The ballet de cour came up in a recent email exchange about dance history. I haven’t written anything on this for a long time, but my thoughts quickly turned to Le Triomphe de l’Amour of 1681. It is usually associated with the introduction of female professional dancers to the stage of the Paris Opéra, but here I will concentrate on its first performances at the court of Louis XIV.
Le Triomphe de l’Amour was intended to celebrate the marriage of Louis XIV’s eldest son the Dauphin Louis (1661-1711), known as Monseigneur, to Marie Anne Christine de Bavière (1660-1690).
Their wedding had taken place on 7 March 1680, but the ballet in which he and the new Dauphine were to dance had been delayed by Monseigneur’s illnesses. Rehearsals finally began in December 1680 – there were 39 during December and January 1681. Le Triomphe de l’Amour was given its first performance on 21 January 1681, in the Salle de Comédie at the Château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. There would be 29 performances in all, running until 18 February 1681. It was so successful that it became the first ballet de cour to transfer to the public theatre and it was given at the Paris Opéra by a wholly professional cast in May 1681. Among those professional dancers were Mlles de La Fontaine, Pesant, Carré and Leclercq – the first female dancers to appear on the Opéra stage.
At court, Le Triomphe de l’Amour was the first ballet to be given since Les Amants Magnifiques in 1670 (current scholarly opinion is that Louis XIV did not dance in that ballet). It was a large-scale work with 64 dancers, 48 singers and 75 or 76 instrumentalists. Among the dancers were 13 professionals, who appeared alongside 25 male and 22 female members of France’s royalty and nobility. There were also four dancers for whom I have not been able to ascertain their status – the ‘Sieurs’ Huet, Courcelles and Chalons were listed as ‘Petits Danceurs’ in Entrée V, while Jobelet joined them among the Jeux in Entrée XX – they may have been the children of the professional musicians employed by the court.
There were twenty danced Entrées in all, each of which had between one to four musical airs for the choreography. These Entrées are numbered in the livret published to accompany the court performances in 1681, although the ballet is not otherwise divided into acts or scenes. The following analysis of the structure of Le Triomphe de l’Amour is based on the appearance of successive deities and love stories.
This just one among many different approaches to the structure of this ballet.
Monseigneur made his first appearance in Entrée III as a Plaisir, his second in Entrée XIV as an Indien de la Suite de Bacchus and his last as Zephire in Entrée XIX, but for each of his appearances in the ballet the livret names another dancer with whom he alternated. These were, in turn, Lestang l’aîné, Lestang le cadet (both professionals) and M. de Mimurre. The Mercure Galant for January 1681, which provided a review of Le Triomphe de l’Amour, explained that ‘Monseigneur le Dauphin ne dança point le premier jour du Balet, mais on fut agreablement surpris quand on le dança la seconde fois’, adding that his appearance was ‘une preuve de l’entier rétablissement de sa santé’ and that ‘Il a résolu de se donner le divertissement de son Entrée une fois chaque semaine’.
The Dauphine appeared first as the Première Nymphe de Diane in Entrée IX and then as Flore, alongside Monseigneur, in Entrée XIX. Marie Anne Christine de Bavière surprised everyone during the run of court performances of Le Triomphe de l’Amour, as the Mercure Galant recorded.
‘Madame la Dauphine qui s’estoit fait admirer dans toutes les siennes par sa justesse à la dance, s’attira de nouvelles acclamations le second jour qu’elle parut. Aussi fit-elle une chose assez extraordinaire. Madame la Princesse de Conty estant malade, & n’ayant pû dancer ses Entrées, le Roy dit deux heures avant le Balet, qu’il falloit que Madame la Dauphine en dançant quelqu’une. Son dessein n’estoit pas que ce fust dés ce jour mesme. Cependant cette Princesse apprit sur l’heure une grande Entrée toute remplie de figures, & dans laquelle il y a plus de douze reprises. Ainsi toute la Cour fut fort étonnée de luy avoir vû faire en moins de deux heures, ce qu’une Personne moins intelligente n’auroit pas appris en quinze jours.’
This story is perhaps less well known to dance historians than it deserves.
The Princesse de Conti, Marie-Anne de Bourbon (1666-1739), was the daughter of Louis XIV and Louise de la Vallière and (despite her tender age) recently married to the Prince de Conti. She danced as a Nereïde in Entrée VI and as Ariane in Entrée XIII. Louis XIV’s insistence on the Dauphine dancing in place of the Princesse de Conti was perhaps to do with the appearance of Monseigneur among the Indiens de la Suite de Bacchus in Entrée XIV, which included a chaconne which is likely to have been performed by all the dancers in this scene.
Other royal dancers in Le Triomphe de l’Amour were Mademoiselle, Anne Marie d’Orléans (1669-1728) the daughter of the King’s brother Philippe and his first wife Henriette Anne. She was the first among the three Graces who appeared in the very first Entrée of the ballet.
The final Entrée of Le Triomphe de l’Amour was for La Jeunesse, performed by Mlle de Nantes the seven-year-old daughter of Louis XIV and Mme de Montespan. The Mercure Galant declared ‘Mademoiselle de Nantes dance seul. Elle s’en acquitte avec tant de grace, de legereté, & de justesse, qu’elle enchante tout le monde. Aussi n’a-t-on jamais vu personne qui eust l’oreille plus fine, ny plus d’agrément pour toute sorte de Dances’.
Another of the noble female dancers was Marie Antoinette de Béthune, Duchesse de Sully (1643-1702) who appeared as a Nymphe de Diane in Entrée IX, a Fille Grecque de la Suite d’Ariane in Entrée XIV and a Nymphe de Flore in Entrée XIX. She was an experienced participant in ballets de cour, for she had danced in place of the first Madame, Henriette Anne, in the title role of the Ballet de Flore in 1669. I have not been able to find a portrait of her.
Notable among the noblemen were the Comte de Brionne, the nineteen-year-old Henri de Lorraine (1661-1712), who danced as a Plaisir in Entrée III, a Dieu Marin in Entrée VI and as Bacchus in Entrée XIII and M. de Mimurre, who danced alongside Brionne in Entrées III and VI, as an Indien de la Suite de Bacchus in Entrée XIV and as Zephire in Entrée XIX when Monseigneur did not take the role.
The professional dancers had more to do individually than the nobles, for most of them danced three or four roles apiece. One exception was Pierre Beauchamps (1631-1705), who took only the role of Mars in scene 2 – he is also credited with creating the choreography for Le Triomphe de l’Amour. Beauchamps was supported by courtiers as his Guerriers, together with more courtiers as Amours as well as the ‘Petits Danceurs’ mentioned earlier. The livret’s description hints at pantomime well as dancing and action in this scene. Mars appears armed among his Guerriers showing that he loves only ‘les Combats, le sang, & le carnage’ – which suggests that Entrée IV was a form of Pyrrhic Dance. He is disarmed by the Amours, who chain him with garlands of flowers before dancing to celebrate their victory over the god of war. This design by Berain is either for Mars or a Guerrier.
Borée and Orithye in scene 4 were both performed by professional dancers. Guillaume-Louis Pecour was Borée with Faüre as Orithye – all the female roles in this scene were danced by men en travesti. The livret’s description of the scene again suggests some pantomime as well as dance and mimed action. Borée watches Orithye from a distance and when he approaches her is overcome with love. Orithye is frightened by him and her companions the Filles Athéniennes try to defend her but ‘les vents qui suivent Borée escartent les Athéniennes, & donnent moyen à Borée d’enlever Orithye’. The following designs by Berain are for the Followers of Borée and Orithye.
In scene 5, devoted to Diane and Endymion, the professional dancer Favier l’aîne was Endymion. Jean Favier is well-known for his 1688 mascarade Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos, recorded in his own system of dance notation. This scene brought together noble and professional dancers, with the Dauphine and noblewomen as the Nymphes de Diane, noblemen as Songes and finally professional dancers as the Peuples de Carie (who were also represented by a chorus of singers as they called upon the goddess to return to the night sky). This engraving shows Berain’s design for Endymion.
The god Apollon made his appearance in scene 8, danced by Lestang le cadet, followed by Lestang l’aîné as Pan. Apollo’s followers – Bergers héroïques – were all professional dancers, as were the Faunes that accompanied Pan. This was the last scene with professional dancers, although Le Triomphe de l’Amour closed with a ‘Danse generale’ by Apollon and his Bergers héroïques, Pan with his Faunes, Zephirs, Nymphes de Flore and the Jeux bringing a total of 27 dancers onto the stage. The livret makes no mention of Zephire, Flore or La Jeunesse, so presumably these royal dancers did not take part in the ballet’s finale.
Despite the scale of the performance, Le Triomphe de l’Amour had only one set throughout ‘un Lieu magnifique orné, & que l’on a disposé pour y recevoir l’Amour qui doit y venir en triomphe’, shown in this engraving from the livret.
There is far more to be said about Le Triomphe de l’Amour both at court and at the Paris Opéra and I may well return to this ballet in due course. In the meantime, here are some of the modern sources I have used in putting together this post.
James R. Anthony. French Baroque Music from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau (Portland, Or, 1997)
Barbara Coeyman, ‘Lully’s influence on the organization and performance of the “Ballet de Cour” after 1672’ in Jean-Baptiste Lully. Actes du Colloque … 1987 (Laaber, 1990)
Jérôme de La Gorce, Berain, dessinateur du Roi Soleil (Paris, 1986)
Jérôme de La Gorce, Féeries d’opéra (Paris, 1997)
Rebecca Harris-Warrick, Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera (Cambridge, 2016)
Philippe Quinault, Le Triomphe de l’Amour in Benserade. Ballets pour Louis XIV, ed. Marie-Claude Canova-Green. 2 vols. (Toulouse, 1997), volume 2