French Court Ballet Festival Reports: Or How to Kindle the Imagination of the Reader

The first prints for French court ballets at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century were festival books printed after the choreographic event. Lengthy descriptive passages of the stage set and costumes attempted to substitute for the marvellous spectatorial experience in performance. In several cases these festival books for ballets were written by different authors, produced and sold by different printers in Paris or even as copies in other towns of France, thus reaching a wide audience amongst literate aristocratic and civil readers. When publications made for performances themselves became increasingly common in the second and third decades of the 17th century, festival books were still produced alongside what today's dance scholars qualify as the "livret de ballet". The livret for court ballet was printed alongside the court productions until the genre fell into desuetude at the beginning of the 18th century. Specific catalogues of the Ballard print shop at the end of the 17th to the beginning of the 18th century prove that there was a stock of livrets which was sold exclusively to an audience of readers. They are comparable to earlier collections of ballet texts edited as "recueils" which were also produced in order to "amuse the reader during carnival." My paper analyses the coexistence of publications for the royal and aristocratic representation of power and splendour as well as for politically directed messages intended to impact the aristocratic readership in France and abroad and this other kind of publications for ballets which are destined for entertainment purposes. Both sorts of documents reflect two main aspects of court ballet - political spectacle and recreational merrymaking - made available for persons who could not watch the performance. 

Gerrit Berenike Heiter
Author affiliation
University of Leipzig