Secondary Literature

The following is a list of only a few of the most important scholarly works dealing with eighteenth-century ballet (to be updated).


The Styles of Eighteenth-Century Ballet
Edmund Fairfax (2003 Scarecrow Press)

“The current notion of ballet history holds that the theatrical dance of the eighteenth century was simple, earthbound, and limited in range of motion, scarcely different from the ballroom dance of the same period. Contemporary opinion also maintains that this early form of ballet was largely a stranger to the tours de force of grand jumps, multiple turns, and lifts so typical of classical ballet, owing to a supposed prevailing sense of Victorian-like decorum. The Styles of Eighteenth-Century Ballet explodes this utterly false view of ballet history, showing that there were in fact a variety of different styles of dance cultivated in this era, from the simple to the remarkably difficult, from the dignified earthbound to the spirited airborne, from the gravely serious to the grotesquely ridiculous. This is a fascinating exploration of the various styles of eighteenth-century dance covering ballroom and ballet, the four traditional styles of theatrical dance, regional preferences for given styles, and the importance of caprice, dance according to gender, the overall voluptuous nature of stage dancing, and finally dance notation and costume. Fairfax takes the reader on an in-depth journey through the world of ballet in the age of Mozart, Boucher, and Casanova.” Thus the blurb. Available here and here.


Well-researched . . . Recommended. (Choice)

A scholarly, well-researched, but very readable work on the development of ballet in the 1700s . . . Even non-history buffs will want to invest in [this] book. (Dancer)

An enormously valuable work of scholarship. (Eighteenth-Century Studies)

This forthright book addresses many misconceptions surrounding eighteenth-century dance. Its author, schooled in music, fashion design, languages, classical ballet and Baroque dance, is well placed to address these myths . . . Fairfax’s careful selection and shaping of copious quotations from primary sources should convince all but the most blinkered reader that this period’s dances and dancers were anything by primitive….a wealth of new material and interpretation . . . This book is planned as the first in a series of three studies: volume two will consider technique, while the final volume will cover pantomime ballet. Fairfax has challenged many of our perceptions with a clear-sighted approach to constructing history, working from the declared philosophy that a historical document read in isolation is not actual “history”. Given Fairfax’s striking conclusions and the breadth of his reading, we can anticipate that the other volumes will also break new ground in dance history. (Eighteenth-Century Music)

Explores an important subject that has received little attention in the past, has been treated piecemeal when it did, and is finally tackled here with confidence, over a broad base of data . . . The project is colossal, the material is rich, and the book is dense with quotations, packed with fascinating information that the reader must absorb at the frenzied pace set by an author who capers his way up and down the eighteenth century and back and forth across European borders . . . Fairfax’s gift to dance history is substantial. (Dance Chronicle)

Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera: A History
Rebecca Harris-Warrick (2016 CUP)

“Since its inception, French opera has embraced dance, yet all too often operatic dancing is treated as mere decoration. Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera exposes the multiple and meaningful roles that dance has played, starting from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s first opera in 1672. It counters prevailing notions in operatic historiography that dance was parenthetical and presents compelling evidence that the divertissement – present in every act of every opera – is essential to understanding the work. The book considers the operas of Lully – his lighter works as well as his tragedies – and the 46-year period between the death of Lully and the arrival of Rameau, when influences from the commedia dell’arte and other theatres began to inflect French operatic practices. It explores the intersections of musical, textual, choreographic and staging practices at a complex institution – the Académie Royale de Musique – which upheld as a fundamental aesthetic principle the integration of dance into opera.” Thus the blurb.

The Ballet of the Enlightenment:
The Establishment of the Ballet d’Action in France, 1770-1793
Ivor Guest (1996 Dance Books)

“This conception of the ballet d’action, in which dance and pantomime are combined to form an independent art of the theatre, was essentially a product of the European Enlightenment. Under the influence of a new breed of philosophers who emerged in the eighteenth century – notably Voltaire, Didelot and Rousseau – long-engrained attitudes and ways of thinking were radically reappraised. And it was in this extraordinary intellectual surge that the theatrical dance was reformed and transformed under the impulse of its own iconoclastic philosopher, Jean-Georges Noverre.

The greatest publicist the ballet has ever known, Noverre was the most prominent among several ballet-masters of his time who shared a similar dream – to revive the art of pantomime and to ally it with the fast-developing professional dance technique so that ballet might stand as a dramatic art in its own right. Paris was then the main focus of the world of dance, and the adoption of the ballet d’action there was to be crucial to the future development of ballet. Where previously ballet in Paris had been no more than a decorative accessory to the opera, it was now to attain its independence under a succession of ballet-masters including Noverre himself.

This all-important linking period that separates ballet’s period of subservience to the opera and the great flowering that was to come under Pierre Gardel and, later, the choreographers of the Romantic age, has never before been treated in depth. Based on the archives of the Opéra and the King’s Household, the press and contemporary memoirs, this book offers a vivid panorama of the ballet at the Opéra in the declining years of the Old Regime and into the French Revolution, with fascinating insights into the lives of the dancers and the power-play and intrigues behind the scenes. Set against the political and social background of the time, the development of French ballet between 1770 and 1793 is charted from Vestris’s versions of Médée to the ballets which Noverre himself staged in Paris before being eased out by rivals who coveted his position, to Maximilien Gardel’s use of popular light operas, and culminating with the three great ballets produced by Maximilien’s brother Pierre in the early years of the Revolution which remained the backbone of the repertory for more than thirty years. In the final part of the book the scene moves to Bordeaux, where Dauberval produced his finest work, including La Fille mal gardée of immortal memory.” Thus the blurb.

Ballet Under Napoleon
Ivor Guest (2002 Dance Books)

“The years that led to the flowering of ballet under the influence of Romanticism have too often been dismissed as an interlude of decadence, but as Ivor Guest reveals in this vivid and definitive account, it was a period of great significance in the development of ballet as a major theatre art. Under Pierre Gardel, a ballet-master of extraordinary authority and creative gifts, ballet not only survived the confused years of the Revolution but flourished under the reign of Napoleon, earning a popularity and a prestige that placed it for the first time on an equal level with the opera. Aided by his loyal assistant Louis Milon, Gardel created a repertory that largely relied for its inspiration on classical legend but did not exclude other sources, notably in ballets based on the novel, Paul et Virginie, and the biblical tale of the prodigal son, and his comic masterpiece, La Dansomanie. It is our loss that none of his ballets has survived, for the idea that a ballet might be preserved as a classic had not then taken root.

Gardel and Milon strove to preserve what they claimed was the appointed ballet-master’s monopoly to create ballets at the Opéra, but they were occasionally forced to yield to an outsider who had succeeded in gaining influential backing. The most notable of these was Charles Didelot, today celebrated as one of the architects of Russian ballet, and here is told, for the first time in full detail, the tale of the difficulties placed in his way in the production of his celebrated ballet, Flore et Zéphire, which was famed for its flying effects.

In Gardel’s time the prestige of Paris as the epicentre of ballet was unchallenged, and visitors came from far and wide to savour the splendid productions and the dancers who were esteemed as paragons of artistry and skill. The male dancer was then still in favour, and virtuosi such as the legendary Auguste Vestris and the astonishing young Duport shared the public enthusiasm with ballerinas of legendary renown: Marie Gardel, Emilie Bigottini, who was to entertain the diplomats of Europe at the Congress of Vienna, the brilliant mime Sophie Chevigny, and Geneviève Gosselin, the earliest virtuoso of pointe work, who died in her prime but whose memory was recalled when Marie Taglioni made her Paris début a decade later.

This book is also about the opera house itself and the little world that existed within its walls: the dancers, of course, above all, but also many of the others who contributed to its fortunes, from the often harassed Director, to the machinists and stage-hands, and even remembering that humble but indispensable  employee, the rat-cachter. As for the building itself, it has long vanished, condemned to demolition after a royal prince was assassinated outside its walls and brought inside to die in the salon of his box as the final ballet was in progress: a dramatic finale which brings Ivor Guest’s narrative to a dramatic close.” Thus the blurb.

La querelle des Pantomimes:
Danse, culture et société dans l’Europe des Lumières
Arianna Béatrice Fabbricatore
(2017 PUR)

“L’ouvrage porte sur un genre spectaculaire relativement nouveau, le ballet d’action, qui inclut une composante de pantomime. Or ce genre novateur, qui s’imposa à la place du ballet de cour mais dut également se démarquer de la tragédie, du drame lyrique et des spectacles de foire, fut l’objet d’ardents débats théoriques et de controverses en Europe dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle. L’étude approfondit cette question générale à partir de l’exemple paradigmatique de la polémique qui opposa deux rivaux, l’Italien Gasparo Angiolini et le Français Jean-Georges Noverre, qui furent à tour de rôle maîtres de ballet et chorégraphes à la cour impériale de Vienne, puis au Teatro Ducale de Milan dans les années 1770. Au-delà de la ‘paternité’ du nouveau genre revendiquée avec fierté, les deux protagonistes de la querelle défendent des postulats dramaturgiques, poétiques et esthétiques clairement opposés. Ils trouvèrent des relais chez des artistes et hommes de lettres à Milan, mais aussi à Paris et à Vienne en Autriche, ainsi que dans d’autres capitales culturelles, qui contribuèrent à nourrir le débat, tout en constituant des ‘camps’ respectifs dans l’espace professionnel, social et politique. La relecture approfondie des différents documents relatifs à la querelle, dont certaines pièces ont été mises au jour par Mme Fabbricatore, permet d’éclairer d’un jour nouveau les enjeux multiples des controverses poétiques et esthétiques.” Thus the blurb.

The Grotesque Dancer on the Eighteenth-Century Stage:
Gennaro Magri and His World

Rebecca Harris-Warrick & Bruce Alan Brown (eds.)
(2005 University of Wisconsin Press)

The Grotesque Dancer on the Eighteenth-Century Stage examines the theatrical world of the ballerino grottesco, Magri’s own career as a dancer in Italy and Vienna, the genre of pantomime ballet as it was practiced by Magri and his colleagues across Europe, the relationships between dance and pantomime in this type of work, the music used to accompany pantomime ballets, and the movement vocabulary of the grotesque dancer. Appendixes contain scenarios from eighteenth-century pantomime ballets, including several of Magri’s own devising, an index to the step-vocabulary discussed in Magri’s book, and an index of dancers in Italy known to have performed as grotteschi. Illustrations, musical examples, and dance notations also supplement the text.” Thus the blurb.

Gluck and the French Theatre in Vienna
Bruce Alan Brown
(1992 Clarendon Press)

“In this richly illustrated study, the Viennese reform of opera and ballet is placed in the context of Christoph Gluck’s decade-long involvement with the city’s first French theatre, established in 1752. Following a detailed examination of the institutional and cultural frameworks of theatrical life in Maria Theresia’s capital (drawing upon important new documentary sources), and of the interaction between Parisian and Viennese repertories, each of the areas of Gluck’s activity in the Burgtheater – concerts, opera-comique, and ballet – and their products are examined in turn. Such masterworks as Orfeo ed Euridice and Don Juan are shown to be intimately connected with the regular musical repertory of the French theatre, which was itself rich in innovation; in addition, a large number of works by Gluck (and his colleagues) are identified and analyzed here for the first time.” Thus the blurb.

Die politische Bühne, Ballett und Ritual
im Jesuitenkolleg Louis-le-Grand 1701-1762

Hanna Walsdorf
(2012 Königshausen & Neumann)

“Die öffentlichen Ballettaufführungen des Pariser Jesuitenkollegs Louis-le-Grand waren in 17. und 18. Jahrhundert ein wahrer Publikumsmagnet. Im Rahmen des alljährlichen Preisverleihungrituals zum Schuljahresabschluss im August wurde hier auf so hohem Niveau getanzt, dass man den Vergleich mit der Académie royale de musique nicht zu scheuen brauchte – schließlich waren die professionellen Tänzer, Choreographen und Komponisten derselben an den Produktionen für die Jesuitenschule maßgeblich beteiligt.
Anhand der bislang kaum beachteten Ballettszenarien des 18. Jahrhunderts wird in dieser Studie erstmals systematisch untersucht, wie dabei Tugenden und Werke im Sinne jesuitischer Pädagogik vermittelt wurden und wie sich politische Implikationen manifestierten: Der Topos der Nation wuchs im Laufe der Jahrzehnte auch in den Balletten für Louis-le-Grand zu einer politischen Größe heran. So spannen die Ballette mit ihren Zeitkommentaren und tagesaktuellen Bezügen in der Gesamtschau einen großen narrativen Bogen, anhand dessen sich die Geschichte Frankreichs nacherzählen lässt – und die des Verhältnisses der Jesuiten zu König, Land und dem theaterfeindlichen Jansenismus, dessen Vertreter für die Vertreibung der Jesuiten aus Frankreich 1762 mit verantwortlich waren.” Thus the blurb.