The Styles of Eighteenth-Century Ballet
(2003 Scarecrow Press)
The current notion of ballet history holds that the theatrical dance of the eighteenth century was simple, earthbound, and limited in range of motion, scarcely different from the ballroom dance of the same period. Contemporary opinion also maintains that this early form of ballet was largely a stranger to the tours de force of grand jumps, multiple turns, and lifts so typical of classical ballet, owing to a supposed prevailing sense of Victorian-like decorum. The Styles of Eighteenth-Century Ballet explodes this utterly false view of ballet history, showing that there were in fact a variety of different styles of dance cultivated in this era, from the simple to the remarkably difficult, from the dignified earthbound to the spirited airborne, from the gravely serious to the grotesquely ridiculous. This is a fascinating exploration of the various styles of eighteenth-century dance covering ballroom and ballet, the four traditional styles of theatrical dance, regional preferences for given styles, and the importance of caprice, dance according to gender, the overall voluptuous nature of stage dancing, and finally dance notation and costume. Fairfax takes the reader on an in-depth journey through the world of ballet in the age of Mozart, Boucher, and Casanova.
…a scholarly, well-researched, but very readable work on the development of ballet in the 1700s….Even non-history buffs will want to invest in [this] book. (Dancer)
An enormously valuable work of scholarship. (Eighteenth-Century Studies)
This forthright book addresses many misconceptions surrounding eighteenth-century dance. Its author, schooled in music, fashion design, languages, classical ballet and Baroque dance, is well placed to address these myths….Fairfax’s careful selection and shaping of copious quotations from primary sources should convince all but the most blinkered reader that this period’s dances and dancers were anything by primitive….a wealth of new material and interpretations…This book is planned as the first in a series of three studies: volume two will consider technique, while the final volume will cover pantomime ballet. Fairfax has challenged many of our perceptions with a clear-sighted approach to constructing history, working from the declared philosophy that a historical document read in isolation is not actual “history”. Given Fairfax’s striking conclusions and the breadth of his reading, we can anticipate that the other volumes will also break new ground in dance history. (Eighteenth-Century Music)
…explores an important subject that has received little attention in the past, has been treated piecemeal when it did, and is finally tackled here with confidence, over a broad base of data….The project is colossal, the material is rich, and the book is dense with quotations, packed with fascinating information that the reader must absorb at the frenzied pace set by an author who capers his way up and down the eighteenth century and back and forth across European borders….Fairfax’s gift to dance history is substantial… (Dance Chronicle)
Dance Notation (in progress)
In the 1680’s, the famous ballet dancer Pierre Beauchamps was requested by Louis XIV to invent a dance notation for recording the dances performed before the French king. Over 300 dances from the late seventeenth century and eighteenth century recorded in this notation, both recreational and theatrical pieces, have come down to us. While descriptions of the notation do survive from the period, they are for the most part cursory, and even the most in-depth fail to provide a complete explanation. And yet there has been little detailed scholarly investigation of Beauchamps’s brainchild. This study then, the first in a projected multi-volume work devoted to the technique of eighteenth-century ballet, is intended to fill the void, exploring not only the notation’s inception, dissemination, reception, and use, but also – and more importantly – its relationship to the dance technique of its age, to wit, how it represents, misrepresents, or fails to represent at all the conventionalized movements of eighteenth-century dance. And to this end, an overview is given of the fundamental features of the technique itself, which is poorly understood today.
More information concerning my dance research will be made available on a separate dedicated blogsite (eighteenthcenturyballet.com), to be launched this August (2017).