The history of the development of ballet as a French court dance form is well known. What may be a lesser known is the fact that this history is completely inter-meshed with the history of the expected behavior of the king’s courtiers, whose everyday lives where regulated in the most extreme ways. The grip of these imposed rituals was unyielding — from clothing, to language, to food, to where one should sit or stand. One courtier once quipped, “The austerities of a convent are nothing compared the the austerities of etiquette to which the King’s courtiers are subjected.” It is during this time period – the 17th century particularly – that we see the use of two French words come into popularity: comportement and étiquette. Together they paint a picture of the historical beginnings of ballet as prescribed personal bearing, carriage, and behavior. During the reign of King Louis XIV, behaving wrongly was at the peril of one’s life!
It is precisely because of this imposed etiquette that classical ballet is the graceful, pristine, and codified art form it is today. However, this aspect of its development is only part of the story. As soon as ballet moved away from the strictures of the court and into the theaters of Paris, dance masters and choreographers saw the potential of ballet to do more than entertain audiences with its scrolling, court dance floor patterns and light footwork. They knew they could use the form to tell stories. By the mid-1700s French ballet master Jean Georges Noverre, for example, sought to make ballets that used expressive, dramatic movement that would reveal the relationships between characters and convey a narrative. So while classical ballet narratives are largely dominated by sylphs, princesses, sorcerers, and the nobility, they are also about peasants and the working class, and express the full range of human emotion, including struggle, loss, joy, failure, success, family, uncertainty, and laughter.
In Canyon Concert Ballet’s 2nd Annual Ballet & Beer, artistic director Alicia Laumann, is using the program to showcase some of these more human, less lofty, and hopefully funny scenarios often found in ballet. Don Quixote (the Tavern Scene) for instance, tells the story of Basilio, the town barber, and his working class girlfriend, Kitri, who must join forces with their friends to trick Kitri’s dad into letting them get married. Also in the program, the danced poetic excerpts from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (sung by members of the Larimer Chorale), depict the earthy pleasures of nature, love, and lust. The Lyric will host this surprising and curated event. With only 2 shows, you won’t want to miss this night out on the town! Tickets are available on the Lyric’s website.
Article by Alicia Laumann