Théophile Gautier's "Ballet D'Action": Rewriting Dance History Through Criticism

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Dance Chronicle


This essay examines how critic and librettist Théophile Gautier retrospectively defined the term ballet d'action. Earlier ballet theorists and critics had used the term ballet en action to signify narrative ballet more generally, but Gautier derisively employed the term ballet d'action to refer to ballets steeped in pantomime and complicated narrative and relying on plot for cohesion. Moreover, he sharply contrasted ballets à spectacle, which placed a premium on visual elements, and dance for its own sake. In short, Gautier's writings lent credence to the notion of a distinct rupture between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century choreographic practices, rather than what actually took place—a gradual transition from ballet en action to ballet-pantomime. Although Gautier's distinct usage reflects the shifting values of the two periods, it also obscures the continuity of aesthetic preferences for narrative within the choreographic output of the rich theatrical period between 1790 and 1832.


Ballet, ballet d'action, ballet-pantomime, Romanticism, Théophile Gautier

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