Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx

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Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx

The sixteenth-century Italian violinist, dancing master, and choreographer Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx (ca 1535-1587) went to France from Savoy in about 1555 in the suite of the Marechal de Brissac, and was employed by several royal households. He was rapidly noted for his talent at organizing court entertainment, and was appointed valet de chambre to Catherine de Medici, wife of Henri II. He served her and her three sons for 30 years.

Born Baldassare de Belgiojoso, he later became known as Beaujoyeulx or Beaujoyeux. It is thought that he may have collaborated in the mascarade Paradis d'Amour (1572). The following year he choreographed Le Ballet des Polonais to celebrate the election of Catherine's second son, the Duc d'Anjou, as King of Poland. Beaujoyeulx's most famous work is Le Ballet Comique de la Reine, which Queen Louise discussed with him personally beforehand. It was produced at the Louvre in Paris in 1581. He too was responsible for the libretto of the ballet, published the following year.

Academie de Musique et de Poesie

Beaujoyeulx is generally acknowledged to be the father of French Court ballet. He was much influenced by the theories of the Academie de Musique et de Poesie (1571), led by the poet, Jean-Antoine de Baif. In this society, poets, artists, musicians, and choreographers exchanged ideas in their desire to emulate the artistic achievements of antiquity. Inspired by the aims of the Academie to recreate classical drama and "vers et musique mesures a l'antique", in which verse, music, and dance were closely correlated, Beaujoyeulx attempted to synthesize dance steps with each musical note and phrase. Following the Pythagorean-Platonic belief that the underlying principle of the universe is to be found in numbers, he created his choreography according to mathematical and geometric floor patterns that had mystical and symbolic meanings. These patterns were designed to be seen from above, so that their meaning could be clearly understood. He described dance as the geometrical arrangements of several people dancing in a group, to the varying harmony of several instruments. His love of music is attested to by his frequent references to the beauty and novelty of the music of the Ballet Comique—in particular, that of the consorts in the Voulte Doree. He compares it to the celestial music of the spheres, which ravishes the soul with its exquisite harmonies. This praise suggests that the Academicians had made great progress in their attempts to create a more expressive musical style which would have beneficial ethical and emotional effects upon the listener.

Cosmic Order and Harmony

Beaujoyeulx's choreography was envisaged as a visual expression of this celestial music, an imitation of the movements of the heavenly spheres, in which the courtly ladies exhibited cosmic order and harmony on earth. The emphasis was on accuracy of timing and absolute precision in the use of space and floor patterns. The stylistic qualities were those of grace, charm, and elegance of movement. Beaujoyeulx praises the dexterity of the ladies' dancing in the Ballet Comique de la Reine, saying that one would have thought they were in battle formation, so well did they keep in time to the music and in their place. Everyone thought that Archimides himself would not have had a better understanding of geometrical proportions than did these princesses and ladies in this ballet. It has been suggested that the dancing in the court ballets was no different from ordinary social dancing. But although the same steps were used, the dances were especially choreographed for a specific occasion and theme. The description of the numerous figured dances in the Ballet Comique de la Reine shows the considerable complexity of the choreography.

Unity of the Arts

In a laudatory poem on the publication of Ballet Comique, Billard addressed Beaujoyeulx as "Geometre, inventif, unique en ta science." Geometrically patterned dance was not, in fact, a new invention. In the Ballet des Polonais, for example, the dancers trace figures in triangular and square formations. From earliest times and right through the Middle Ages, mathematics and number symbolism had been accorded a mystical status. But Beaujoyeulx's harmonizing of music, verse, and dance was generally acknowledged to be a new invention, one in which the Academy's aim to achieve a unity of the arts was fully realized. Moreover, this collaboration of poets, composers, and scenic designers under his overall direction marks the central importance of the choreographer in sixteenth-century French court ballet. Beaujoyeulx retired in 1584 and died in Paris around 1587.


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York Dance Review, Spring 1976. □