Louis XIV and the French Influence
When Louis XIV was crowned his interest in dancing was strongly supported and encouraged by Italian-born Cardinal Mazarin, (formerly Mazarini), who assisted Louis XIV. The young king made his ballet debut as a boy, but it was in 1653 as a teenager that he accomplished his most memorable feat as a dancer. He performed a series of dances in Le Ballet de la Nuit and for his final piece he appeared as Apollo, god of the sun. Wearing a fancy golden Roman-cut corselet and a kilt of golden rays he came to be known as the Sun King.
Cardinal Mazarin promoted Italian influences in the French spectacle. The ballet master he imported from Italy was Giovanni Baptista Lulli, who was rechristened Jean Baptiste Lully for work in France. Lully became one of the king’s favorite dancers and rivaled the king as the best dancer in France.
In 1661 Louis established the Academie Royale de Danse in a room of the Louvre, the world’s first ballet school. Also in 1661 he attended a party put on by the finance minister to show off his new home in the country. The entertainment was Moliere’s ballet Les Facheaux which pleased the king to no end, although he thought that the finance minister was a treasonous servant. As it turned out, the finance minister was arrested, and the ballet master, the home’s architect, and the gardener were hired by the king.
At court, Moliere and Lully collaborated, with Moliere choreographing and Lully composing the music for ballets. Pierre Beauchamps, another ballet master, also worked with them choreographing interludes in the dramatic parts. Beauchamps eventually was named “superintendent of the king’s ballets” in the dance school that Louis established in 1661 and is now one of the most famous of the “fathers” of ballet. It is Beauchamps who has been given credit for standardizing the five foot positions of ballet (first through fifth positions).
In 1669 Louis, (still Louis XIV), established the Academie Royale de Musique for Lully to run. Then in 1670 the king, past his physical prime, retired from dancing, allowing other, better dancers to take lead roles.
In 1672 Lully established a dance academy within the Academie Royale de Musique. This dance company survives today as the ballet of the Paris Opera – the world’s oldest continuously running ballet company.
Lully’s seriousness towards the study of dance led to the development of professional dancers as opposed to courtiers who could dance. Up until 1681 ballet was performed almost exclusively by men. Then, in 1681 Lully staged Le Triomphe de l’Amour, featuring Mademoiselle de Lafontaine, (1665 – 1738), on of four ballerinas in the production; we do not know who the other three ballerinas were. Since this time, Lafontaine has been hailed as the “Queen of Dance”.
In 1687 Lully died from an injury he received by accidentally stabbing his foot with his time stick. At this time, ballet was normally performed in the same productions as opera, a theatrical form known as opera-ballet. The music academy that Lully had run set the standard in the opera-ballet, which people attended as much, if not more, for the dancing as for the music, and the composer of one opera-ballet, L’Europe Galante, (1697), suggested making the opera-ballet more popular by lengthening the dances and shortening the skirts of the now common female dancers.
In 1700 Choreographie, ou l’art de decrie la danse was published by Raoul Auger Feuillet. This book wrote down both conventions of stage and ballroom dancing and attempted to create a dance notation similar to music. Although this notation was never finalized and standardized, it is the system that is still in use today as no other system has been developed. The word choreographie gives us the English word choreography and is derived from the Greek khorea, (to dance), and graphein, (to write). By 1700 many of the words and movements common in today’s ballet were already in use, including jete, sissone, entrechat, pirouette, and cabriole.
In 1713 the Paris opera established its own dance school, which taught a technique based on Feuillet’s writings. Two years after this, in 1715, King Louis XIV died.
In 1725 The Dancing Master was published by Pierre Rameau, (1674 – 1748), a former dance master for the queen of Spain. In his book Rameau formally documented the five foot positions for the first time. At this time French dance concentrated on well-mannered lordly elegance where Italian dance was full of acrobatic virtuosity. Also, in France the dance sections of the opera-ballet continued the story, whereas in Italy they were simply dances put in to give the audience a break from singing.