THE EARLY DANCE LECTURE 2012
“Of course one can also do the ballet differently. But it is quite clear
to me that one must do it.”
As quoted in the program notes to his
When you attend the theatre today, usually you will experience either an opera performance or an evening at the ballet. Most of the leading stages currently practice generally a more or less strict separation of genres which may be motivated in part by practical stage requirements or may in fact reflect a general attitude that opera and dance are distinctly separate, non-complementary artistic phenomena.
In the 18th century, the circumstances differed completely.
It was a time when musical compositions, dance, song, pantomime, dialogue and
stage decoration blended diverse stage genres together in an integrative
theatre practice with no strict division of genre. Opera and theatrical dance were
interwoven in a fluid, mutually reciprocal theatrical framework well into the
19th century. In other words: an evening at the opera at this time
was always combined with dance – both
the French and Italian opera traditions were characterized by the inclusion of
dance elements although of course these must be differentiated. The opera goers
of the 18th century expected to be entertained not only with song and
music but also – and especially – with dance. As we know from several historical
sources, the esteem which audiences held for
theatrical dance performances was especially high; apparently more attention
being given to the dance than to the opera itself. Samuel Sharp, with his Letters
„Notwithstanding the amazing noisiness of the audience, during the whole performance of the Opera, the moment the dances begin, there is a universal dead silence, which continues as long as the dances continue. Witty people, therefore, never fail to tell me, the Neapolitans go to see, not to hear an Opera. A stranger, who has a little compassion in his breast, feels for the poor singers, who are treated with so much indifference and contempt: […].“
That the visual aspect was an
absolutely essential component for the sensual experience of 18th-century
opera was demonstrated by the enthusiasm for high quality performances by
exceptionally schooled dancers as described not only by Sharp but in numerous
accounts and applies not only to
„I nostri cantori e cantatrici eroiche hanno ceduto per tutto l’impiego di rappresentare ai ballerini, e si contentano di servir d’intermezzi a questi: onde le opere serie non sono ora che una noiosa appendice degli spettacoli teatrali. Può essere che questa epidemia non abbia ancora occupato il teatro di Napoli; ma è impossibile che ancor esso non si risenta della peste universale, almeno in parte.“
French musical theatre accommodated this penchant by directly integrating dance scenes into the drama thus establishing dance as a fundamental element in the genre, as can be seen, for example, in Lully’s tragédies-lyriques.
A different tradition, however,
Beginning in the 1760s, a new, highly innovative genre of dramatic theatrical dance, the ballet en action, developed out of the tradition of the entr’acte ballet.
It originated during a time of upheaval in European cultural history, in a significant phase of profound societal, cultural and aesthetical change. “Critical years in European musical history“, as this time period can be termed, “critical” meant for music, theatre and dance that the old and the new, tradition and progress starkly diverged, aesthetic concepts and premises were broken, and new directions in dramatic representation were sought out. Paradigmatic change and a radical new orientation in aesthetic concepts and performance practice permeated all areas of the performing arts, altering spoken drama, music and dance theatre with equal force. This led to diverse initiatives and attempts to “reform” traditional stage genres.
In the field of opera, for example, the reform-oriented circle of
Christoph Willibald Gluck in
These tendencies also changed the relationship of opera and ballet and particularly for theatrical dance led to a general improvement, even an “emancipation” of the genre which now entered its crucial developmental phase. The common term “ballet reform of the 18th century” does not justify the radical transformation of the genre at this time as realized by such proponents as Jean Georges Noverre (1727–1810) and Gasparo Angiolini (1731–1803). Especially the better-known Noverre, with his famous Lettres sur la danse et sur les ballets as well as his great tragic ballets en action such as Médée et Jason, La Mort d’Hercule or Agamemnon vengé, would make a lasting impact on the history of dance. Less known or rather less anchored as a dance reformer in cultural memory was Noverre’s Italian “opponent” Gasparo Angiolini, who in seventeen-sixty-one , working closely together with Gluck created Don Juan ou Le Festin de pierre the first authentic dramatic ballet en action in dance history.
The innovative ideas of Noverre, Angiolini and others focused on nothing less than the creation of a new form of theatrical dance, an independent dramatic genre existing autonomously, apart from opera and straight theatre. The expectations were high: the action was to be stringent and reduced to the bare essentials, realized only through facial expressions, pantomime and dance movements. The dramatic content and gestural expression in the choreography should be supported by perfectly adapted expressive instrumental music – ideals which featured prominently in the theoretical writings of both Noverre and Angiolini.
Angiolini writes about the importance of music in the ballet en action:
“Music is essential for pantomimes: it’s the music which speaks while we make mere gestures; […] It would almost be impossible to make ourselves understood without music, and the more appropriate it is to what we want to express, the more we make ourselves intelligible.”
With a similar tenor, Noverre formulates his theory as follows:
“Music is to dancing what words are to music; this parallel simply means that dance music corresponds, or should do, to the written poem and thus fixes and determines the dancer’s movements and actions. He must therefore recite it and render it intelligible by the force and vivacity of his gestures, by the lively and animated expression of his features; consequently dancing with action is the instrument, or organ, by which the thoughts expressed in the music are rendered appropriately and intelligibly.”
This was at least in theory – practice showed that these postulated ideals could only seldom be realized. A practical realization required certain external factors, a cultural atmosphere which would readily accept innovations and particularly committed artists willing and capable of breaking new ground in the field of theatrical dance.
Angiolini found one such artist in
These upheavals create the backdrop on which to view Mozart’s ballet music from Idomeneo.
Although stage works constitute a large and artistically relevant percentage of Mozart’s entire body of works, theatrical dance occupies only the margins of composer’s Œuvre – this is surprising when one considers that Mozart was an active, enthusiastic and trained dancer himself and moreover, that the transformations begun in the seventeen-sixties may well have been a stimulus for the experienced stage composer Mozart to grapple with the then highly innovative genre of ballet. Whatever the reasons for Mozart’s reticence in composing for this domain, it is certain that he made one singular yet highly significant contribution to the genre with his ballet music for Idomeneo. The Idomeneo ballet is certainly not a dramatic ballet pantomime in the style of Don Juan – nevertheless, it realized in a most impressive manner the ideal of expressive instrumental music, music which can “speak”.
In the late summer of 1780, Mozart received
a commission to compose an opera for the coming carnival season in Munich – an
appealing as well as demanding task especially because,
like in other cultural centers of the day, the so-called „mixed style“ or the
blending of elements from the Italian and French opera traditions was practiced
in Munich. For Mozart this meant that he would need to integrate spectacular
moments in the style of the French tragédie lyrique into his Italian dramma per
musica and, more importantly, that the chorus and
ballet would need to assume a more predominant role. Shortly after his arrival
Here, as so often, Mozart was the exception. The quality of his ballet
music for Idomeneo impressively demonstrates a deep understanding of
the specific requirements inherent in ballet music. It was for this reason that
this music was selected as a point of departure for the academic-artistic
project Idomeneo-Chaconne in
Impetus for the production was Mozart year 2006 and specifically the
opening of the festival theatre Haus für
Mozart, at the site of the former Kleines
Fundamental to the philosophy and profile of the Salzburg Dance Studies
Department is the effort to balance theory and practice; theoretical discoveries
are physically tested on the body and validated by the body themselves. This
approach proves not only necessary but advantageous for every epoch in which
extensive theoretical dance texts and other source materials exist, but not the
dance itself. This applies also to the 18th century, at the time of
Mozart – and especially to Mozart’s Idomeneo
ballet, for which only vestiges remain today. A contemporary artistic
realization of a dance from Mozart’s time as it appears in the form of the
Idomeneo ballet, is, under such premises, a formidable challenge. Jeschke,
Dahms and Oberzaucher-Schüller were occupied with the main question of how to
not only bring historical material to the stage but how to work in historical
elements to create a piece which would speak to audiences today.
This underlying proposition is not only relevant in the aforementioned project
but is applicable in contemporary stage practice and for artistic-academic dance
research as well. Let us now examine the methods which the
Idomeneo-Chaconne is a solo piece for one dancer based on parts of Mozart’s ballet music K. 367 accompanied by the projection of historical visual materials. The reduction of a grand scale ballet finale for soloists and a corps de ballet to a single dancer as well as the limitation to only the first two sections of music is attributable to the occasion, the opening of the festival hall, and to several external factors: a large dimensioned project requiring many dancers and extensive stage organization could not be realized due to limited financial resources and time constraints. The reduction, however, was also part of the artistic concept focussing on the elemental, especially expressive qualities in Mozart’s music – for “the music, itself does not follow the traditional pattern of a final chaconne in divertissement character” . Instead Mozart used a classical form for expressive music filled with dramatic contrasts and contradictions, reducing the mythological drama of Idomeneo down to its essence – its central motives being the conflict between the gods and man, between father (Idomeneo) and son (Idamante), self-sacrifice made for love, and the dilemma of obligation versus affection.
The choreography in the
The Derra de Moroda Dance Archives at the University of Salzburg – a world renown library possessing an extensive collection of books, pictures, musical texts and scores, photographs and other materials relating to dance – offers a rich and fascinating variety of source materials for the examination of dance phenomena of the 18th century and served as an important source of inspiration for the project IdomeneoChaconne. Two pictures of Gaetano and Auguste Vestris gave particular impetus to the project:
Fig. 1: M. Vestris. Costume de Plaisir (XVIIIe Siècle). In: Auguste Etienne Guillaumot: Costumes de l’Opéra 17e–18e Siècles […], Paris 1883. Salzburg, Derra de Moroda Dance Archives.
The first one depicts a
costumed figurine dressed in a sweeping baroque costume made of white or light-coloured
material, ornately decorated with ribbon, borders and flowers and complemented
by a magnificent headdress. Originally designed for Gaetano Vestris, the opulent
costume reflected his artistic personality, the quintessential danseur noble, “l’homme à la belle
jambe”, the “god of dance” as he was already hailed during his lifetime.
Vestris’ contemporaries admired above all his virtuosic qualities, “the
brilliance of his steps, the precision of his positions, and the picturesque
genius of his dancing”,
as well as his grace and elegance. Modesty was not his forte: according to one
anecdotal account, Vestris was once reported to have said: “There are only
three great men in
Fig. 2: Auguste Vestris. Aquatinta by Francesco Bertolotti and Benedetto Pastorini after a sketch by Nathanial Dance, 1781. Salzburg, Derra de Moroda Dance Archives, DdM ic D 020.
Gaetano Vestris prepared the
way for his son Auguste, by recognizing his exceptional talent at an early age
and carefully nurturing it. During his time in
This characteristic portrayal of the young Vestris and the costumed figurine portraying the father served as a source of inspiration for the IdomeneoChaconne, and literally – in concrete terms – served as model for the two costumes which were designed by Dorothea Nicolai specifically for the dancer Rainer Krenstetter and for this Salzburg Festival production. Both costumes are not just fitted to the physiognomy of the dancer – they fit the specific requirements of the dramaturgy and choreography, playing a vital role in the action.
Before concluding with a DVD of this production, I would like to provide you with a brief overview about the structure and the concept behind this project.
The piece begins with the first part of Mozart‘s chaconne, an allegro of radiant and majestic character accompanied by full orchestra in the style of a classical final divertissement. The stage is darkened and at first only music is heard; gradually the stage lightens and the first projection, an excerpt from Mozart’s letter of December 30, 1780, appears. In this letter, Mozart writes about his work on the ballet music to Idomeneo:
Mon trés cher Pére!
Happy New Year! – forgive me for writing very little this time – I’m now up to my neck in work – I’m not quite finished with the third Act – and, as there won’t be any extra ballets, I also have the honour of composing a divertissement that is suitable for the opera – but I actually like it better this way, for the music will be from one composer. […]
At the end of this sequence, the dancer Rainer Krenstetter, dressed in the baroque costume of Gaetano Vestris complete with elaborate headdress and matching shoes, enters the stage.
Fig. 3: Rainer Krenstetter in IdomeneoChaconne,
Fitting to the costume, the choreography utilizes baroque steps and movement techniques in imitation of the old style, the “danse noble” of Gaetano Vestris, not being however a strict reconstruction of historic baroque dance – this is generally not the intention of the project.
As the music turns to minor and transitions to a more expressive, dramatic musical language, the stage opens its full space to the dancer. A coat rack may be seen at the left edge of the tableau and on it hangs a second costume, namely one designed after the image of Auguste Vestris. During a fermata in the music, a projection of the baroque Vestris costume appears and the viewer can recognize that it stems from a historical model.
Fig. 4: Rainer Krenstetter in IdomeneoChaconne,
At the end of part one, the dancer removes his headdress during the transition to the following largo section thus symbolizing the first step in the successive detachment from the baroque style.
The largo segment of the chaconne begins with a calm tempo which is reflected by moments of stasis and contemplation in the choreography. Projections of costumed figurines suggest a new expressive style of presentation which the dancer contemplates himself – although the discarded headdress, a symbolic relic of the older style, remains clearly visible. The dancer slowly frees himself from baroque figures which is clearly demonstrated by the emergence of a fluid, classical movement repertoire; the headdress is relegated to the side of the stage and new projections of later stage designs stemming from and after 1800 emerge. At the close of this section, the dancer removes his ornate shoes and the last remnants of his baroque costume. Beneath these garments, the second costume (of the son Auguste Vestris) now becomes visible.
At the indication “La Chaconne, qui reprend”, Mozart’s music begins an expressive sequence in minor characterized by sharp contrasts in dynamics and expression. This expressive style is mirrored in the choreography with increasing virtuosity: the dancer, through his costume, embodies half the father, half the son Vestris. He now removes the upper half of the baroque costume and replaces it with the jacket of the modern costume, its cut alluding to a later style from the 19th century.
Fig. 5: Rainer Krenstetter in IdomeneoChaconne,
At the most dramatically fluid moment in the music, the dancer offers virtuosic figurations with turns, jumps and complicated step patterns to convey the energy of the new style, which can be interpreted as both a reflection of the new, expressive virtuosic style of Vestris the son, as well as, of the new dance techniques developing at around 1800.
The “Pas seul de Monsieur Le
begins in a heroic, pathetic style and was tailor-made by Mozart for the ballet
master and solo dancer Claude Le Grand in
The conclusion of the piece is linked to its beginning: Mozart’s music is heard alone without the dance, the baroque costume, all of its detail now visible, is shown once again, symbolically referring to its originator, Gaetano Vestris.
“Nothing in the Idomeneo-Chaconne is historically affirmative” writes Claudia Jeschke about her artistic realization of Mozart’s ballet music. She suggests that the concept can make no claims of historical authenticity, and furthermore that it does not intend to be understood as a “historical reconstruction” in a classic sense. Instead, it offers an artistic interpretation based on historical source materials combined with extensive scholarly expertise in the area of dance history and a thoroughly elaborated choreographic-artistic concept from a modern and contemporary perspective supported by an associative and all-encompassing approach; in other words, it offers just one possible interpretation. Or – to quote Nikolaus Harnoncourt again in conclusion: “Of course one could also do the ballet differently. But it is quite clear to me that one must do it.”
 „Natürlich kann man das Ballett auch anders machen. Aber dass man es machen muss, ist für mich klar.“ Nikolaus Harnoncourt, in: Vom Menschenopfer zum aufgeklärten Christentum. Ein Gespräch mit Nikolaus und Philipp Harnoncourt während der Proben zu „Idomeneo“. Program notes to Idomeneo, Zurich Opera, 2010 (without page number).
 Cf. Sibylle Dahms and Claudia Jeschke, Program notes to Idomeneo-Chaconne, Salzburg, Haus für Mozart, 25 June and 22 July 2006. In this context, see also Claudia Jeschke and Rainer Krenstetter, Tanzen als Museum auf Zeit. Claudia Jeschke und Rainer Krenstetter im Gespräch mit Sabine Huschka, in: Sabine Huschka (Ed.), Wissenskultur Tanz. Historische und zeitgenössische Vermittlungsakte zwischen Praktiken und Diskursen, Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009, p. (159)–172; Claudia Jeschke, Getanzte Kostüme – Mozarts Idomeneo-Chaconne: Körper zwischen Bild und Bewegung, in: Sabine Coelsch-Foisner (Ed.), Atelier-Gespräche, Salzburg: Pustet, 2011, p. 65–69 and – to the role and importance of ballet in Mozart’s œuvre in general, Sibylle Dahms, Das Ballett im Schaffen Mozarts, in: Mozarts Opern, ed. by Dieter Borchmeyer and Gernot Gruber, first part of volume I, Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 2007, p. 148–160.
 Samuel Sharp, Letters from Italy, Describing the Customs and Manners of that Country, In the Years 1765, and 1766. […], London: R. Cave, 21767, p. (82).
 Tutte le opere di Pietro Metastasio, ed. by Bruno Brunelli, 5 vols., (Verona): Mondadori, 1947–1954, vol. V, no. 1977, p. 125. Cf. also Metastasio’s letters dated May 30, 1771 (no. 1942) and September 18, 1774 (no. 2164).
 In this context, see Dahms, Das Ballett im Schaffen Mozarts (as footnote 2), p. 151f. and Gerhard Croll, Bemerkungen zum Verhältnis von Opera seria und Ballett im 18. Jahrhundert, in: Gerhard Croll, Gluck-Schriften – Ausgewählte Aufsätze und Vorträge 1964–2001 (= Gluck-Studien, vol. 4), ed. by Irene Brandenburg and Elisabeth Richter, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2003, p. 89–96.
 See Report of the Tenth Congress of the International Musicological Society, ed. by Dragotin Cvetko, Ljubljana 1967, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1970, p. 159.
 To Noverre, see recently the comprehensive monograph by Sibylle Dahms: Der konservative Revolutionär. Jean Georges Noverre und die Ballettreform des 18. Jahrhunderts, Munich: epodium, 2010.
 Gasparo Angiolini, Le Festin de pierre [Don Juan], Vienna: Trattner, 1761, p. 13f. Original wording in French: „La Musique est essentielle aux Pantomimes: c’est elle qui parle, nous ne faisons que les gestes; […]. Il nous seroit presque impossible de nous faire entendre sans la Musique, & plus elle est appropriée à ce que nous voulons exprimer, plus nous nous rendons intelligibles.“
 Jean Georges Noverre, Letters on dancing and ballets, translated by Cyril W. Beaumont, New York: Dance Horizons, 31975, p. 60. Original wording in French: „La Musique est à la Danse ce que les paroles sont à la Musique; ce parallele ne signifie autre chose, si ce n’est que la Musique dansante est ou devroit être le Poëme écrit qui fixe & détermine les mouvements & l’action du Danseur; celui-ci doit donc le réciter & le rendre intelligible par l’énergie & la vérité de ses gestes, par l’expression vive & animée de sa Physionomie; conséquemment la Danse en action est l’organe qui doit rendre, & qui doit expliquer clairement les idées écrites de la Musique.“ Jean Georges Noverre, Lettres sur la danse, et sur les ballets, Lyon: Aimé Delaroche, 1760, p. 142f.
 Cf. Dahms, Das Ballett im Schaffen Mozarts (as footnote 2), p. 148–151.
 Letter to his father, dated November 13, 1780, in: Mozart’s Letters Mozart’s Life. Selected letters edited and newly translated by Robert Spaethling, London: Faber and Faber, 2001, p. 212.
 For Claude Legrand and the ballet in Munich in the 18th century see Pia and Pino Mlakar, Unsterblicher Theatertanz. 300 Jahre Ballettgeschichte der Oper in München, 2 vols., Wilhelmshaven: Noetzel, 1992, vol. 1: Von den Anfängen um 1650 bis 1860, p. 109–122.
 Cf. Jeschke and Krenstetter, Tanzen als Museum auf Zeit (as footnote 2), p. 164.
 „Die Chaconne in „Idomeneo“ folgt allerdings nicht wirklich dem traditionell üblicher Muster einer Schlusschaconne im Divertissement-Charakter“. Dahms and Jeschke, Program notes to Idomeneo-Chaconne (as footnote 2).
 Cf. ibid. and, also for the following section, the publications by Dahms, Jeschke and Krenstetter mentioned in footnote 2.
 Quoted from: Jeannine Dorvane, Vestris Family, in: International encyclopedia of dance, ed. by Selma Jeanne Cohen, 6 vols., New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, vol. 6, p. 330–334: 331.
 Ibid., p. 333.
 Mozart’s Letters (as footnote 11), p. 224.
 See Ballettmusik zur Oper „Idomeneo“ KV 367, in: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, in Verbindung mit den Mozartstädten Augsburg, Salzburg und Wien hrsg. von der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg, vol. II/6/2, Musik zu Pantomimen und Balletten, ed. by Harald Heckmann, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1963, p. 64.
 Ibid., p. 73.
 Cf. Mlakar, Unsterblicher Theatertanz (as footnote 12), p. 119f.
 „… nichts in der Idomeneo-Chaconne ist historisch affirmativ. Claudia Jeschke in Jeschke and Krenstetter, Tanzen als Museum auf Zeit (as footnote 2), p. 171.
 See footnote 1.