‘Noverre at the Württemberg court: the first “Stuttgart ballet miracle”’

Just after publishing his ‘Letters on dancing and ballets’ (which he dedicated to Duke Karl Eugene of Württemberg) in 1760, Noverre took up his position as ballet master in Stuttgart. This was a turning-point in his career because he received unprecedented means and support to realize his ideas. Noverre’s choice of subjects shows his ambition to demonstrate that ballet-pantomime can intelligibly visualize the plots of some of the world’s most famous tragedies. This paper explores the circumstances of Noverre’s engagement in Stuttgart and his artistic environment at the Württemberg court. It further examines the way in which Noverre applied his own theories in his Stuttgart ballets, especially ‘Médée et Jason’ (1763). A comparative analysis of Noverre’s programme for this ballet and his main literary source, Corneille’s ‘Médée’, will show how the ballet master tackled the challenge of “translating” a work of very powerful discourse into his wordless genre. Some mention will be made of Noverre’s impact on the arts in Germany, including the impression he made on Schiller and Wieland. In conclusion, I will shortly draw a parallel between the subject of the paper and another date which marked the history of ballet in Germany: John Cranko’s arrival in Stuttgart exactly two centuries after Noverre, in 1960/61. Cranko greatly contributed to the emergence of a new style of “literary” ballets which in many ways put into practice and developed the ambitious claims of Noverre and other 18th-century reformers.

Iris Julia Bührle
Symposium Title: 
Dancing in the theatre of Europe in the long 18th century 2012
Author affiliation: 
Sorbonne-Nouvelle Paris/ Stuttgart University