Noverre in the history of mime
Noverre, and the ballet d’action in general, is always omitted from modern histories of mime. As a rule, they start with ancient Greek mime and Roman pantomime, continue with medieval ‘jongleurs’, go on to the tradition of the Court Mask and the Commedia dell’arte in the early-modern period, at which point they leap to the famous nineteenthcentury white-faced Pierrot, before reaching the father of modern mime in the twentieth century, Etienne Decroux. In contrast, histories of ballet or dance have long considered Noverre integral tothe evolution of their subject. It is odd that a self-evidently hybrid art form as the ballet d’action should be interpreted in such a one-sided fashion. This paper will consider what kind of place Noverre deserves in the history of mime.
It will argue that there is less affinity withcontemporary forms of mime such as the practices of the Commedia dell’arteor of the French foire, and more with Ancient Roman pantomime and with modern, twentieth-century mime. Affinities with Roman pantomime derive from common themes, aesthetic principles, and a similar expection that the danced and mimed parts of performance should be balanced. Affinities with twentieth-century mime derive from the principle of renewing worn-out conventions, use of the whole body, attitude to articulated language, and subjective or ‘expressive’ mime.
The consequence of considering Noverre in the context of the history of mime is that we come to view the ballet d’action as a genre oftheatre drama as much as we do a genre of dance. In other words, it isdanced drama rather than dramatic dance. This means we ought to pursue the study of Noverre and the ballet d’action on dramatic principles, and ask questions such as ‘what is dialogue, or character, or action, or plot?’