The Italianization of French Dance, 1697-1752

The title of this paper should perhaps include a question mark. My goal is not necessarily to challenge the supremacy in ballet the French have long claimed, but to open up the question of possible Italian influences on French dance by chronicling the myriad activities of Italian dancers in Paris in the first half of the eighteenth century. Such dancers were not confined to the margins of Parisian theatrical life, but also attracted applause at the state subsidized theaters of the Comédie Française, Comédie Italienne, and the Opéra. Their athletic technique awed French audiences, and they excelled in pantomimic dancing; some of the earliest pantomime ballets in Pariswere choreographed by Italians and pantomime dances were added to operas at the Académie Royale de Musique. Some Italians, such as the members of the Riccoboni family, made their careers in Paris; others passed through on their travels around Europe. The dates defining the limits of this study mark major turning points in the history of Italian performers in Paris: the forced departure in 1697 of the troupe of Italian actors that had performed in Paris for decades and the performances at the Opéra in 1752 of Italian intermezzi that launched the War of the Buffoons. But the 1697 departure and the 1752 arrival do not define a void; journalistic accounts, opera librettos, ballet scenarios, and musical scores all testify to the active role Italians played in the cultural life of Paris in the intervening years. This talk will examine a cross-section of the Italian dancers’ activities in Paris, from the fair theaters to the Opéra.

Rebecca Harris-Warrick
Symposium Title: 
Dancers Abroad – 2006
Author affiliation: 
Cornell University