Apollo’s Angels, part II

Moving right on…

From chapter 3: The French Revolution in Ballet
You would think that with the whole world changing between the years 1789 and 1830, nothing would remain permanent. But Pierre Gardel would prove you wrong. “…born in 1758 and raised at the Opera, he became a prominent dancer, learned to make ballets at his brother’s side, and took over the position as lead ballet master in 1787, when Maximilien [his brother] died. Artistically, Pierre remained deeply loyal to the ancien régime: tall, thin, and elegantly proportioned, he had (as Bournonville later put it) a “cold and ostensibly phlegmatic” appearance and the “rigid training” of a danseur noble. His dancing was restrained and formal, but Gardel also suffered from a weak constitution, which gave his movements a noble style as a whole. […] Like the diplomat Talleyrand, Gardel slid with apparent ease from the king’s employ to the radical Revolution, rose to glittering prominence under Napoleon, and even maintained his hold during the restoration of the Bourbons. He did not finally retire until 1829, and then only reluctantly.” p. 107, 108
“In the aftermath of the Revolution the Opera’s director, Bonet de Treiches, wrote a pointed memo insisting that a new dance notation must be invented immediately. Without notation, he said, ballet would never sustain its position as a high art. Despréaux made an attempt around 1815, but the result (never published) was a collection of overly complicated diagrams and iterations indicative of the unsettled state of dance.” p. 125, 126

From chapter 4: Romantic Illusion and the Rise of the Ballerina
Ballet was now well in the hands of the bourgeoisie, which meant that this art, born of aristocratic background, now had to work to earn its crust, like everyone else. “Finally, Véron recruited Auguste Levasseur (and paid him splendidly) to form and lead what became known as “the claque.” This was a group of professional clappers hired to guide public opinion. Levasseur consulted closely with Véron, attended rehearsals, and studied the score for a given production – but he also took bribes from artists and their supporters. On the night of a performance, he marked himself by sporting brightly colored clothing and strategically places his men throughout the audience (Véron and the artists provided the tickets, gratuit). Levasseur carried a cane, which he tapped at the appropriate moment, unleashing a round of applause, bravos, and stomping by his men designed to carry the public in its enthusiasm. This was not resented; to the contrary, Véron’s claim that the claque was a moderating force that “put an end to all quarrels” and stopped “unjust coalitions” of fans from disrupting performances appears to have been widely accepted.” p. 145
I will say that reading this passage I was initially outraged, but by the last two sentences I couldn’t but shift my sympathies heavily towards Véron’s point of view.
The whole chapter is jam-packed with typically romantic stories involving Gautier, Chateaubriand, Benjamin Constant, Madame de Stäel, Juliette Récamier, and Marie Taglioni, the great dancer of the era. One such story is summed up in the following sentence. “Eugène Desmares was a perfect stranger when he first defended Taglioni’s honor in a duel, after which the two became constant companions and lovers.” p. 163

From chapter 5: Scandinavian Orthodoxy: The Danish Style
It seems odd to me (although what do I know about these things) that it was in Denmark that classical ballet was preserved when Western Europe was going through turmoil after the 1848 revolution. But Homans shows how the  Danes not only preserved ballet at the time, but were a key component that moved ballet to Russia later in the century. This becomes important later on. This whole chapter really belongs to the Bournonvilles, Antoine (1760-1843) and August (1805-1879).
For our purposes here, she also talks about Hans Christian Andersen. “Rather like Chateaubriand, although with less high drama and more charm, Andersen imagined women as sylph-like figures, unattainable and alluring. He usually fell in love desperately and from a distance – sometimes with dancers […] but it was the singer Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale,” who really won his heart. […] But Andersen never married or settled down; he lived a restless bohemian life, with standing dinner invitations to the homes of loyal friends (one for each night of the week) and long bouts of travel.” p. 185

to be continued…


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