The aesthetic and political premises of Noverre’s Action ballet

This paper will focus on the political and philosophical underpinnings of the phenomenon of Action ballet as advocated by Jean-Georges Noverre. The liberal ideas of the forthcoming French Revolution, as well as the emergence of new class structures in France, resulted in a new approach to the civil individual. The latter emerging from the demise of absolutism – a form of governance based on the absolute control of human action – will be the key issue of the new philosophic-aesthetic tendencies of the 18th century. Civil liberty and equality became the premises of the French social structure and situated activity. Staged Dance as a practice had hitherto served the political goals of absolutism as a means of negotiation of courtly power relations in the form of Court Dance. Noverre’s approach to dance, also influenced by Diderot and other liberal writers, shifted the focus from the political role of the Court Ballet to its expressive potential. Action/narrative ballet was an artistic genre that reflected the new social ideals of human expression/action posed by the liberal spirit of the times. The emergence of Action ballet did not constitute a simple shift in the content of the presentation of dance. It rather established a new corporeal regime evidently founded in the idea of human potential. Action ballet became a narrative of individual and collective action freed from the constraints of the Ancien Regime.

Symposium Title: 
Celebrating Jean-Georges Noverre 1727-1810: his world, and beyond – 2010
Author affiliation: 
University of Glasgow