Le Ballet Comique de la Reine… Royalty’s Attempt to Bring Harmony to Their Country
On Sunday, October 15, 1581, in the Louvre’s Great Salle, Le Ballet Comique de la Reine was performed to celebrate the marriage of Queen Louise’s sister, Marguerite de Lorraine to King Henry’s beloved Anne, the Duke of Joyeuse.
This five-hour spectacle was the creation of Balthazar Beaujoyeulx, who was employed for the occasion by Catherine de’ Medici. This performance will most likely change the form of ballet, as we know it. Beaujoyeulx’s Le Ballet Comique de la Reine combined dance, verse, music, and scenography in one unified performance for the first time to the delight of an impressed audience of nearly 1000 people. The ballet was an interpretation of the Circe fable from Homer’s Odyssey. In this story, the evil enchantress Circe has the performers in a spell. As the ballet progresses, the gods Jupiter, Minerva, and Mercury are called upon to defeat Circe and release the performers from her spell. Actual peace and order is not restored until the King of France gets involved.
Supposedly the dances in the production were inspired by the ancient Greeks. Pythagorean and Platonic concepts related to universal harmony and order is demonstrated in Beaujoyeulx’s rhythm and choreographed spatial patterns. The actual steps however do not show any connection with the ancient Greeks. The steps of the actual ballet are the same as those of Renaissance social dances. What Beaujoyleux did was develop and elaborate on theses steps in order to give them a new and exciting look.
The dance was divided up into three different choreographed parts. The plot of the ballet was revealed through the different stages. In the first stage, there were twenty-four performers and they performed twelve distinct geometric figures. In the second sequence, the highlight was the performers proceeding to the middle of the room in pair while being accompanied with violins. The second sequence is referred to as the Entre of the Grand Ballet, and there were fifteen geometrical shapes in this sequence. The next and last stage of the dance was the Final Grand Ballet. In this choreographed sequence, the dancers constructed forty different geometric figures to the amazement and delight of the crowd. The Final Grand Ballet was followed by a Grand Ball in which the performers invited the members of the audience to dance with them on the dance floor.
The whole performance was a wonderful spectacle for all to watch and was very pleasing to eye due to its creativity and magnificence. However, perhaps a more important and fascinating aspect of Le Ballet Comique de la Reine, are its political implications. In order to understand the political significance of the play, you must have a basic knowledge of the France’s situation. France is divided by religious conflict between the Protestants and Catholics. Despite the numerous attempts of King Henry III’s mother, Catherine de’ Medici, to bring peace between the two factions, they both still harbored much hostility and intolerance towards each other. Catherine is a great lover of peace and attempted to bring peace though dance productions. It is her belief that if everyone pays more attention to the arts and dance, there will be no more conflict. This is because she associates dance with divinity. She sees that it potentially has the power to rid the belligerent feelings from the hearts of those in conflict. Another way to look at it is that in light of all the discord in the world, the situation in France can be greatly contrasted by the harmony and acquirable perfection in dance and music. Thus, in order to rid the world and, more specifically, France, of some disharmony, dance to music. As one of Catherine’s court poets wrote: “The world is made from discord accorded…we dance thus to have no discord.” Le Ballet Comique de la Reine is the continuation of the monarch’s attempt to achieve peace and therefore tolerance through dance.
Specific parallels can be drawn from Le Ballet Comique de la Reine and France’s political reality. For instance, when in the production, the performers call upon the King to rid the kingdom of the treachery of Circe and bring peace and order back to the land, it is the same as the people of France asking King Henri III to reinstate concord in France and end the religious strife. Similarly, at the end of the ballet when the spectators are invited to join the performers on the floor to dance, they are metaphorically being asked to join the attempts to regain harmony in France.
Balthazar Beaujoyeulx should be commended for his brilliant choreography of Le Ballet Comique de la Reine, but greater applause should be given to the monarch for its attempt bring peace to their kingdom. May the genius of this production be a testament to the capability of man to achieve harmony and accord in both dance and in life.