Between the 17 and 20 June 2015 Birmingham Royal Ballet will dance David Bintley's latest ballet, The King Dances at the Birmingham Hippodrome. It will be part of a double bill to celebrate Bintley's 20 tears as the company's artistic director. The other ballet will be Carmina Burana which Bintley created in 1995.
According to the company's website:
"In 1653 the 14-year-old Louis XIV of France danced the role of Apollo the sun god in Le Ballet de la nuit, and earned himself forever the soubriquet the Sun King. In The King Dances, David Bintley re-imagines the very beginnings of ballet, when men were quite literally, the kings of dance."The dance is also imagined in Gérard Corbiau's film Le Roi danse an extract of which appears above.
Le Ballet de la nuit was the subject of the 6th Annual Oxford Dance Symposium which took place at New College on 21 April 2004. Papers of that symposium have been compiled and edited by Michael Burden and Jennifer Thorp and published under the title Ballet De La Nuit by Pendragon Press (see europeanbookstore.com). The book appears to be out of print but the following abstracts can be viewed on New College's website:
- Elizabeth Woodrough The passing of the hours - time, structure, rhythm and light in Benserade’s verses for the Ballet de la Nuit
- David Parrott Art, power and performance: Cardinal Mazarin and cultural patronage at the court of Louis XIV
- Catherine Massip The musical context of La (sic) Ballet de la Nuit: Apollo ex machina in French Drama
- Lionel Sawkins Sources for the music of Le Ballet de la Nuit, and
- Jennifer Thorp Dance and Dancers in the Ballet de la Nuit.
Although Jennifer Thorp says in her abstract that no choreography from the actual Ballet de la Nuit survives we do know that its purpose was to impress.
The image of the young Louis dressed in gold as Apollo rising through the stage was intended to be an allegory of the political and religious doctrine of the divine right of kings. To understand why it was asserted in 1653 it should be remembered that France's neighbour to the North was a republic or Commonwealth having executed its own king in 1649 and France was just emerging from its own civil wars known as the Frondes in which royal authority had been challenged by the commons (le fronde parlementaire) and nobility (le fronde des nobles). Because of its concentration of music, colour, drama and movement ballet has long been seen as an instrument of state power which perhaps explains why France acquired a royal ballet in 1689 - the year of the glorious revolution in England and Wales - while England had to wait under 1956 for the equivalent institution.
There was however another style of ballet in France known as the comédie-ballet which appears in several Molière plays. In Le Malade Imaginaire the hypochondriac Argan is admitted as a medical man in a song and dance routine to the following chorus of bad Latin and worse French:
"Vivat, vivat, vivat, vivat, cent fois vivat,
Novus doctor, qui tam bene parlat!
Mille, mille annis, et manget et bibat,
Et seignet et tuat!"*
Now that is something I would really like to see on stage. I wonder whether any choreographer will rise to the challenge.
* Long live, long live, long live, long live, 100 times long live the new doctor who speaks so well. May he eat and drink for a thousand, thousand years. May he prescribe and kill."