noverres lettres sur
the inclusion of dance among the imitative arts*
Lettres sur la danse et sur les ballets appeared in
In addition to the publications outlined above, Noverre compiled a dissertation, Théorie et pratique de la danse simple et composée de lart des ballets, de la musique, du costume et des décorations, which he included in the second of the eleven volumes he presented in 1766 to King Stanislav August of Poland with a view to obtaining employment (see Appendix at the end of the present essay). It is a summary of his aesthetic credo, together with a series of previously unpublished annotations concerning costumes.
Noverres Reform in the Context of Changing Taste in Mid-Eighteenth Century France
Although the 1803-04 and 1807 editions give a comprehensive account of
the authors approach, with an overview of all his activity, it was the work he
published in 1760 that left its mark on the history of dance. The numerous
endorsements he received over the next few years showed that the time was
indeed ripe for a major reform; both Louis de Cahusac and Diderot had recently
remarked that dance had long been awaiting a man of genius, able to point the
way. Even in the
hidebound milieu of the Opéra de Paris where, as Charles Burney was to remark,
time seemed to have come to a standstill, there had been some signs of renewal,
as Noverre was forced to recognise, following in the footsteps of Marmontel and
épisodiques had been introduced into operas and opéras-ballets in an
attempt to contrast the irrelevance of the ballets to the action taking place
on stage, reintegrating dance into the drama. While such
isolated episodes did not mark a fundamental change at the Opéra itself, for
some time the Comédie-Italienne, the Comédie-Française and the Opéra-Comique
to speak only of the situation in
During the first phase of Noverres professional activity, at the Lyon
Opéra and the Opéra-Comique, calls for innovation in the world of dance echoed
aesthetic developments in the various domains of culture. In the 1750s he
effectively produced two types of ballet in about equal measure: the first type
(Les Fêtes chinoises, Les Réjouissances flamandes, Mariée
du Village, Fêtes de Vauxhall, Recrues prussiennes, Bal
paré) were short, virtually plot-less compositions based on the chinoiseries
then in vogue, the Flemish bambochades or the ballets staged at
the Opéra-Comique. They display that taste for Rococò which imbued all the literary,
musical and visual culture in the first half of the century: ballets comprised
a succession of set pieces that exploited
extravagant effects and a picturesque beau désordre catering
exclusively to amusing the eye. Whereas in his
description of the grand genre (
Although in staging Les Réjouissances flamandes for the
Opéra-Comique in 1755 Noverre had investigated the possibility of
combining dance and action, it was not until he returned to London, where he
met Garrick on numerous occasions in the period 1755-57, that he began to
undertake more complex compositions and experiment with a narrative structure,
drawing on contemporary literary and
theatrical productions. Following Les Caprices de Galathée (1757), in
It is clear from what Noverre himself states in the Lettres that he deliberately distanced himself from the new type of Italian mimed comedy, preferring to concentrate on what he variously referred to as tableaux vivants, tableaux en mouvement or tableaux en situation. His rejection of the elaborate conventional gesturing of the Italians derived not only from the training he had received in academic dance and an education grounded in classical culture but also from his interest in the aesthetic developments currently under way in the theatre, in which a re-evaluation of the bodys communicative potential played a key conceptual role. As a rule Noverre liked to parade the names of Garrick, Cahusac, Diderot, or the of such artists as Carle Vanloo, François Boucher and David Teniers le Jeune in order to assert the high cultural standing, but also the originality, of his proposals. On the contrary he was very reticent when it came to naming authors he was indebted to, but the Lettres are full of references to the aesthetic debate being conducted in these years by encyclopaedists such as Marmontel and Voltaire as well as Diderot and Cahusac. One can also recognise, albeit indirectly, the influence of Charles Batteuxs fundamental Les Beaux-Arts réduits à un même principe, in which dance was included among the imitative arts and the aesthetic notion of mimesis was codified as an expression of the sentiments.
While Noverre undoubtedly took Garrick as his model in proclaiming the
importance of the actors self-identification and ensuring the emotional involvement
of the spectator, it is surely not far-fetched to attribute a substantial
influence also to French drama. Several of the observations he makes refer to
the style of acting favoured by Lekain and to the innovations concerning
costume introduced by the operatic singer Chassé and M.lle Clairon as well as
Lekain. Likewise there are numerous passages which allude to the emotionalist
theory propounded by Luigi Riccoboni and Rémond de Sainte-Albine, and expressions
which are indebted to Jean-François Marmontels comments on the article
In spite of the difference between Noverres proposal for the ballet en action and Diderots reflections on opera, we can recognise the influence of the latter in Noverres rejection of academic convention, and also in the numerous comparisons he draws between theatrical productions and painting. These include the way in which a succession of dramatic actions is likened to a sequence of canvases; the construction of a set piece, with the figures on stage being moulded into an organic whole and the visual impact of the various scenes being deliberately exploited; or again the importance attributed to gesture, and the possibility of interaction between painter and actor. Furthermore, in the Troisième Entretien of Le Fils naturel we have the case of a ballet being presented in total autonomy, complete with its acts and scenes.
Turning to Cahusac, his influence can be recognised in the way in which the ballet is conceived and structured, and also in the preparation required of choreographers. Like Noverre in the Lettres, Cahusac viewed dance as an autonomous art form, playing its part in the all-inclusive spectacle of opera in which the different languages of the performing arts are brought together. He maintained that danse en action should be based on a story divided up into acts and scenes, mirroring the theatrical structure of exposition, intrigue and dénouement, drawing whenever possible on a pièce dramatique. Taking pantomime as the language of the passions and referring to the nature of drama in antiquity, Cahusac believed that dance can legitimately take its place among the imitative arts, alongside poetry, music and above all painting. With respect to the latter Cahusac emphasised the analogies as well as the indisputable superiority of dance: whereas painting can only express itself in a single moment, theatrical dance can depict situations in successive moments. By progressing swiftly from one tableau to another, dance brings a narrative to life; what in painting is merely imitated is made real in dance. When it comes to the preparation required of a maître de ballets (choreographer), a text by Lucian of Samosata on dance clearly influenced Noverre. Both he and Cahusac liken the choreographer to an apprentice painter, endowed with a range of knowledge that has to embrace several specialities, so that he possesses a global vision of the ballet.
Finally, when it comes to the principles of painting, in the Lettres we can identify not only a familiarity with both artists (he worked with François Boucher at the Opéra-Comique and formed a friendship with Sir Joshua Reynolds during his second visit to England) and art collections but also a knowledge which may or may not also have been acquired at first-hand of the theoretical literature, ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to the more recent Charles-Alphonse du Fresnoy, as related by Roger de Piles, and Félibien, numerous passages from whom featured in the articles of the Encyclopédie. The allusion Noverre makes in Letter VII to a dance as a beautiful inanimate creature requiring only the influence of genius to bring it to life testifies to a multiplicity of influences, pointing to the fact that while his proposals for reform were undoubtedly courageous, they were neither unrealistic nor indeed ahead of his times.
The Art of the Actor-Dancer
There is no doubt that the volume published in 1760 embraces a very wide
range of interests, but Noverres overall aesthetic conception can only be
assessed in terms of his whole output, from his initial goals and early
attempts through to his final considerations. Thus we shall examine the first
edition of the Lettres alongside the
various comments, developments and corrections which he included in the 1803
edition and in the Forewords to the Programmes published in
In the 1760 volume Noverre takes issue with the abstract geometry of
academic ballets which featured a symmetry and order based on the obsolete
insistence on classical unity still upheld by the Opéra de Paris, on one hand,
and on the celebration of pantomime in ancient drama, on the other. This dual
reaction lay behind his approach which, as we have seen, adhered to the
predominant aesthetic orientation of
French culture in mid-century. In fact the principle of the affinities between
the arts and the recognition of dance as one of the imitative arts constitute a
crucial conceptual assumption in Noverres theorising. Not for nothing does the
first letter begin with an Aristotelian maxim, adopted from Cahusac: Poetry,
painting and dancing, Sir, are, or should be, no other than a faithful likeness
of beautiful nature. In what follows
on this opening page, as in numerous passages throughout the text, it is clear
that Noverre is bent on affirming the unreserved integration of dance into the
Aristotelian framework of the imitative arts. At the same time, however, in
common with many other commentators, he cannot avoid the temptation to
establish a sort of hierarchy, for fear that dance will be assigned a position
of subordination. Starting from Horaces dictum ut pictura poesis, or
rather from the adaptation proposed by Plutarch in the Symposiacs, he
cannot avoid referring to the weakness of danse en action as a newly
established form of performance, while at the same time extolling some
indubitable qualities which highlight the pre-eminence of the art of gesture in
terms of immediacy and potential for communication. In this
perspective he readily introduced, duly adapted to dance, the discussion on the
superiority of one art with respect to another which during the Renaissance had
involved artists and theoreticians including Leonardo da Vinci in the battle to
secure the inclusion of painting among the liberal arts. But the different
viewpoints from which Noverre approaches the question (dance, pantomime,
ballet) lead him to make a series of considerations. In what seems almost an
evocation of the joyful ring-dance of the Muses in Mantegnas Parnaso,
he extols the fraternal kinship of dance with poetry, painting and music, only
to go on to point out some features which raise it above its sister arts. The
absence of verbal content avoids the risk of linguistic incomprehension, and
indeed Cahusac (and Leonardo da Vinci before him) had argued for the greater
efficacy of gesture as opposed to words. Noverre, after several discussions on
the topic and in the light of his experience in
There are, undoubtedly, a great many things which pantomime can only indicate, but in regard to the passions there is a degree of expression to which words cannot attain or rather there are passions for which no words exist. Then dancing allied with action triumphs. A pas, a gesture, a movement, and an attitude express what no words can say; the more violent the sentiments it is required to depict, the less able is one to find words to express them. Exclamations, which are the apex to which the language of passions can reach, become insufficient, and have to be replaced by gesture.
This communicative ability, Noverre maintained, confers on the gesture the value of a universal language which can be understood by all peoples because it is the language of feeling, while its immediacy makes it comparable to painting. Nonetheless, dance has a claim to superiority over painting because, as Noverre pointed out following Cahusac, it can reproduce on stage expressive moments which painting can only capture in a single instant. He praised the ability of the dancer to bring a scene to life, and concluded by saying that while painting can be compared to a static pantomime which speaks, inspires and moves by means of a perfect imitation of nature, ballet seduces and entrances thanks to an authentic expression of nature itself. However, he added, it is not a matter of a pedantic reproduction of nature, which would risk giving a mean, imperfect depiction, but rather of an imitation able to correct defects and bestow on nature the grace and allure which make it truly beautiful. Noverre considered Garrick a past master in this respect because, although he had introduced a natural acting style, he had never lapsed into a prosaic reproduction of reality:
Do not think that this great actor was common, trivial and caricaturist; a faithful worshipper of nature, he knew the value of selection, he preserved that sense of propriety which the stage requires even in the parts least susceptible of grace and charm. He never over-acted or under-acted a character which he represented; he gave just that exact interpretation which other actors nearly always miss.
This is clearly a classicistic conception of the actors role, which corresponds both to the idealising mimesis he took as the founding principle of the art of dancing and to the tragic genre, which he considered to be the most suitable when it came to transposing a play into a ballet. It follows from this that, if the passions are to be explored in all their nuances and degrees of intensity, it is educated people, not the populace, who have to be the subject of the representation. The summary expressiveness and schematic gestures of a labourer are set against the complexity of attitudes in the educated person which conceal interior reflections and contrasts.
The rude rustic can only afford a single gesture to the painter since, in his search for vengeance, he gains from its accomplishment but a low and worthless satisfaction. The man of breeding can, on the contrary, provide the painter with a multitude of pictures; he expresses his passion and distress in a hundred different ways and always with both vigour and nobility.
And if the actor in a play can never be permitted to show anything other than a noble, dignified conduct, it is all the more essential for the gestures of a dancer to reflect that exquisite elegance which marks the elevated tone of the characters sentiments and education, and at the same time reveals the sound technical and artistic schooling of the interpreter.
The idealising imitation of nature, and hence the correction of the imperfections inherent in any natural phenomenon, conceals the genuine difficulty of improving nature without distorting it, but also of not allowing the composers corrective intervention to transpire, thereby destroying the illusion. In this context too it is quite clear how much Noverre owed to the emotionalist theory propounded by Luigi Riccoboni, Rémond de Sainte-Albine and subsequently by Marmontel. In common with all three he required the actor to identify himself in the character, and for Noverre this also required a profound emotional involvement of the spectator, with, as he wrote in Letter VIII, emotion preceding critical reflection: Does the spectator put himself in the actors place, if the latter do not take that of the hero he portrays? Can he hope to move and cause tears to flow, if he do not shed them himself?.
The performances of Lekain, Dumesnil and Clairon had shown Noverre the highest achievements of which French tragic acting was capable. He duly relates with considerable pride Garricks praise for Lekain, hailed as the creator of the art of declamation in France, the latter-day Roscius, an artist of rare finesse who had succeeded in reaching autonomously, le génie de son art, une perfection vraiment divine. In more than one passage in the Lettres one can recognise Noverres debt to Lekain, although he draws above all on Garrick in creating his language of gesture and attributing to his use of mime such an intense dramatic force that he succeeds in penetrating the very soul of the spectator. Garrick fascinated him for the lifelikeness, immediacy and perfection of his gestures, and for his ability to identify with the most wide-ranging characters while suppressing his own personality (The change once effected, the actor disappeared and the hero was revealed).
Mr Garrick, the celebrated English actor, is the model I wish to put forward. Not only is he the most handsome, the most perfect and the most worthy of admiration of all actors, he may be regarded as the Proteus of our own time. [ ] He was so natural, his expression was so lifelike, his gestures, features and glances were so eloquent and so convincing, that he made the action clear even to those who did not understand a word of English. It was easy to follow his meaning; his pathos was touching; in tragedy he terrified with the successive movements with which he represented the most violent passions. And, if I may so express myself, he lacerated the spectators feelings, tore his heart, pierced his soul, and made him shed tears of blood.
The various iconographic sources available make much of the expressivity of Garricks body, arms and hands, but Noverre chooses to focus on the expressive force of his face and eyes. The insistence on this specific aspect is not simply another stroke in his campaign against the masks worn by dancers in the academic ballets. Facial expression was an essential counterpart to verbal expression in Garricks performances, but as can be seen in the famous portrait of him as Richard III painted by Hogarth in 1745, the eyes and hands played a crucial role. In 1803 Noverre recalled the importance which Garrick himself attributed to the arms, hands and even the fingers (tongues which can speak as he described them, adopting an expression of Garricks). But if in 1760 Noverre extolled the expressive function of the face, the faithful interpreter of mime, in 1803 he insisted on the crucial role of the eyes:
this variety and mobility would be imperfect if the eyes did not add the mark of truth and likeness; I can compare them to two torches, designed to light up the features and bathe them in that light and shade which will give them distinction and significance. Without the eyes there can be no expression, no truth, no effect.
If we merely go on what Noverre had to say about gesture in the Lettres, we risk forming only a partial picture of his conception of the art of mime. Other iconographic and literary sources make clear whether directly or indirectly to what an extent the torso of the protagonists in Noverres ballets was involved in the movement of the whole body, albeit within the limits imposed by the social status of the character, the event and the need to respect the aesthetic canons of classical art. We can refer to the figures illustrated by Louis-René Boquet, who collaborated closely with Noverre over such a long period that he must surely have assimilated the latters style, achieving great expressiveness in his illustrations. In some of the figures which Noverre presented in 1791 to Gustav III of Sweden (meaning that they must date from the 1780s), the body is invariably leaning away from the perpendicular, either to accompany the impetus of an arm movement or a stride, or as a bodily reaction to a profound sensation (such as repulsion or rejection). Even when the torso remains in a vertical position the overall posture is very intense, as can be seen in the charismatic Horace, the statuary Achilles or the rapt Agamemnon, seen putting a finger to his lips. In general all the bodily attitudes of the characters depicted by Boquet in the 1791 collection bear witness to Noverres quest for inspiration in drama and in old masters featuring historical, mythological or pastoral subjects. One gains the same impression from the pictures illustrating the title pages of the manuscript Programmes included in the eleven volumes produced in 1766. Thus for example in the picture adorning the title page of Hypermnestre, the artist has depicted the scene of the Danaides slaughter of their husbands trying to render albeit within the conventions of official art the crude realism and horror duly recorded in contemporary accounts of Noverres production, which he himself recalled with pride in Letter XVI (1803). In fact crude realism was a peculiar trait of Noverres style in which one can recognise not only the influence of Garrick and the acting style of Lekain but also the predilection for horror in the dramas of Crébillon and Voltaire (in Mahomet the latter has Séide kill his father in front of all the bystanders, just as Noverre has Médée slay her two children on stage). Then again there is a clear resemblance, certainly more than either an isolated episode or mere coincidence, between the expression Death is shown in their features, their eyes are almost closed, bristling hair reveals their terror which Noverre uses of the two protagonists (Clairville and Constance) in LAmour corsaire ou LEmbarquement pour Cythère, and the way in which Noverre describes Lekain in Voltaires Sémiramis as the actor re-emerges from the tomb of Ninus with turned-up sleeves, bloody arms, bristling hair and staring eyes. Nor indeed should we forget the dramatic moment in which Hypermnestre is seen scrabbling in the dirt and desiring the earth to open up again which, although it dates from 1803, is very similar to the account he gave of a performance by Garrick in Letter IX (1760).
But if, as he wrote to Voltaire in
In these and similar considerations from the first edition of the Lettres, Noverre tended to be rather
generic, giving undue prominence to his sources from antiquity (above all
Quintilian), Garrick and theoretical writings on art. He apparently did not yet
possess sufficient experience of danse en action to tackle the issues
more directly. The first ballet he presented to be organized in terms of
exposition, intrigue and dénouement, with a narrative structure and without
masks, was put on in November 1757, the year he also began preparing his Lettres. Moreover it was only over the
next two years immediately prior to the publication of his treatise that
Noverre began to take a serious interest in contemporary discussions of the
theatre, starting to formulate a sort of repertoire of gestures, without
however aiming at a genuine classification. In his peremptory dismissal of any
suggestion of rules he was obviously once again attacking the schematic
rigidity of academic dance, as well as rejecting the language of mimicry which
derived from the commedia dellarte. It was only after the experience of
Médée (1763), Hypermnestre (1764),
If the mechanical part of dance gives the maître de ballets such a lot of trouble and requires so many formulae, does not the art of gesture and expression demand every bit as much? Will not rehearsing the movements, giving a lively depiction of the passions, achieving action dictated by the emotions, the general state of agitation and indeed all these transitions bring him to a state bordering on delirium? If Agamemnon, Clytemnester, Achilles and Iphygenia are all on stage together there are four roles which need to be taught. Each of the actors has his or her own end in view, with opposing sentiments and different views; each of them has to be animated by the right kind of passion. Thus the maître de ballets has to immerse himself in the inner situation of the four characters; he has to act each of them, making the gestures they have to imitate, his face taking on just the right hue according to the sensations each one is experiencing; he has to assume the demeanour, the age and sex of the four: the transports of Achilles, the pride of Agamemnon, the anxiety, grief and outbursts of maternal love; the obedience and candour of Iphygenia ready to be sacrificed.
Nowadays one might object that, in holding up the dancing master as his model, a dancer could jeopardise his concentration and his ability to identify with the character in question. But both Noverres experience and that gained today go to show that, in dance, the analysis of a role and the systematic repetition of the movements, maintaining the utmost concentration on the music and on dynamic and expressive qualities, triggers a process of interiorization of the gesture which leads to a total assimilation, or appropriation, of the gesture itself, which ends by becoming completely natural.
Noverre wanted nothing to do with the Italian mime tradition, which in the Lettres published in 1760 he dismissed as a low and trivial form of expression which Italian players have introduced into France, and to ennoble his proposed reform he invoked an ideal link between his invention, the ballet daction, and the drama of antiquity. However, this was really nothing more than an academic exercise, and in the course of time he provided a more rigorous account of its genesis. In the edition brought out in Saint Petersburg he still claimed to have revived lart de la pantomime, which had lain buried beneath the ruins of antiquity, but at the same time he raised some questions concerning the interpretation of ancient drama and Roman pantomime in particular, with a view to playing down its value and quality to the advantage of modern dance. In specifying that the saltatio had to be viewed exclusively as pantomime, and that the Roman pantomime artists were simply gesticulatores and not dancers, Noverre argued that although their repertoire of gesture was extremely effective because it allowed them to express any idea whatsoever, and even develop the notion of past and future actions, it was excessively complicated. The movements of the arms and fingers, which Noverre conceived as similar to the ones recently created by Charles-Michel LÉpée to provide a language for the deaf and dumb, had to be very rapid and elaborate, but above all highly codified, making them accessible only to those who had been adequately trained. Here there can be no mistaking his criticism of contemporary Italian pantomime, but Noverre went one step further: if it is plausible to claim that the gesticulation of the ancient pantomime lived on in modern Italian acting, it follows that this ancient art form was trivial, ignoble and devoid of finesse, and thus unsuited to tragedy or the exercise of oratory, which both require dignity and simplicity. In conclusion, for Noverre the conventional gesture, which is in itself unacceptable in dance, becomes ridiculously unsightly if it is derived from the Italian style. He ends by asking whether the theatre goers of his day, being neither deaf nor dumb, could be expected to learn the details of such a complex language just to be able to go to the ballet.
This question actually conceals a certain bitterness at the on-going disputes with his rival Gaspero Angiolini and his clique, who on numerous occasions had clashed with him in the debate on the art of pantomime and on the true nature of the ballet daction. At the same time it betrays an awareness of the structural limits of the language of pantomime. Whereas in 1760 he had alluded to the impossibility of representing past and future, when it came to the 1803 edition he felt obliged to state in no uncertain terms: It is quite impossible to express in pantomime the following lines: I had, my Lord, an illustrious and generous brother./This you will say to him who brought you here. So Like those intrepid navigators who have brave storm and tempest to discover unknown lands [ ] but whom insurmountable obstacles oppose in the midst of their travels, he himself, who had done away with a number of barriers, was now forced to yield in the face of the objective limits of his language of gesture.
Noverre came to this conclusion
following decades of experience, but the conundrum had exercised commentators
for a long time, without any prospect of a solution. In 1822 André
Jean-Jacques Deshayes, a perfect exemplar of the style of lOpéra, seemed to
have accepted the structural paucity of the French language of gesture, but
shortly afterwards, in
In settling on modern drama as his paradigm, and rejecting the form of
pantomime in dance practised by the Italian companies, Noverre made a clear
distinction between dance in the strict sense of the term and pantomime,
referring to them in Letter VII (1803), as two separate categories. There was
mechanical dance, concerned with execution, and then there was
pantomimic dance, performed in action; only the latter could bestow
on dance the status of an imitative art. This distinction,
taken together with comments made by Friedrich Melchior Grimm, have led modern
historiography to interpret Noverres form of dance as a composition which was
penalised by the dichotomy between pantomime and dance. In 1770 Grimm wrote: In Noverres ballets dance and marche
cadencée are clearly separated; dance is only performed in the great
transports of passion, at the decisive moments; in the scenes characters walk
in accordance with the truth of what is being represented, but without dancing
adding that this passage from marche mesurée to dance and from dance to
marche mesurée is no less essential to this spectacle than the passage
from recitativo to aria and from aria to recitativo in the productions at lOpéra. This appraisal by
Grimm confirms the fact that, in his pursuit of pantomime, Noverre took drama
as his model. If however we take into consideration other first-hand accounts,
and analyse the Programmes of the ballets, there was in fact no such drastic
separation between the different facets of dance. Nor moreover was the simple
walking in time to music in the scenes of action seen as a weak point in
Noverres dance form. In this respect one only has to think of the choreography
of two of the classic moments in nineteenth-century ballet: the scene of the
daisy in Giselle (act I) and the mingling
of James and the house guests in Bournonvilles
To return to the question of the possibilities of gesture, the sources suggest how in Noverres dance form not all the emotions and states of mind were assigned to the language of gesture. When it came to rendering dramatically delicate moments or passages full of nuance, Noverre made use of elements drawn both from iconology and from spatial composition pertaining to painting and indeed to academic ballets. In this respect two scenes from Énée et Didon are exemplary. In the first (early on in the ballet), Amor in the guise of Ascanius passes from the embrace of one into the arms of the other, illustrating the mutual love of the two protagonists. The second (part III, scene III) occurs when the love of Dido and Aeneas is consummated in the sanctuary of a grotto. Only Cupid is able to steal the occasional glimpse, and he coordinates Juno, Venus and Hymen in a pas de quatre which evokes the amorous encounter for the audience. Another instance illustrating this compositional method with great clarity comes in Médée et Jason, with the macabre, grotesque dance of the personifications of the sentiments (Hatred, Jealousy, Revenge) which derange Medea and drive her to carry out her vendetta. And we could add the dotted lines and acute angles, adopted from classical iconology, which were blazoned on the costume of Medea as a visual evocation of the sorceresss evil nature. There could be no more conclusive example than the episode in Le Jugement de Pâris, cited in Letter XX (1803), in which Paris awards Venus the golden apple. To make Venuss offer to Paris explicit, and above all concrete, Noverre has the bust of Helen of Troy led on to the stage by the Graces and Cherubs, the conventional symbols of love.
In condemning acute angles and dotted lines (whether in gesture or in port de bras), while at the same time interpreting the curve as a sign of positive values and good breeding, Noverre was not merely adopting a convention of academic dance, but respecting an aesthetic principle of classical art which imbued eighteenth century culture. In theoretical works published around the middle of the century, authors ranging from Voltaire to Edmund Burke and William Hogarth, as well as Antoine-François Riccoboni, concurred that soft, round contours constituted a tangible manifestation of finesse. In classical culture continuity was seen as an expression of equilibrium and decorum, while the sinuous line, a distinctive trait of the aesthetics of the age of Louis XV, tended to be associated with physical pleasure.
In conclusion, the symbolism of the passions or situations was to be conserved, albeit in a different form, in Romantic ballet. As evidence we can cite the various meanings of the circle (for example in Giselle, as fate or the death ritual) or the diagonal en remontant (again in Giselle, when executed by the Willis it is a sign of exclusion), or indeed the celestial melodies (the arrival of the Immortals), miraculous rays of light, and so on.
Conception and Composition of Ballet
As emerges clearly from the Programmes of the ballets he published in
In all the editions of the Lettres Noverre never fails to point out the kinship linking dance, painting and poetry. But if the affinities between dance and art can be recognised in gesture, in colour combinations, in the construction of space, in the unity of composition and in beau désordre, how does dance relate to the system of literary genres and, more generically, to Aristotles Poetics? What was Noverres position with respect to the three unities in tragedy which, in spite of being illegitimately derived from Aristotle, nonetheless constituted an inviolable principle? Diderot himself had confronted the problem, albeit indirectly, when in 1757 he defined dance as a pantomime mesurée, going on to say that a dance is a poem. For Noverre, too, dance could be assimilated to poetry since there are numerous and crucial conditions which distinguish it from drama, first of all the incompatibility with prescriptions which apply in other contexts. But fearing that departing too explicitly from Aristotles Poetics could in some way detract from the value of his reformed dance form, he stated:
According to Aristotle, a ballet, like poetry, of whatever style, should contain two different parts, that of quality and that of quantity. Nothing exists without matter, form and figure, so that a ballet ceases to exist, if it do not include those essential parts characteristic of all things, whether animate or inanimate. Its matter is the theme which it is desired to represent, its form is the ingenuity of the plot given to it, and its figure is the different parts of which it is composed. Form therefore corresponds to quality, and extent to quantity. Here, then as you see, are ballets subordinated in some degree to the laws of poetry.
Nonetheless, if the lack of a codification of the poetics of dance
formulated by an acknowledged expert, and the example of Shakespeare, whom he
made much of in the introduction to
The liberty Noverre claimed for dance also had its effect on the
definition of the number of acts, which he began to introduce while he was in
Even in his first ballets Noverre
had taken care to organize the scenes in such a way as to make the subject
matter as clear as possible and produce an immediate reaction of curiosity
and gratification in the audience. In
fact he had brought to life some famous old masters such as Les
Réjouissances flamandes by David Teniers le Jeune (Opéra-Comique, 1755) and
Several examples can be cited in the edition that appeared in 1803-1804:
from the ballet Énée et Didon, which features almost exclusively
the phase of the two protagonists falling in love, to
The ballet daction involves
a series of limitations caused, as we have seen, by the lack of verbal text,
its brevity (about twenty minutes in the case of Noverres first creations;
forty-five for the later, more complex ones) and by the need to make it
spectacular. For these reasons Noverre felt it was indispensable to focus on
the most salient moments of the original story, excluding whatever was
superfluous: minor characters, who would only make the story line more
involved, scenes of dialogue without action (dialogue tranquille), and any
form of reflection or description, which was impossible to render using merely
the language of gesture. The Programmes show that this reduction of the text of
the dramas was compensated by a more copious and analytical description given
in the libretti (then known as Programmes). In fact the discursive
nature of the Programmes was a controversial issue at the time, with Gaspero
Angiolini and his supporters criticising Noverre above all for the
pointlessness of going into such detail on a story which was already familiar
to audiences or in which they would not have found it difficult to grasp the
essentials. Some critics alluded to an incongruity between what took place on
stage and the story as it was related in the Programmes. Angiolini was less
generic, pointing out the contradictions (such as dialogues in which characters
not on stage were referred to), and accusing Noverre of possessing those means
by which past, future and personal ideas can be expressed. Such objections were well
founded, but fail to take into account the fact that the approaches of Noverre
and Angiolini were totally different. As Noverre specified in the Petite
Reponse published in 1776, his Programmes are not a prose transposition of
the stage action, but are designed as autonomous texts, standing alongside
them, a sort of prose poem in fact. His objective was to remind the audience of
the story line, clarify the choreographers interpretation, recall what had
gone before, highlight the scenes that had been selected and the cuts,
integrate the shortcomings of the pantomime, and lastly to ensure the
spectators emotional involvement before the curtain went up. This accounts for
the care taken over the literary form of the Programmes and the presence of
reflections and observations concerning those dramatic high points which were
penalised by the lack of verbal text (as for example Didos tumultuous thoughts
in the first scene of Énée et Didon). Surely this aspect is not so
perplexing if one views Noverres Programmes in the light of those produced in
the nineteenth century, or indeed towards the end of the eighteenth century. If
for example we compare the libretto for the gran ballo Excelsior
with the manuscript transcriptions conserved in the Museo Teatrale alla Scala,
Going on remarks contained in the Lettres, dating from both 1760 and 1803, and on the Programmes included in the tome III of 1804, it emerges that Noverre based the organization of his ballets on three over-riding criteria: contrast, rapidity and surprise. Contrast, which lay at the heart of classical tragedy, is the keystone of dance and was conceived as an extension of variety, another cardinal principle of classical art. It is found in all the aspects of the production, from the concatenation of the events to the characterisation of the protagonists and the rendering of their behaviour. It is in fact a vital element, generating energy, making the course of the action dynamic and preventing it becoming static and tedious. The other two compositional criteria rapidity and surprise enabled him on one hand to keep the spectator in a constant state of agitation, a prey to emotions, and on the other to create set pieces which were homogeneous and well balanced in terms of visual impact, gesture and sound. Rapidity involved brief scenes and a swift evolution in the situations (as Noverre put it in Letter XIV, 1760: each scene was to be as quick as a flash of lightning). To ensure surprise Noverre often had recourse to coups de théâtre and both visual and aural special effects (such as miraculous apparitions).
Among the elements of surprise, silence and vocal interjections are
among the most original and evocative solutions. In Letter XIV Noverre asserts
that he introduced silences as early as
if on his [Danauss] departure daylight returns, and with the dawn a fearful hubbub is heard expressing regret, remorse and grief (cries uttered by a womens chorus); if at this very moment the curtain parts again and the Danaïdes, hair flying, arms steeped in blood and grasping daggers, are seen fleeing the scene of their misdeeds, pursued by the ghosts of their husbands, the furies, and personifications of crime, remorse and vengeance [ ] the spectator will not be able to stand the sight of so many excruciating tableaux without being cut to the quick.
Another vocal interjection, this
time used to evoke Greek tragedy, occurs in
In his decision to base the new form of dance on the drama, on one hand, and on opera on the other, Noverre could not escape having to make use of personification. In both the Lettres and the Programmes allegories and personified passions occupy a particular place on account of their ability to highlight, through their visual impact, either the dramatic message or the moral content. The stock personifications from mythological ballets such as Playfulness, Laughter and Pleasures embellish the divine processions with luxuriously decorated costumes to heighten the splendour of the staging. The personifications of Jealousy, Hatred and Revenge in Médée, and the allegories of Crime, Remorse, Perfidy and Betrayal in Hypermnestre, flaunt their grotesque costumes and infernal blazons with outrageous movements, making tangible Medeas perverse fantasies and the horrible deeds of the Danaides. The disquieting symbolism featured in the costumes of the allegories (with torches, serpents, blindfolds, material with ragged fringes resembling tongues of fire, acute angles and dotted lines) fulfils the same function, serving to arouse in the spectator a sentiment, at once immediate and profound, of disgust and horror. These were conventional allegorical figures taken over from either the drama or the opera but which take on a unique dramatic force in the dumb show of ballet.
In the Lettres of 1760 and also those of 1803 Noverre repeatedly makes the point that in his ballets the music plays a crucial role in completing the tableaux en mouvement, the main features of the spectacle, with an aural dimension. He advocated a symbiosis between melody and movement, with the music playing its part in creating the overall illusion. In his theoretical writings and in the Programmes he referred to music which was highly descriptive or evocative: trumpets and drums provide a solemn accompaniment to triumphal entries or the start of a battle; fanfares and resounding horns announce the arrival of the royal family during a hunt; celestial melodies herald the descent of the Immortals. But above all he insists that the music should be perfectly at one with expression and emotion. In Letter VII (1803) Noverre remarks that when the musician worked closely with the choreographer he was able to coordinate the harmonies and melody with the scene changes and the developments in the action, and he could also render, and even intensify, the dancers gestures, so as to hold the audience spellbound with the force of the illusion. The contribution of the composer, Noverre added, became truly effective if he abided by the indications of the choreographer, as had been the case when Gluck composed the characteristic air of the Ballet des Sauvages for the production of Iphigénie en Tauride at the Opéra in 1779.
Scholars investigating Noverre have often wondered to what extent these affirmations are conditioned by his wish to portray himself in the best possible light, or by a vein of nostalgia for times past, or again what they really mean in technical terms, and indeed whether the compositions of Deller, Rodolphe, Starzer, Aspelmayr and Louis de Baillou really were so impressive. In 1760 Noverre argued that the maître de ballets should have a knowledge of music that extends to practical music making. In the Programmes he refers to moments in productions involving specific requisites for the action on stage which would inevitably have placed strict conditions on the composer (to give just one example, the specification of silences and suspense). Moreover, we can find more than one passage in the Programmes which indicate Noverres competence in music (for example, the scene described at the beginning of the Programme of Psyché in which Psyche is slumbering on a couch surmounted by a baldachin with the curtains half open, looped up with diamond bows, surrounded by Graces and Nymphs, allegories of Playfulness, Laughter and Pleasures, where Noverre suggests the employment of mutes, pizzicati, flutes and oboes). Even if Noverres knowledge of music could not compare with that of Angiolini, Maximilien and Pierre Gardel or Carlo Blasis, he could nonetheless count on the solid grounding provided as part of dance training. And finally, it should be borne in mind that when Noverre had to modify the music written for an earlier ballet, he was not obliged to completely alter its structure to leave the composer a free hand.
The affinity between dance and painting constitutes, as we have seen, the main Leitmotiv of the Lettres, and one of the cornerstones of Noverres aesthetics. Drawing a parallel between choreographer and artist meant on one hand underlining the importance of taking a global vision of the stage, and on the other envisaging the use of the compositional techniques of painting, namely perspective, use of colour, visual rhythm, variety, beau désordre, and so on. It also meant that the choreographer had to possess an extensive culture, like that which Lucian of Samosata prescribed for the pantomime (history, mythology, geometry, painting, anatomy, drawing, geography, music etc.) as well as competence in the specific skills of the performing arts (scenery construction, music, stagecraft, lighting), so that he could conceive ballets without misconstruing the subject but also intervene in questions concerning the production.
Going into the technical details, Noverre was convinced that the choreographer would benefit from drawing on art not only in deciding on posture, poise and inclination of the head, and expressions of the face and eyes; it would also enable him to give homogeneity to the set pieces and verisimilitude to the scenes. This homogeneity in a dance number is indispensable and has to be guided by taste, finesse and imagination. It implies the coordination of the characters on stage viewed as components of a harmonic whole, and also an attention to the details of form and expression, above all in the supporting roles (Figurants), which Noverre managed to integrate into the overall spectacle and harmonise with the leading characters.
Noverre considered verisimilitude, another fundamental principle of
classical art, as the essential prerequisite for illusion. In his ballets it is
based, as we have seen, on the coordination of all the components of the
spectacle (scenery, costumes, lighting, music, gesture, dance). In purely
visual terms it relies on the beau désordre of the classical tradition, a
lifelike spatial construction, and historical and geographical appropriateness
for the costumes and staging. In ballet beau désordre implies an irregularity
in the placing of figures on stage which gives the impression of naturalness
without degenerating into confusion, which would destroy the overall
equilibrium of the spectacle (regularity in irregularity). The grouping of
the Nymphs and Fauns in
Another aspect which contributes to creating the beau désordre and avoiding any artificial uniformity was a subtle play of nuances in the colour scheme, with carefully judged degrees of shading. The same objective underlay the adaptation of artistic perspective to the stage, which Noverre conceived to harmonise with movement on stage by settling on a specific viewpoint. He paid a great deal of attention to this topic, suggesting how to give the effect of distance and avoid clashes between the stature of the performers at the back of the stage and the simulated height of the scenery depicted on the backcloth and the furthermost wings. His solution was as ingenious as it was costly: to use dancers of different statures (very short performers giving the effect of distance, increasing in height as they came towards the foreground), and replacing them with artifices as they moved from the rear (or from on high) towards stage front and vice versa. Recalling his experience with the Ballet des Chasseurs, Noverre claimed that the expedient had achieved a significant impact because it was coordinated with the fading away of sounds and diminution in the intensity of colours.
In comparing the spectacle of a ballet with pictures Noverre, in common with other commentators from Rémond de Sainte-Albine to Diderot, could not avoid noting the discrepancy between the two ways of representing subjects with respect to behaviour. Noverre denounced the failure of stage designers to document themselves on the customs and habits of different peoples, preferring, whether through negligence or lack of taste, to follow the fashion of the day or the caprice of a leading dancer or singer rather than pursue solutions which would favour the achievement of illusion. Furthermore, he pointed out how the gap separating the costumes from the action was the consequence of a conception of dance based on the abstraction of gesture and the elimination of characterisation. A Greek, a Roman, a Shepherd, a Hunter, a Warrior, a Faun, a Rustic, Playfulness, Laughter, Pleasures, Tritons, Winds, Flames, Dreams, the High Priest and the Sacrificers all wear the same style of dress and are distinguished only by its colour and by their ornaments, which are in any case always very showy. Finally he wonders whether it is appropriate to have characters on stage who are overwhelmed by loss or by devastating events but maintain an impeccable coiffure, rather than being disfigured by grief and with their hair all over the place.
Noverre rejected the wearing of tonnelets which were so rigid and voluminous that in certain dance positions they practically brought the hip up level with the shoulder, and concealed the bodys contours just as masks concealed the face. But he also rejected any static symmetry in the set design and décor, commenting that simple draperies in contrasting colours can allow the dancers figure to be seen and bring out the dynamism of the movement. Noverre was considerably ahead of his times in visualising costumes which were not designed according to the latest fashion but were merely soft draperies in which the material was so disposed as to fall in attractive pleats and masses, gathered up in cascades which were free to billow out and take on ever new forms.
It is true that we are in the realm of reflections and aspirations, but
underlying these declarations there was nonetheless a clear desire, albeit a
prudent one, for reform. In 1757, under the stimulus of the reforming campaigns
of M.lle Clairon and Chassé and provoked by what Marmontel had written in the Encyclopédie,
Noverre spoke of this aspect in the penultimate of his Lettres in justifying the cases of poetic licence in his ballet Les Jalousies ou Les Fêtes du Sérail:
If one were too scrupulous in depicting the characters, manners and customs of certain nations, the pictures would often be poor and monotonous in composition. Again, would it not be unjust to condemn a painter for the ingenious liberties he had taken, if these same liberties contributed to the perfection, variety and elegance of his pictures?
When the characters are sustained so that those of the nation represented are never changed and nature is not concealed under embellishments which are foreign to and degrade it; when the expression of sentiment is faithful so that the colouring is true, the shading artistically contrived, the positions noble, the groups and masses ingenious and beautiful, and the design correct; then the picture is excellent and achieves its effect.
I think, Sir, that neither a Turkish nor a Chinese festival would appeal to our countrymen, if we had not the art to embellish it, and I am persuaded that the style of dancing common to those people would never be captivating. This kind of exactitude in costume and imitation will only present a very insipid spectacle, unworthy of a public which only applauds in proportion as artists possess the art of bringing delicacy and taste to the different productions which they offer to it.
The problem of how his ballets were to be conserved for posterity did
not receive much consideration from Noverre. The discussion on the use of a
graphic system to transcribe the choreographies, which occupies Letter XIII,
appears to be primarily a pretext to deliver another attack on academic dance,
highlighting its most problematic features, namely abstraction and the absence
of creativity. Rather than offering an objective appraisal, Noverre launches
into an invective against the system called chorégraphie created by
Pierre Beauchamps and first published by Raoul Auger Feuillet (
This latter consideration is not far removed from the observation that chorégraphie deadens the imagination with which Noverre once again proclaimed his aversion to the academic tradition and its apologists. If he had been engaged in a lucid and objective analysis, as André Jean-Jacques Deshayes pointed out in 1822 and Arthur Saint-Léon thirty years later, Noverre would never have confused the creative process with the transcription a posteriori of the dance steps, which was in fact the function of chorégraphie. The definition he used of a birds eye view in dismissing Beauchampss notation as being incapable of respecting the main viewpoints from the lowest tiers of boxes and the stalls because he chose to view the movement from above is clearly instrumental, serving to strike yet another blow at hidebound academe. Later in the same letter Noverre drops his polemic tone and proposes a more comprehensive system featuring not only technical and analytical transcriptions but also firsthand drawings reproducing the expressive attitudes characterising the various dances and actions. In his proposal, which is perhaps rather utopian but undoubtedly very ambitious, he imagines a collaboration between the renowned François Boucher, for the drawings, and the famous court engraver Charles Nicolas Cochin le Jeune, to see them into print. This was indeed a rather drastic scheme which was later to come in once again for fierce criticism from Gaspero Angiolini, himself the champion, although not in fact the instigator, of graphic systems designed to conserve the choreographic heritage.
Lettres sur la danse, et sur les ballets, par M. Noverre, Maître des Ballets
de Son Altesse Sérénissime Monseigneur le Duc de Wurtemberg, & ci-devant
des Théâtres de Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Londres, &c., Lyon, Aimé Delaroche,
book is published on January 11, the Privilège is dated December 21,
1759. The volume is dedicated to Karl Eugen von Württemberg (in-8°, pp. 484).
An edition without Privilège and Approbation (A Stutgard et se vend a
1766 Théorie et
pratique de la danse simple et composée, de lart des ballets, de la musique,
du costume et des décorations, par Mr Noverre Directeur de
1767 Reprint: Lettres sur
1783 Second edition: Lettres
1787 Cyril W. Beaumont
records an edition published in
1801 The two letters Noverre wrote to Voltaire concerning Garrick were published by Arthur Murphy in Vie de David Garrick suivie de deux lettres de M. Noverre à Voltaire sur ce célèbre acteur, et de lhistoire abrégée du théâtre anglais, depuis son origine jusquà la fin du XVIII siècle, translated by Jean-Etienne-François Marignie, Paris, Riche et Michel, an IX (1800-1801).
1803 Lettres sur
1804 The same
publisher, Jean Charles Schnoor of
Tome III (pp. 1-226) is entitled Observations
sur la construction dune Salle dOpéra et Programmes de Ballets (pp.
3-32), a reprint of Observations sur la construction dune
nouvelle Salle de lOpéra, Amsterdam, Changuion; Paris, P. de Lormel, 1781.
This is followed by 15 Programmes of the ballets (libretti): Les Horaces, Euthyme et Eucharis, Médée,
Les Graces, Rénaud et Armide, Adèle de
Ponthieu, Psyché et lAmour, Enée et Didon; Hymenée et Cryséïs,
Tome IV (pp. 1-258), entitled Lettres
In 1803 the book was
published in 4 volumes by Bonnier in
1807 Lettres sur les Arts imitateurs en général, et sur
At the beginning of volume I the Lettres de M. Noverre à
Voltaire et de Voltaire à M. Noverre (1763, published in 1803) have been inserted,
together with the letters from Voltaire dated 26 April 1764 and 4 April 1772,
and the letter from the Abbé de Voisenon of 10 February
Unlike in the previous editions, here the letters are organized in chapters according to a new criterion. The
first volume features part of the letters from tomes I and II of 1803; the
second volume features letters from all four tomes from 1803-1804. From p. 329 to p. 517
there are the Programmes of the ballets:
From the moment of its first publication this work was considered the
manifesto for a reform of the dance. The aesthetic principles and methods of
composition set out therein circulated throughout Europe from as early as the
end of the 1750s and constituted the basis for ballet at the
German translation of the Lettres: Briefe über die Tanzkunst und über die Ballette, vom Herrn Noverre. Aus dem Französischen übersetzt, Hamburg and Bremen, Johann Hinrich Cramer, 1769 (facsimile Leipzig, Zentralantiquariat der DDR, 1977 and 1981; Münich, Heimeran, 1977; Leipzig, Henschel, 2010).
Italian translation of the Lettres by Domenico Rossi: Lettere
Between 24 May and 16 July 1794
the first eight of the 16 letters appeared in
Lettres sur la danse et sur les
ballets, précédées dune vie de lauteur,
par André Levinson, Paris, Éditions de
Письма о танце и балетах, edited by Yu.
Letters on Dancing and
Ballets, translated by Cyril W. Beaumont, published separately in the Dancing Times and then as a single
volume (London, Beaumont, 1930). Translations of the 15 letters dating from
Lettres sur la danse et les arts imitateurs, Paris, Lieutier, 1952 (facsimile Paris, Librairie théâtrale, 1977). 35 letters selected by Fernand Divoire from the 54 given in the 1807 edition, reorganized by the curator. In an appendix a Notice biographique and the Programme of the ballet Médée.
Facsimile of the 1760 edition (Studgard):
Lettres sur la danse, Paris, Ramsay, 1978. Foreword by Maurice Béjart and Thierry Mathis. The 15 letters dating from 1760.
Italian translation of the 1760 edition with numerous cuts: Jean Georges Noverre, Lettere sulla danza, edited by Alberto Testa, Roma, Di Giacomo, 1980.
Lettere sulla Danza, sui Balletti e sulle Arti (1803), edited by Flavia Pappacena, translation by Alessandra Alberti, Lucca, Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2011. The 35 letters contained in volume I (tome I and II) dating from 1803.
* Translated by Mark Weir, Università di Napoli LOrientale.
 The 1760 edition is available in
anastatic reprint Broude Brothers,
 The first of the 1760 letters, which opens with the lapidary phrase Poetry, painting and dancing, Sir, are, or should be, no other than a faithful likeness of beautiful nature, appears in the 1807 edition as the seventeenth in tome I, with the title De la composition de Ballets.
 See Louis de Cahusac, La
danse ancienne et moderne ou Traité historique de la danse,
 Cf. Charles Burney, The present state of music in France and Italy, or the journal of a tour through those Countries, undertaken to collect Materials for a general History of Music, London, T. Becket and Co., 1773, pp. 28-36.
In the article Pantomime deals above all with the integration of dance into
opera and cites as successful examples Le Ballet des Bergers in the opera Roland,
Le Ballet des armes dÉnée in Lavinie, and in the same opera Le Ballet
des Bachantes, Le Ballet de
 On this topic see in particular: Claude
and François Parfaict, Dictionnaire des théâtres de Paris, 7 vols.,
On pantomimes and Italian dances deriving from the commedia dellarte
see Gregorio Lambranzi, Neue und curieuse theatrialische Tantz-Schul,
Nürnberg, Johann Jacob Wolrab, 1716. The text, which contains 101
copperplate engravings by Johann Georg Puschner, gives an insight into the
Italian actors activity in the major theatres in
 We can deduce that Noverre knew
Servandonis productions from the reference in Letter VI (1760) to the Forêt
enchantée created in 1754 with music by Francesco Saverio Geminiani. On Servandonis
productions in the Salle de Machines in the Tuileries see M. Sajoux dOria,
Lexpérience de Servandoni dans
 We should not forget the experiences of
François Prévost and Claude Ballon at the court of Sceaux (Grandes Nuits,
1714), described by Jean-Baptiste Dubos, and the experiments carried out in
1717 and 1718 by John Weaver at the Theatre Royal in
 The beau désordre was a fundamental aesthetic principle in classicist art, independent from the trends in taste. Extolled by Nicolas Boileau in his Art poétique, in the rococò movement it became the tool with which the moderns expressed their antagonism towards the classicist integralism inherited from the tradition deriving from Poussin and reaffirmed by the party of the antiquistes, champions of symmetry and order.
 1760, Letter XIV, p. 402;
 The first quadro was inspired by Diderot,
the scene of the attempted stabbing was inspired by Voltaires Mahomet
probably in the wake of Diderots Le Fils naturel. The
scene of resentment, with the torn up letters and portraits returned in
contempt, was taken, according to Noverre, from Molières Le Dépit Amoreux,
while the latters Tartuffe ou lImposteur was the model for the
reconciliation between Fernand and Ines. The anger, fury and dejection of
Fernand were based on the drama of Oreste in
 Noverre owed his first experiences of
academic dance to Jean Denis Dupré, Louis Dupré, François Marcel,
Jean-Barthélemy Lany and Marie Sallé. For an updated chronology of Noverres
 See the importance
Diderot attributed to expressive gesture and pantomime in Lettre sur les
sourds et les muets (Paris,
1751), and De
 Charles Batteux, Les Beaux-Arts réduits à un même principe, Paris, Durand, 1746.
Luigi Riccoboni, DellArte rappresentativa, Londra, 1728 (facsimile Sala
bolognese, Arnaldo Forni, 1979) and Pensées sur
 Jean-François Marmontel, Déclamation théâtrale, in Denis Diderot and Jean-Baptiste Le Rond dAlembert (eds.), Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences des Arts et des Métiers, Paris, Briasson; David; Le Breton; Durand, 1751-80, IV (1754), p. 680 (facsmile Stuttgart; Bad Cannstatt, F. Frommann, 1967). The essay was republished by Marmontel in Éléments de Littérature, pp. 337-352. See also the article Décoration, pp. 352-355.
 See Louis de Cahusac, La danse ancienne et moderne ou Traité historique de la danse, II, Book IV, chap. VII, p. 231. See also the entry Enthousiasme published by Cahusac in the Encyclopédie, V (1755), p. 719.
Denis Diderot, Entretiens sur le Fils naturel (1757), Réponse
à la lettre de Mme Riccoboni (1758), De
 Dance is discussed in the third of the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel. In the same Entretien Diderot denounces the recourse to allegories and personifications in opera as going against the imitation of nature, although they were to be fundamental in Noverres ballets.
 Lucian of Samosata, De saltatione, a French translation had recently appeared in 1664 by N. Perrot and S. dAblancourt.
 1760, Letter I, p. 1;
 According to Plutarch, a ballet is a
conversation in dumb show, a speaking and animated picture which expresses all
in terms of movement, groups and gestures. 1760, Letter VII, p. 120;
 Noverres Avant-Propos to 1803 edition of Lettres (see Appendix at
the end of the present essay), p. vii;
 See note 18. The ability to bring a representation to life on stage was also remarked by Rémond de Sainte-Albine, Marmontel and Diderot in comparing painting and drama.
 1760, Letter IX, p. 211; Beaumont, p. 83.
 One of the outcomes of the reflection and inner contrasts in mens behaviour (e.g. Jason, Renaud, Aristée) is indecision, and it is not difficult to recognise the influence of Henri in the 9th canto of Voltaires Henriade.
 1760, Letter VI, pp. 87-88; Beaumont, p. 41.
 See Letters II and VI (1760). The importance of concealing interventions and artifices was also emphasised by nineteenth-century choreographers. See the comment cited by Carlo Blasis in 1820 Nothing is more harmful or troubling to the listener than to let on to what art has been employed in feigning E niente è più nocivo, e più molesto/Alluditor, che il far conoscer lArte/In ciò che dessere finto è manifesto from Luigi Riccobonis DellArte rappresentativa (Traité élémentaire théorique et pratique de lArt de la danse, Milan, Joseph Beati et Antoine Tenenti, 1820; facsimile Bologna, Forni, 1969, p. 28, note 1).
 1760, Letter X, p. 287; Beaumont, pp. 107-108. On Lekain, Clairon and Dusmenil see in particular Letter IX.
 1803, t. II, Letter XVIII, p. 197.
 See in particular Letters VIII, IX and XV (1760).
 1760, Letter IX, p. 213; Beaumont, p. 83.
 Ibid., pp. 209-210; Beaumont, p. 82. There is also a detailed description of Garrick in the letter Noverre wrote to Voltaire in 1763 published in tome II of the 1803 edition (Letters XVIII and XIX).
 The face is the vehicle of the mimic scene, the faithful interpreter of all the movements in pantomime. Ibid., pp. 196-197; Beaumont, p. 78.
 cette variété et cette mobilité seroit imparfaite, si les yeux ny ajoutoient pas le signe de la vérité, et de la ressemblance; je les comparerais à deux flambeaux faits pour éclairer tous le traits, et y répandre ce clair-obscur qui les distingue, et les fait valoir. Sans les yeux point dexpression, point de vérité, point deffet. 1803, t. II, Letter VIII, p. 84. On the importance attributed to the face and the inappropriacy of masks, Noverre agreed with Cahusac: see the article Geste, published in 1757 (in Encyclopédie, VII, p. 651).
 The two volumes presented by Noverre to the King of Sweden are conserved in the Royal Library of Sweden. The Foreword to tome I containing the Programmes of the ballets bears the date January 20, 1791 but not the dates when the ballets illustrated took place, so our dating is merely indicative.
 Also in the collection presented in 1766
by Noverre to Stanislav II August of Poland (conserved in the
 On this topic see in particular: L. Tozzi, Il balletto pantomimo del Settecento. Gaspare Angiolini, LAquila, Japadre, 1972; K. Kuzmick Hansell, Il ballo teatrale e lopera italiana, in L. Bianconi and G. Pestelli (eds.), Storia dellopera italiana, Milano, EDT Musica, 1988, V, La spettacolarità, pp. 175-306; J. Sasportes, Noverre in Italia, La danza italiana, no. 2 (Spring, 1985), 39-66; J. Sasportes, Introduzione alla danza a Venezia nel Settecento, La danza italiana, nos. 5/6 (Autumn, 1987), 5-16; J. Sasportes, Due nuove lettere sulla controversia tra Noverre e Angiolini, La danza italiana, no. 7 (Spring, 1989), 51-77; C. Lombardi (ed.), Il ballo pantomimo: lettere, saggi e libelli sulla danza (1773-1785), Torino, Paravia, 1998.
 1760, Letter XV, p. 439; Beaumont, p. 156.
 1760, Letter VIII, p. 189;
 1803, t. II, Letter XVI, p. 163. The scene depicts the moment when Hypermnestra appears, sees the Danaides thrown into Hades and runs to the gaping chasm only to find it closed against her.
 The various considerations referred to are found in Letters II and X (1760).
 Si la part mécanique de la danse donne au maître de ballets tant de peines et de fatigues, si elle exige tant de combinaisons; combien lart du geste et de lexpression nexige-t-il pas de travaux et de soins? Cette répétition des mouvements, cette peinture animée de passions, cette action commandée par lâme, cette agitation de toute la machine, enfin toutes ces transitions variées ne doivent-elles pas le mettre dans un état de voisin du délire? Si Agamemnon, Clitemnestre, Achille et Iphigénie se trouvent en scène, voila quatre rôles à enseigner; chacun des acteurs a un intérêt séparé, des sentiments opposés, des vues différentes; chacun deux doit avoir le caractère de la passion qui lagit; il faut donc que le maître de ballets se pénètre de la situation intérieure de ces quatre personnages; il faut quil les représente tous, quil fasse les gestes quils doivent imiter, que sa physionomie senflamme au dégrée juste des sensations que chacun deux éprouve; il doit prendre le maintien, saisir lâge et le sexe de ces quatre acteurs; les emportements dAchille, la fierté dAgamemnon, le trouble la douleur et les éclats de lamour maternel; lobéissance, et la candeur dIphigénie prête à être sacrifiée. 1803, t. II, Letter XIII, pp. 131-132.
 1760, Letter X, p. 263; Beaumont, p. 99.
 In these excerpts there is an implicit polemic against the reading of the ancient sources which assimilated dance to pantomime and viceversa. One can also recognise his opposition to Angiolini, who in 1775 had emphasised the dance element in pantomime in antiquity (See L. Tozzi, Il balletto pantomimo del Settecento. Gaspare Angiolini, pp. 76-77).
 Joseph Uriot placed on record a
significant account of the difference between Noverres pantomime and the one
currently in use. See Joseph Uriot, Lettres Virtembergeoises, ou
 Il est de toute impossibilité déxprimer en pantomime le vers suivants: Jeûs un frère, Seigneur, illustre et généreux./Vous direz à celui qui vous a faite venir. 1803, t. II, Letter VII, p. 75.
 1803, Avant-Propos, p. x; Beaumont, p. 6.
The more I work the more I become aware of my inadequacy. In making this
declaration, where there can be no question of vanity, I find myself obliged to
go on providing Programmes. but in confessing my shortcomings I must also say,
with the same frankness, that Pantomime is of all the imitative Arts the most
wretched and limited. Programme
for Eutimo ed Eucari (Milano, 1775), in J. Sasportes, La parola contro
il corpo ovvero il melodramma nemico del ballo, La danza italiana, no.
1 (Autumn, 1984), p. 36. The same sentiments are expressed in
the Avant-Propos to the ballet Euthyme
et Eucharis in Recueil de Programmes de Ballets de M. Noverre Maître de
 Without becoming too technical or
complex, we can perhaps refer to a manuscript transcription of the ballet Giselle
(Opéra, 1841) made by Henri Justamant, maître de ballet at the Opéra
in the season 1868-69, now in the Deutsches Tanzarchiv Köln. Published by
Frank-Manuel Peter for OLMS in 2008, it contains elaborate and discursive
passages of mime which cannot possibly have been rendered without recourse to
conventional gestures from the Italian tradition. From the commentary it is
clear that mime was used not only to convey states of mind but that even words
were communicated through gesture, organizing them into a dialogue or
expressing a thought. Unlike French mime, which was expressed by means of
single gestures or poses, the Italian idiom could feature a concatenation of
movements, as can be seen from the manuscript transcription done by Enrico
Cecchetti of Caterina La figlia
 1803, t. II, Letter XI, p. 106.
 Friedrich Melchior Grimm, Jules-Antoine Taschereau, A. Chaudé, Denis Diderot (eds.), Correspondance littéraire philosophique et critique de Grimm et de Diderot depuis 1753 jusquen 1790, 16 vols., Paris, Furne, 1829-1831, VII, pp. 176-177.
 The ballet Giselle, choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot on a subject by Théophile Gautier, libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and music by Adolphe-Charles Adam, was first performed at the Paris Opéra on 28 June 1841.
 The version of
 Cf. Denis Diderot, Entretiens sur le Fils naturel, p. 158.
 This topic is dealt with predominantly in Letters VII and XV (1760).
 1760, Letter VII, pp. 123-124;
 L. Tozzi, Il balletto pantomimo del Settecento. Gaspare Angiolini, p. 68.
The disagreement between Noverre and Angiolini on the unities was part of a
dispute which involved various matters and went on for several years. See
Introduction au Ballet des Horaces ou petite reponse aux grandes Lettres du Sr
Angiolini (which did not feature in either the 1804 or 1807 edition) in Recueil
de Programmes de Ballets de M. Noverre Maître de ballets de
 In 1776, when the
dispute with Angiolini was becoming more bitter, Noverre wrote in the
Introduction au Ballet des Horaces ou petite reponse aux grandes Lettres du Sr
Angiolini: sera sans doute exposé à la critique du Sr. Angiolini et de ses
petits Oracles: ils diront que jai péché contre les Règles dAristote, et que
mon Ballet ne renferme pas les trois unités
je leur répondrai que les Règles
dAristote nont jamais été écrites pour
 See note 12.
 See 1804, Avant-Propos to Iphigénie en Tauride, t. IV, p. 238.
 1804, t. II, p. 239.
 The letter dated September 1, 1763 to Voltaire from Noverre was originally given in the second of the eleven manuscript volumes presented in 1766 to Stanislav II August (pp. 168-177). It was subsequently published at the beginning of the tome II of the 1803 edition (pp. 2-6).
 In the second volume of the 1766
manuscript Noverre speaks of this as a project: Idée dun ballet héroïque
 1803, t. II, First Letter to Voltaire, p. 3.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 The apotheosis is staged thus: As Henri is leaving, kneeling in front of his beloved and unable to part from her, Noverre imagines the appearance of Glory accompanied by all the virtues which contribute to sovereigns fame. The scene changes: the spectres of Luxury disappear, Love flees carrying off the beautiful Gabrielle; Discord and Ire take to the air, one brandishing a banner and the other crushing serpents. The scene changes to show the temple of Immortality, partly hidden in the clouds: Henri, struck by the splendour of the virtues surrounding him, renounces all the passions that could obscure such glory and discards the ornaments he had received from Luxury to resume his weapons. The images fade out, the doors of the temple open, Immortality reaches out to Henri, and Glory, followed by the heroic virtues, leads him into the temple, where he takes his place alongside the sovereigns who have been great and just, and who have combined with the heroic virtues that rare humanity which is the foundation for the glory of sovereigns and the happiness of their peoples.
 Angiolini accused Noverre of having Clytemnestra order Aegisthus to kill two people who were not on stage: Agamemnon and Electra. The letter is published by Giovanni Rasori in his Foreword to the Italian translation of the Ideen zu einer Mimik (1785-1786) by Johann Jakob Engel (Lettere intorno alla mimica, Milano, Giovanni Pirrotta, 1818-1819, p. ix).
 In the Museo Teatrale alla Scala two complete transcriptions of the gran ballo Excelsior are conserved by Giovanni Cammarano and Eugenio Casati as well as a partial one by Enrico Cecchetti (cf. Excelsior. Documenti e saggi/Excelsior. Documents and Essays, ed. by F. Pappacena, Roma, Scuola Nazionale di Cinema-Cineteca Nazionale; Di Giacomo, 1998).
 In the scenography the contrast is made apparent in the juxtaposition of contrasting settings (splendid halls, shady woods); contrasting states of mind in characters (the delicate, sensitive Hypermnestra as opposed to her fierce and vindictive father Danaus); characters with opposing behaviour, either straightforward (generally the female protagonist, such as Medea) or contradictory because tormented by second thoughts (often the male hero). This aspect is readily apparent in the ballets Énée et Didon, Renaud et Armide, Admète et Alceste. But in Letter VIII in the 1760 edition Noverre cites an emblematic example the shepherd boy Aristée in which he states one of the key themes of his ballets (the victory of friendship over love), as proof of dances status as an imitative art with lofty moral content.
 It is very likely that Noverre took his cue from the importance that was attributed to silence in the stage play tradition. See Jean-François Marmontel, Déclamation théâtrale and Denis Diderot, Réponse à la lettre de Mme Riccoboni.
 1804, t. IV, part I, scene II, p. 186.
 si à son départ [de Danaus] le jour paroît, et quau lever de laurore on entend des cris confus et effrayants poussés par les remords, le repentir et la doleur; (cris prononcés par un chur de femmes) que dans cette instant, on voye les rideaux souvrir encore et les Danaïdes les cheveux épars, les bras sanglants et armés de poignards fuir le lieu de leurs forfaits, si on les voit poursuivies par les spectres de leurs époux, par les furies, les crimes, les remords, et la vengeance personnifiés [ ] il nest plus possible que le spectateur puisse soutenir la vue de tant tableaux déchirants, sans être vivement ému. 1803, t. II, Letter XVI, p. 162.
 Ibid., p. 167.
 Ibid. In the same letter Noverre relates
that he got the idea of using a hidden chorus when he was involved in a
production of Glucks Alceste in
 1804, t. IV, part I, scene II, p. 185.
 Personification was an ancient practice found in wall paintings from classical times, much used in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century opera and drama. See Jean-François Marmontel, Opéra, in Éléments de Littérature, pp. 798-824.
 Celestial melody was a tópos of
eighteenth century choreography. It features, for example, in Marie Sallés Pygmalion, staged in
 See the entry Ballet in Jean-Jacques
Rousseaus Dictionnaire de musique (Paris, Duchesne Veuve, 1768)
published by Carlo Blasis in
 The collaboration between the maître de ballets and the composer is amply discussed as early as Letter V (1760). In the Foreword to the 1803 edition of the Lettres Noverre affirms the total subordination of composer to choreographer (p. 3).
 Florian Johann Deller and Johann Joseph
Rudolph composed the music for the ballets created in
 A composer who desires to rise above his
fellows should study painters and copy them in their different methods of
design and execution. Both arts have the same object in view, whether it be for
the achieving of likeness, the admixture of colours, the play of light and
shade, or the grouping and the draping of figures, posing them in graceful
attitudes and giving them character, life and expression; but now, how can a maître
de ballets hope to succeed if he do not possess the abilities and qualities
which go to the making of an eminent painter?. 1760, Letter V, pp. 68-69;
 On this aspect his contemporaries were full of praise and admiration. See for example what Pietro Verri wrote to his brother Alessandro in a letter dated August 3, 1774: Noverres ballets have an elegance, nobility, sentiment which are truly enchanting, exquisite taste in the costumes, and the prodigious achievement of making the secondary characters less remissive, always striking beautiful and picturesque poses (in L. Tozzi, Il balletto pantomimo del Settecento. Gaspare Angiolini, p. 132).
 In the figurines Boquet created for Noverres ballets there is a preponderance of oblique cuts and an irregular stratification of the materials which are in marked contrast to the symmetry and schematic nature of traditional costumes.
 Noverre devotes considerable space to this topic in Letter XV (1760), when he speaks about the ballet Les Jalousies ou les Fêtes du Sérail (1758).
 In Letter XIII (1760) Noverre takes the premières loges and parterre as the specific viewpoint. He argued that conceiving the action in this way in terms of a frontal view on the same level ensured a correct visualisation from all over the theatre.
 Of such importance in achieving illusion,
the assimilation of the performers into the stage setting was totally ignored
in the stage play tradition. See, in Letter VI (1760), Noverres criticism of
the Ballet des Chasseurs de
this topic see also F. Pappacena, Le tableaux en mouvement de Jean-Georges
 See Jean-François Marmontel, Décoration.
 1760, Letter XIV, pp. 431-433; Beaumont, pp. 153-154.
 1760, Letter XIII, p. 393; Beaumont, p. 141.
 André Jean-Jacques
Deshayes, Idées générales sur lAcadémie Royale de Musique, et plus spécialement
 Arthur Saint-Léon,