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. ✤ PS- Alonso was nearly blind by the time was recorded.
  47. Enter Михаил Михайлович Фокин! (Fokine.) ✤ Had radical notions of ballet, and you’ve heard them all before: - No to needless spectacle. - No needless tutus or pointe shoes. - No needless fouettés. Characters move how they “should” move. (Note: fine for swans. Little more problematic for people of color.) ✤ Danced under Petipa, but not for long....
  48. Excerpt from from The Dying Swan (1907) ✤ Pavlova performing choreography by Fokine. ✤ Note post-Swan Lake queer resonances and reduced “story.”
  49. Diaghilev hold on to your queer hats. ✤ Aesthete aristocrat who worked at the Imperial Theater, “discovered” Fokine, and invited him to become the lead choreographer of his new venture, the Ballets Russes. ✤ Sought imperial funding, but upon being denied, sought funding from wealthy individuals. One of the first historical dance companies to have an individual donor program. (Digression: business models + the male image.)
  50. Diaghilev hold on to your queer hats. ✤ Drew on the Wagnerian notion of gesamtkunstwerk, signifying the collaboration and unification of all artistic collaborators. (Noverre anyone?) ✤ Brought the young company (featuring Nijinsky, Karasavina, and Pavlova) to Paris in 1909, where ballet had been a backwater for 100 years.
  51. Schéhérazade (1910) ✤ Choreographed by Fokine, with music by Rimsky-Korsakov. ✤ Plot: A “shah’s” wife falls for her “negro” Golden Slave. Orgies and sexy massacres ensue.  ✤ Nijinsky is a big golden hunk of meat. The audience’s “gaze” is queered.
  52. Schéhérazade ✤ Choreography by Fokine, on dancers from the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Ballets. ✤ PS- Note: the intercourse in the background is not the conversational kind. ✤ Note the diminishment of codified balletic technique, (yet later there is figured dancing and fouettés?)
  53. Petroucha (1912) ✤ Choreographed by Fokine, with music by Stravinsky. (Kirstein, 194) ✤ Plot: Magician (Cecchetti) has three puppets: the pathetic Petrouchka (Nijinksky), a ballerina (Karasavina) and a “moor” (Orlov). Petrouchka loves the Ballerina, but is killed by the moor, and then haunts the magician.  ✤ Read: Petrouchka as Nijinsky, magician as Diaghliev. ✤ Blackface.
  54. Petrushka (with extra sambo action) Petrushka (part deux) ✤ Choreography by Fokine, and starring Nureyev. ✤ PS: Silly sambo thinks the coconut is a god! Hahahahaha!
  55. Le Spectre de la Rose (1911) ✤ Choreographed by Fokine, music by Stravinsky, libretto by Gautier. (Remember him?) ✤ Plot: A young girl (Karasavina) returns home from a ball with a rose given to her by an admirer. The spirit of the rose (Nijinsky) does a dance as she falls asleep and jumps out the window.
  56. Le Spectre de la Rose ✤ Choreography by Fokine, starring Nureyev.
  57. Exit Fokine. Enter Nijinsky. ✤ Fokine exited the company as Nijinsky and Diaghilev grew, er, closer. Nijinsky became the lead choreographer for the Ballet Russe.
  58. L'après-midi d'un faune (1912) ✤ Choreography by Nijinsky, music by Debussy. (Kirstein, 198) ✤ Invoked archaic greece, with all dancers moving in a "Greecian" manner. ✤ Plot: A faun sees 7 bathing nymphs. He dances with one of them, who drops her scarf. Then: masturbation.
  59. L'après-midi d'un faune (1912) ✤ Inspired Queen’s music video for “I Want to Break Free” (1991)
  60. L'après-midi d'un faune ✤ From the film “Nijinsky,” with choreography by Nijinsky, starring George de la Peña. ✤ Balletic technique is nearly invisible.
  61. Le sacre du printemps (1913) ✤ Choreography by Nijisky, (crazy impossibly hard) music by Stravinsky. (Kirstein, 206) ✤ Invoked archaic Russia, with all dancers moving in a "primitive" manner. Auto-orientalism? ✤ Plot: Pre-Russian tribe celebrates spring by sacrificing a virgin to the Gods with a dance to the death.  ✤ Audience response: riots in Paris.
  62. Le sacre du printemps ✤ Choreography by Nijinsky, reconstructed on the Joffrey Ballet. ✤ Balletic technique, inside out. ✤ Reminiscent of Giselle and Schéhérazade?
  63. meanwhile, stateside, there were all sorts of queer goings ons....
  64. Loïe Fuller ✤ Illinois born, Fuller radically reconfigured notions of dancerly performance and stage lighting. ✤ Created (and patented) her own chemical compounds, gels, and stage technologies. ✤ Toured Europe with her entourage of lady dancers. It was romantic.
  65. some queer details... ✤ Like Nijinsky, Fuller created a new, abstract space freed from gender norms. (“One can scarcely believe she’s a woman!”) ✤ Though her work deviated from balletic norms, she used scores by Wagner, Beethoven, and other “serious” composers. ✤ Started a school and taught improvisation. (#fail) (Digression: new business models.)
  66. Danse Serpentine ✤ Choreography by Fuller. ✤ PS: This is apparently really her, per the Library of Congress.
  67. Isadora Duncan ✤ San Francisco born, Duncan created a radical system of movement that drew on “natural” gesture, musicality, and originated in the solar plexus. ✤ By radical, I mean she was a breast-bearing socialist bisexual killed in a freak accident involving an amilcar and a too- long scarf. True story. ✤ Started numerous schools in Europe and on the West coast. (#fail)
  68. Ruth St. Denis ✤ One of the most thorough American appropriators, St. Denis made “Indian” dances, “Oriental” dances, “Egyptian” dances, and so on, with admirable religiosity. ✤ Au: "these dances made no claim to authenticity, they aimed to capture the spirit rather than the letter of the cultures they depicted."
  69. Ruth St. Denis ✤ Radha (1906): St. Denis "celebrated a ritual of the five senses," per Krishna's milkmaid lover. (Zero authenticity, strict coney island.)  ✤ Met Ted Shawn in 1914, who became her dancing partner / husband (#fail). They created Denishawn, with Louis Horst as the musical director, and taught yoga, ballet, clogging, and various pseudo-spiritual practices (#fail).
  70. Ruth St. Denis ✤ Xochitl (1920) was an "Aztec- Toltec dance drama" starring Martha Graham as a maiden defended her virtue from a lusty Mexican aristocrat. (Ted Shawn).  ✤ Founder of "musical visualization," with by Doris Humphrey. (ie their collaboration Soaring (1920) which used a large scarf and colored lights.)
  71. Documentary on the Early Moderns ✤ Featuring Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis.
  72. Ted Shaun has a secret. ✤ Denishawn dissolves in the 1930s due to financial difficulties. Also: Ted is gay. ✤ Formed “Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers" which simultaneously emphasized the athleticism of modern dance while claiming a sort of uniquely American masculinity.
  73. From documentary, “The Men Who Danced” ✤ Choreography by Ted Shawn.
  74. Meanwhile in Germany: Laban and Ausdrucktanz! (expressive dance) ✤ Utopic dance theorist (1879– 1958 ) who laid the groundwork for Laban Notation, expression of inner self through outer movement. ✤ Started a school / commune in Zürich. ✤ Created the notion of a “movement choir,” which was rigorously appropriated by the Nazis (and was kinda a Nazi himself.)
  75. Mary Wigman ✤ Pupil of Laban, innovator in “expressionist” dances. ✤ Choreograped “Hexentanz” (“Witch Dance”) to “non-Western” instrumentation. ✤ Beginnings of an abject aesthetic?
  76. Documentary footage, including Hexentanz ✤ Choreography by Mary Wigman.
  77. Kurt Joos ✤ Pupil of Laban, (co-)founder of “tanztheater.” ✤ Choreographed “The Green Table” or, “A Dance of Death in Eight Scenes,” with music by Frederick Cohen.
  78. Excerpt from The Green Table ✤ Choreography by Kurt Jooss, performed by the Joffrey Ballet.
  79. Conclusions good grief 80 slides later ✤ Dance performance has ✤ Dance is not now and has adapted to various economic never been politically neutral models, ranging from or ahistorical. From Louis aristocratic court dances with XIV to The Green Table, dance imperial theaters to a and politics have been “companies” with “schools.” thoroughly enmeshed and / or at historical odds. ✤ Ballet history co-mingles with Orientalism and racist ✤ So what is it to you? assumption of “ethnic” identities.
  80. thank you. sydney skybetter | skybetter@nyu.edu | @sydneyskybetter

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