The range of possibilities for what was termed a ball in eighteenth-century France was quite considerable. At one extreme were the carefully regulated bals parés
, at the other were the elaborately staged bals masqués
. Alternatively, a bal
could also be an entirely impromptu affair. Throughout this colorful range of possibilities the repertoire of dance styles and types was generally shared: danses figures
, new as well as old, for couples; and group dances, among which the contredanse
There was another kind of ball, however, that has not yet been examined systematically by scholars. The bals publics held at the opera house in Paris were initiated not long after Louis XIV's death in 1715 and remained popular until the fall of the ancienne régime. The bal public was unlike any other kind of ball although, as with bals masqués, those in attendance were masked. By 1744 there was a dramatic shift in social modeling from the royal balls at Versailles (and elsewhere) to the public balls at the Opera.
This book explores the advent and early development of the bal public through 1763 when a fire destroyed the home of the Académie Royale de Musique (the 'Opera') and addresses the question of how the bal public might have influenced social dancing more generally.
: Richard Semmens, PhD, is professor of music history, specializing in music and dance of the baroque period at Western University, Canada. He received both a BMus (1973) and MMus (1975) from the University of British Columbia and was awarded a PhD in musicology from the early music performance program at Stanford University in 1980.
Semmens has offered a wide range of courses in music history, including topics in medieval, Renaissance, 17th- and 18th-century music, earlier musical notations, and performance practices. He focuses his research on the theory and practice of music and dance of France and England and is particularly interested in the social institutions that nurtured music-making and dance practices. Dr. Semmens also directs the Faculty’s Early Music Studio, a student ensemble specializing in the historically informed performance of music from the late 16th to late 18th centuries on copies of period instruments.
In 2005, he was selected by the Fulbright Association to present the Selma Jeanne Cohen International Dance Scholarship lecture.