Aug 03 2008
International Dance Day has been celebrated on April 29 for over a quarter of the century. But not many people know that the origin of this holiday. It is the birthday of the famous ballet dancer and Ballet Master Jean-Georges Noverre. He revolutionized classical dance by creating ballet d’action, which became the predecessor of the narrative ballets of the 19th century. His ideas had lasting impact on ballet ideology, and his theories have been implemented in dance classes today and remain a part today’s ideology of dance.
Born in 1727, Noverre debuted on stage in Fontainebleau when he was only sixteen years old. He composed his first ballet when he was twenty. Noverre became so famous that practically all influential European monarchs tried to get him performing at their courts. Famous Garrick invited him to London where Jean-Georges spent almost two years. He was so wildly popular there that Garrick called him the “Shakespeare of the dance”.
In 1775, in the peak of his fame at the request of the French queen Marie Antoinette Noverre was appointed First Ballet Master of Paris Opera. Jean-Georges kept this post till the days of the French Revolution that ended his career. And not only that. Revolution reduced this famous genius to misery and poverty. The man of Enlightenment who had so many close friends like Mozart, Voltaire and Frederick the Great, died like a pauper in Paris in 1810.
Yet, his name entered the history and was saved to posterity not because he was a great dancer and Ballet Master. And it was not because of the numerous ballets that he staged and composed – they have not been reproduced for at least two centuries. It was due to his publishing of the famous treatise Les Lettres sur La Danse et sur Les Ballets.
This treatise has been printed in almost every European language. Due to this work, Noverre’s name is one of the most quoted in the literature of dance. He criticized professional ballet dancers of his time, cumbersome costumes, and old-fashioned musical styles and choreography. He was against the use of the mask in the ballet because it hides facial expression of the ballet dancers. He encouraged young ballet dancers to profit from their own talents rather than imitate their teachers or the style of a popular dance.
Noverre was the first to state in his treatise that ballet should stir up the audience’s emotions by the use of expressive movement. He called this type of dance, ballet d’action. His brilliant conclusion was that ballet should unfold through dramatic movement and the movement should express the relationship between the characters.