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The aesthetics of dance : the writings of Noverre, Kleist and Gautier in the context of their times Zagoudakis, Jamie Panayote


Leaving aside the classical world, Dance as an art form (as distinct from folk-dance) emerges with the renaissance. Combinations of dance and drama are seen in the court entertainments sponsored by Catherine de Medici in France and in the masques of Ben Jon-son, John Milton and Henry Lawes , the composer, in England. These dance-dramas shared the contemporary fondness for lavish sensuous spectacle, with mythological and allegorical subjects full of youth and beauty. The seventeenth century saw, in this new form of art, the development of stage and set-design as well as the emerging importance of the individual performer. The foundation of Richelieu's L 'Academie Française (1635) which concerned itself with language and literature was paralleled by Louis XIV's L'Academie Nationale de Musique et de la Danse (1661). The baroque and rococo characteristics of other arts are reflected in the ballets of Lully and Rameau. In the eighteenth century, theoretical works appear in which the dance is treated as parallel to the other arts. The Lettres sur la Danse (1760) of Jean-Georges Noverre (a friend of Garrick) stresses "nature" and design as do the literary treatises from Dryden to Samuel Johnson, (e.g. Dryden's An Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668), Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare (1765), and Lives of the Poets (1779-81). Carlo Blasis' Treatise on the Art of Dancing (1803) is as much concerned with perfection of technique as the most ardent proso-dists of the period. The so-called "Classical Ballet", however, was the expression of romanticism at the beginning of the nineteenth century as much as in literature and the other arts. It sought to add strangeness and wonder to beauty and to escape from reality into fairyland or dreamland. It dominated ballet throughout most of the century and is seen in well-known works like Giselle, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty. Literary and artistic parallels abound, of course. However, the Dance is the last of the arts to develop a critical theory as it is the last of the arts to emerge as an aesthetically self-conscious, serious and professional form of expression from what had been vestigial and fragmentary. Even musical and dramatic renditions have left at least the score and the script. But the Dance, after its last performance, was largely a matter of fast-fading memory and variable hearsay. This thesis will endeavour to trace the development and changes in aesthetic outlook of the latter eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through a comparative study of the writings of Jean-Georges Noverre, Heinrich von Kleist and Théophile Gautier. As far as one can judge from any available materials and sources of reference, bringing together these three writers whose work contains both literature and dance criticism, poetics and what might be called "balletics", has not been undertaken before; this is also the first time that Kleist has been given a significant place in a discussion of dance theory. It is the chief aim of this study to point out and elucidate the pattern of relationships between dance as an art form and literature. The relationships of theory and practice in the arts are no less complex here than in any other periods. Noverre, for example, as a theorist, was a consistent and articulate late eighteenth century classicist (looking forward to romanticism); but as a professional man of the theatre, he had a keen eye for popular taste, even if it catered to fashions he must have considered antiquated or cheap. Gautier, on the other hand, though he possessed no practical knowledge of the dance, he analyzed it so persuasively, so variously, and had such a wide audience that he strongly influenced the public taste for these aspects of romantic dance. It is doubtful whether Kleist was known to the world of dance, whether he was really influenced by it, or had any direct influence on it in any way. Yet, his essay Ueber das Marionettentheater (1801) might well serve as a manifesto for the new romantic form of dance when it was just being born. As a result of the analysis of these writers, it becomes apparent that all three, Noverre, Gautier, and Kleist, represent stepping-stones in the development of dance from the early stages of superficial extravaganzas, through the clearly defined measures of eighteenth century dance, to the natural expression of spontaneous movement in the next century. Hence, they can be said to define the basic progression from classicism to romanticism in the art of dance.

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