Meanings Made with Dancing in La Motte and Campra's 'L'Europe galante': What can Reading Dancing, and an Affect Model, Offer to Analysis?

For more than thirty years, Susan Leigh Foster's Reading Dancing (1986) has provided a provocative and rigorous stimulus to academic Dance Studies analyses of choreographies, their makers, and how meanings have been made in Western concert dance. In addition to discerning and theorizing, some key choreographic strategies used by mid to late 20th-century U.S. choreographers Deborah Hay, George Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Merce Cunningham, Reading Dancing appraises strategies for composing Western dances from four historical periods that Foster finds "strongly reminiscent of the contemporary models." Ranging broadly, it focuses on works and theories by Jean-Georges Noverre in the 1760 Letters on Dancing and Ballet, John Weaver's The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717) and writing in The History of the Mimes and Pantomimes, the collaboratively created Les Amants Magnifiques (1670), and the Act I Le Turc genereaux from Les Indes galantes as devised by Marie Sallé and the Franz Hilferding in the mid-18th century. Foster calls these "proscenium ballets", to distinguish them from "allegorical ballets" in the late Renaissance; they treat dance as autonomous, that is, capable of moving forward the action without spoken or sung utterance. Absent from this long 18th century of choreographic work is dance in French tragédie en musique and opéra-ballets. This paper asks whether and with what gains Foster's analysis of compositional strategies and meaning-making can be applied to turn of the 18th-century French opera, drawing examples from La Motte and Campra's 1697 l'Europe galante to do so. The paper further offers a reading, or interpretation, of dance's meaning-making in this opéra-ballet through a mode of affective signification. 

Linda Tomko
Author affiliation
University of California, Riverside