Chapter 6: Dance at Court: Late sixteenth and seventeenth century



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Chapter 6: Dance at Court: Late sixteenth and seventeenth century
I. Dance was an important court amusement beginning with Catherine de Medici and reaching its peak during the reign of King Louis XIV.
A. Sixteenth century Europe saw many changes including the emergence of a money-based economy, the rise of strong monarchs, religious and political wars and tension between social orders.
1. A Protestant faction developed in England called the Puritans.

a. A commonwealth was proclaimed during civil wars in England.

1. Monarchy was restored.
B. In France during the 17th century, King Louis XIV ruled and was known as the Sun King.
1. This time is known as both the baroque period and the golden age of France.

a. The ornate style of baroque took about fifty years to develop and dominated the 17th century in art and culture.

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C. In England, James II had ascended the throne, but his ties to the Roman Catholic Church led to the end of his reign. Parliament appointed William of Orange and his wife Mary the throne in 1689.

1. Parliament limited the rights of the monarchy which provided political and civil rights to Englishmen.


D. With the deterioration of the Church’s power, France in the 16th century underwent turmoil and was impacted by the shift to a monetary economy.

1. France maintained the polite society of the Renaissance with emissaries from other countries visiting to take back the manners and customs of France.

2. Political manners were based on Machiavelli’s book The Prince. The interpretation of the book was distorted to cover a lack of morals with an outward show of gentility.

3. England and France became the fashion leaders of the world during this time.


E. Dancers and Personalities during the 16th and 17th centuries.

1. Catherine de Medici married Henry II of France and as Queen Mother to France, she dominated.

a. Her love of ballets with underlying political themes led to the production of Le

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Ballet-Comique de la Reine which was the first ballet in Europe.

1. The publication of the one of the first books on ballet made France dominate in dance.

2. The dancers of the 16th century were the aristocracy and the courtiers.

a. As the royalty produced this entertainment it kept them busy and directed their attention away from political agendas and allowed the rulers political concentration.


2. Catherine de Medici came from a powerful Italian family and when she married French royalty, she moved her court from Italy to France and brought the Italian ballet with her.

a. Throughout her reign, she used dance to distract the French courts, including her sons from political activities so she could rule the country.

b. This technique of display of wealth and power was used by French rulers after her reign.
3. An Italian violinist and personal servant to Catherine de Medici is known mostly for his contribution to ballet by defining people creating geometric formations of squares, diamonds, ovals and triangles as they danced.

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4. Thoinet Arbeau was a dancing master and priest who wrote under the name of Thoinet Arbeau.

a. He compiled a manual on dance including dance music, social mores and advice on marriage. The name of the book is Orchésographie Arbeau’s book was an important factor in transferring the power of dance from Italy to France.


F. King Louis XIII of France was a multi-talented king who enjoyed producing and performing in court ballets. He composed music for them and had a gift for comic roles.

1. He had an all-male dance company with men performing the female roles.

a. He enjoyed dancing so much that after the official performance, he would dance at a lessor noble’s house then for the townspeople on a platform erected in front of city hall and then would dance through the streets.

2. His passion for dance set the stage for Louis XIV and the promotion of dance in France.


G. Louis XIV reigned from 1643-1715. He was king of France which was the most powerful nation at that time and a dancer and ardent patron of the arts.

1. His most famous role was le Roi Soleil which means “Sun King” and was how

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he came to be known as the Sun King.

2. He began dancing at the age of 12 and stopped dancing at the age of 31.

3. During his reign he commissioned more than 1,000 ballets establishing and fostering the development of ballet in France.
H. Jean Baptiste Lully was an Italian musician, composer, dancer, mime and musical administrator.

1. As the supervisor of the ball in the court of Louis XIV he required unified ballet productions instead of a string of dancers.

2. He was responsible for adding dance to the institution of the Académie Royale de la Musique.

3. Male dancers played both male and female roles in the court ballets but with the formation of the Académie Royale de la Musique and the inclusion of dance, came the advent of professional female dancers.


I. Pierre Beauchamps was a brilliant dancer in the court of Louis XIV and was the king’s dancing master and superintendent of ballets.

1. He is credited with the clarification of the five positions of the feet for ballet and the development of a notation system for dance which was not published.

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J. Mlle La Fontaine (1655-1738) was the first female professional dancer. She performed in the first ballet which allowed women to dance, Le Triomphe de L’Amour with twenty other female dancers. One of the reasons for the success of the ballet was that it was a novelty to have women dance. After the performance, she was called Queen of the Dance.
K. Claude Jean Balon (1671-1744) was a student of Beauchamps and a dancer who arranged dances at the Paris Opera.

1. There is some mystery around Balon, supposedly having been credited with the ballet term “balon” which describes a light suspended quality in a jump for which he is said to have although the word is the same in French. Also, his name was Claude and he was referred to historically many centuries as “Jean.”


II. Court Dances and Ballets of the Period

A. As in the Renaissance, the dances could be characterized as bass or haute.

Couple dances predominated over choral dances.

1. The two part suite of the pavane and the galliard evolved into a four part suite which included the allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. These forms were used in musical compositions as well.

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a. The allemande is a couple dance which began in Germany and replaced the pavane as the opening dance. It was performed in a slow 4/4 time signature and was slow and flowing with three intervals in which the dancing couples engaged in conversation.

b. Courante was the second dance of the four part suite and originated in Italy. In Italian, corrente means stream and the dance might have been named after this because performed in 3/4 time had running passages.

c. Sarabande had three different variations. It originated in Spain and was a solo dance performed with castanets by women. It changed to a slow, sedate, processional dance in 3/4 time in the French courts and when it reached England, it became a county dance performed by six or eight couples facing each other.

d. The gigue was a lively dance in triple time with lively footwork and stampings and was performed by both nobles and peasants during the 17th century.


B. Dance designs

1. The formations of dancers were influenced by the hall and stage space, the number of people in attendance and the musicians.

a. Formations included geometrical floor patterns with symbolic meanings and the letters of the alphabet or the king’s initials.

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D. Dance accompaniment for the ballets was influenced first by Lully’s Italian style and then he and French playwright, Molière blended dramatic scenes with ballet and formed a new genre, the comédie-ballet which is considered to be the precursor to opera.
E. Period dress, costumes and adornment. Elaborate and elegant dress was worn for both men and women for the ballroom and for performances, costumes were designed based on the silhouette of the times and the character the dancer portrayed predicated the style and ornamentation.

1. One to one and quarter inch heels were added to shoes in the 17th century which affected people’s balance and posture.

a. Nobility distinguished themselves with scarlet heels on their shoes.
F. All dance during this period was influenced by the court dances.

1. Ballet mascarade required little preparation or scenery. The participants chose their own costumes and entered wearing masks. After a grand entry with violinists and pages carrying torches, several dances were performed, then the participants took their masks off and danced the rest of the evening.

2. Ballet pastoral was an interlude between sections of longer entertainments and

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the characters were rustic people.

3. Ballet Mélodramatique used thin plots as a pretext for dramatic action with singing being the primary focus for these ballets.

4. Ballet-Comique included pastoral themes and idyllic stories of peasants or interpretations of Greek myths and stories of gods and goddesses with the focus being on the ideal form. In Italy, France and Germany tennis courts were used for theater spaces. Later these entertainments were hosted in private homes.

5. Equestrian Ballets as an evolvement of the love of tournaments and spectacles from feudal times. Costumed horsemen rode their horses in designs and patterns. These ballets were performed for prestigious weddings and ceremonial welcoming of monarchs.

6. Ballet de Cour included many ballets followed by a grand ballet but declined because it lacked a unifying theme.

7. Masque and Anti-Masque was a variation of the ballet de cour. When the Italian masque was introduced at the court in the early fifteen hundreds in England, masked men danced with unmasked ladies causing them to be shocked since they did not know with whom they were dancing.

8. Ballet d’Ecole was training in the traditional style or a specific way of dancing. Ballet d’ecole transformed ballet from a court amusement to a profession.

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G. Académie Royale de Danse was established in 1661 to develop polite and courtly dance. In 1669, Louis XIV established the Académie Royale de la Musique and he personally supervised what dancing masters codified in order to defend his favorite art against changes made by inexperienced dancers.

H. Le Ballet-Comique de la Reine was considered to be the first ballet produced in Europe and was presented by the Queen Catherine de Medici to honor her daughter-in-law. It was considered to be an incredible theatrical feat for its time and was a spectacle of dance, drama, and music all around a unifying story line. It was based around the legend of Circe, the Greek enchantress. Le Ballet-Comique became the model for ballets produced in other courts and the unequaled extravaganza of this spread to other countries and influenced similar but less grandiose versions of the ballet.



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