During her reign, Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) was known for her patronage of and active interest in the art of dance. During her minority, the first French dancing master was employed by the Swedish court, and the staging of court ballets at feast days such as the Queen’s birthday became common practice. As Christina ascended the throne, she herself participated increasingly in these ballets, which became an important vehicle for the articulation and dissemination of her royal policies and persona. For example, it was in a court ballet (Le Vaincu de Diane, 1649) that Christina gave public expression to her decision not to marry, thus also setting the stage for the appointing of her cousin as heir to the throne followed by her subsequent abdication in 1654. However, even after the abdication, Christina never intended to live other than as queen. While it was always understood by her contemporaries that Christina had abdicated her reign but
not her queenship, the abdication nevertheless left it open to interpretation what, precisely, her new role as queen without a country would entail. After settling in Rome, Christina no longer appeared in court ballets or retained any known significant involvement with dance. But since her need to continuously manifest her sovereignty did not diminish – on the contrary it can rather be said to have increased following her abdication as Christina had to set herself up as queen in a new social and cultural context and without the support of an apparatus of state – this poses the question what other modes of expression enabled Christina to appear, and to be recognized, as a royal person in Rome.
I consider the body one of the primary means by which people in Christina’s time articulated their social persona. Dance certainly provided privileged opportunities for the eloquent body to appear, but the ubiquitous presence in early modern society of various forms of ceremony and ceremonial exchanges, as well as the enactment of social protocol, also provided a multitude of occasions for the body to stage its presence. As the unexpectedly female heir to a powerful nation at war, Christina appears to have early on understood the importance of carefully managing her public presence in order to gain the confidence and respect of a predominantly male court. In Rome, associating as she did mainly with the papal and cardinalate courts, Christina operated within a rather similar social web – and successfully so, gaining for herself the epithet “Regina di Roma”. As my research shows, Christina’s exacting, yet also creative, uses of available kinetic and embodied practices of ceremony and social protocol played a significant part in how she managed to realize her social ambitions, and I suggest that Christina’s thorough knowledge of and training in dance was an integral aspect of her later skill in utilizing other “techniques of the body” also. Christina may have left most things behind as she left Sweden, but she certainly brought her own body with her and this was a body trained to make specific uses of space and movement, a
training she appears to have continued to cultivate and put to good use as she managed her public presence on the “stage” of Rome. In my paper, I propose to use the example of Christina to illustrate how considering the art of dance alongside contemporary practices of ceremony and social protocol through the lens of the trained body which appeared in these various facets of embodiment and kinetic performance, might yield a deeper understanding of what it actually entailed to –
literally – move in Christina’s circles. Her own practical exposure to choreography helps us understand how Christina and her contemporaries could (as they clearly did) notice even one step taken out of turn in the social choreography of for example an official visit. And it was with a performer’s skill of improvisation and timing that Christina adapted and transformed her embodied presence and participation between Stockholm and Rome, negotiating and frequently challenging or troubling prevalent social and cultural frameworks within which the female and royal body was expected to operate.