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4 - The Ballet-Divertissement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2021

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Summary

The most prevalent form of music-hall ballet was the divertissement. It was the first type of ballet to be adopted by the Folies-Bergère in the early 1870s, and it remained the hall's primary choreographic genre for nearly twenty years. Although the Folies-Bergère produced far fewer divertissements after Marchand turned to presenting pantomime-ballets in the late 1880s, the hall, along with the Casino and Olympia, continued to stage them through the 1890s and beyond. Divertissements could also be seen in smaller Parisian music halls and in the many halls that sprang up in the provinces in the wake of the Folies-Bergère's success. Together, French music halls produced hundreds of divertissements between the 1870s and 1910s.

Music-hall divertissements were typically short, lightweight ballets with little or no plot. Most consisted of loosely structured series of dances accompanied by music of utmost melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic simplicity. They were often thematically and stylistically derivative, and they did not require concentrated attention or any previous knowledge of the conventions of ballet. Despite this simplicity, their importance to music-hall ballet cannot be overstated. Divertissements constitute a self-contained, if constantly fluctuating, repertoire with direct links to various contemporary forms of ballet, from divertissements in large-scale works staged by the Paris Opéra or boulevard theaters to ballets created in English music halls. Although a few features were unique to the divertissement repertoire of a given period, many were either carried over into the large-scale ballets of the 1890s or prompted new developments in music-hall pantomime-ballet. Early divertissements therefore form the context in which music-hall pantomime-ballets were perceived and understood, and our own understanding of popular pantomime-ballet depends in part on a familiarity with the formal structures, topics, musical practices, and visual characteristics of early music-hall divertissements.

The Divertissement at the Folies-Bergère, 1871–82

The Folies-Bergère staged at least sixty divertissements in its initial fifteen years. Those from the early 1870s were truly ephemeral; for many, all we know is their title and authors. Nearly all had music composed by the hall's conductor, Olivier Métra, and most were choreographed by the young Mariquita or by M. Bertotto, who may have been the hall's ballet mistress and master.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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