Tag Archives: Louis XIV

Louis XIV, Premier Danseur Noble

Louis XIV is the only dancer, among the many nobles and professionals who appeared in the ballets de cour, to repeatedly attract the attention of scholars. His rank and the extent of his repertoire make any appraisal of his dancing career a challenge. The King performed some 68 roles in 24 ballets de cour, together with at least one role in a comédie-ballet, from 1651 to 1669, a period of nearly twenty years.

I list all these roles below. I will limit myself to just a few observations about them. There is more work to be done on Louis XIV premier danseur, but as much (if not more) research is needed on his dancing contemporaries if we are to reach a proper understanding of his involvement in the ballet de cour.

The King took some roles more than once. He danced the role of le Soleil (the Sun) three times:  le Soleil levant, Ballet de la Nuit (1653); le Soleil, Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux (1662); le Soleil, Ballet de Flore (1669). Despite the frequent identification of the Sun with Apollo, Louis XIV danced the latter role only once, in Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (1654). He appeared as a Maure in three ballets, as Printemps (Spring) in three and as a Berger (Shepherd) in three. These few roles give us an idea of his range as a dancer.

Between 1651 and 1666, Louis also danced seven female roles:

1651 Ballet des Festes de Bacchus (Bacchante; Muse)

1654 Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (Furie; Dryade)

1661 Ballet des Saisons (Cérès)

1663 Les Noces de Village (Fille de Village)

1666 Ballet des Muses (Nymphe)

His first such appearance was at the age of thirteen and the last took place when Louis was twenty-eight.

Louis XIV began to dance in public when he was thirteen and ceased when he was thirty-one.  Over the period of his dancing career, he not only danced alongside his own courtiers but he also appeared with the leading professional dancers of the time.

Louis XIV’s dancing roles in ballets de cour and other entertainments:

1651 Ballet de Cassandre 

(III: Chevalier Suivant de Cassandre. XI:  Tricotet Poitevin)

1651 Ballet des Festes de Bacchus

(IV: Filou. VIII: Devin. XVIII: Bacchante. XXII: Homme de Glace. XXVII: Titan. XXX: Muse)

[an entrée with Louis XIV as a Coquette was suppressed]

1653 Ballet de la Nuit

(Part 1. I: Heure. Part 2. II: Jeu. Part 3. VI: Ardent. XI. Curieux.  Part 4. II: Furieux. X: Le Soleil Levant)

1654 Ballet des Proverbes

(Part 1. IV: ‘Tout ce qui reluit n’est pas or’. X: Maure. Part 2. II: Attaquant. XI: Espagnol)

1654 Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis

(I: Apollo. IV: Furie. VI: Dryade. VIII: Academiste de Chiron habillé en Indien. IX: Courtisan. [X]: La Guerre)

Louis XIV as La Guerre in Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (1654). Workshop of Henry de Gissey.

Louis XIV as La Guerre in Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (1654). Workshop of Henry de Gissey.

1654 Ballet du Temps

(Part 1. II: Moment. XII: Siecle d’Or. Part 2. VI: Printemps. XI: Feu)

1655 Ballet des Plaisirs

(Part 1. I: Jeune Berger. XII: Egyptien. Part 2. I: Desbauché. XI: Genie de la Danse)

1655 Ballet des Bienvenus

(Part 2. II: Partie de la Renommée)

1656 Ballet de Psyché

(Part 1. II: Printemps. XII: Esprit Folet. Part 2. XII: Pluton)

1656 Ballet de la Galanterie du Temps

II, X: Galant

1657 Ballet de l’Amour Malade

(I: Divertissement.  X: Parent des Mariez)

1658 Ballet de l’Alcidiane

(Part 1. I: La Haine. Part 2. I: Eole. VI: Demon. Part 3:  VII. Maure)

1659 Ballet de la Raillerie

(I: Ris. V: Le Bonheur. XII: Gentilhomme Français)

1661 Ballet Royal de l’Impatience

(Part 1. I: Grand Amoureux. Part 2. IV: Jupiter. Part 3. III: Chevalier de l’ancienne Chevalerie)

1661 Ballet des Saisons

(IV: Cérès. VIII: Printemps)

1662 Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux

(I: Maison de France. VIII: Pluton. IX: Mars. XVII: Le Soleil)

1663 Ballet des Arts

(I: Berger)

1663 Les Noces de Village

(VIII: Fille de Village)

[He apparently did not dance, as announced, as a Bohémien in entrée XIII.]

1664 Ballet des Amours Déguisés

(VII: Regnaut)

1665 Ballet de la Naissance de Vénus

(Part 2. VI: Alexandre)

[1665 La Réception

(X: Paysan)]

1666 Ballet des Muses

(IV: Berger. VI: Espagnol. VIII: Cyrus. XII: Nymphe. XIV: Maure)

1668 Le Carnaval

(I: Plaisir. VI: Masque Serieux)

1669 Ballet de Flore (2)

(I: Soleil. XV: Européen)

Louis XIV did not appear in the Ballet des Plaisirs Troublés (1657), Ballet de Xerxes (1660), Le Triomphe de Bacchus (1666).

He danced as an Egyptien in the III entrée of the comédie-ballet Le Mariage Forcé (1664). He probably did not dance the roles in the first and last entrées (Intermède 1. I: Neptune. Intermède 6. V: Apollon) intended for him in the comédie-ballet Les Amants Magnifiques (1670).

The Ballets de Cour of Louis XIV

Among the most significant works for the creation of modern ballet were the ballets de cour of Louis XIV. Louis succeeded to the throne of France in 1643, before he had reached the age of five. Between 1648 and 1669, some 26 ballets de cour were performed. Louis XIV made his dancing debut at the age of twelve in 1651, in the Ballet de Cassandre. His last performance may have been in 1670, in the comédie-ballet Les Amants magnifiques, when he was 31 (his appearance in this work is uncertain). He danced in many ballets de cour, alongside his family and his courtiers. These high-ranking amateurs were trained and supported by skilled professional dancers, who must have created the choreographic content of these hybrid works.

Nicolas de Larmessin. Louis XIV. 1661. © Trustees of the British Museum

Nicolas de Larmessin. Louis XIV. 1661. © Trustees of the British Museum

The ballets de cour ultimately gave way to the comèdies-ballets created by the actor and dramatist Molière and the court composer and dancer Lully. These works, performed between 1661 and 1671 (the most important date to 1669 – 1671), had a largely professional cast. They were succeeded from 1672 by Lully’s operas, which included much dancing and were performed in Paris on the public stage by professionals. I will return to the dancers and dancing in these.

Louis XIV’s ballets de cour have been studied in some detail, although little attention has been paid to the development of the style and technique, and the conventions, of the dancing we now call ballet. Apart from the King himself, one of the most important dancers in the court ballets was a professional – Pierre Beauchamps, his dancing master, who performed several roles in nearly every ballet de cour. Louis XIV and Beauchamps, between them, established the danseur noble – the leading male dancer in ballets ever since.

Beauchamps was credited with technical innovations, including the codification of the five positions of the feet still used in ballet today (Pierre Rameau, Le Maître a danser. Paris, 1725, p. 9). This was only possible once turn-out of the legs and feet had become the norm. Beauchamps must surely have developed this and other ideas in the course of his work in the ballets de cour.

The ballets de cour also saw the emergence of the ballerina – the leading female dancer in ballets – and laid the foundation of a repertoire of stories and characters that have not entirely been relinquished by theatre dance even today. I will also return to these themes.