Ballet Comique De La Reine
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Basic Information

Starting on October 15 of 1581, Catherine de' Medici (the Dowager Queen of France and the Queen Mother of Henry III of France) put on the world's first ballet (the Ballet Comique de la Reine) in Paris as part of a two-week celebration where she invited 10,000 people to come watch. Yep, 10,000 people. Bring your spyglass or opera glasses, a pillow, and some walking shoes. The ballet is over 5 hours long, and the set was scattered throughout the Hotel de Petit-Bourbon and adjacent Louvre Palace. You'll be moving from balcony to gallery to courtyard to see it all, and may have to elbow a duchess or two to ensure a good viewing spot.

The theme of the ballet is Circe's island of the Odyssey. Men being enchanted, and transformed into animals. Gods interfering in the affairs of mortals. There's a "hidden" subtext about divine right and the royal court you're viewing it in. Just as Circe was given her island by the gods, and as Odysseus was destined to reclaim the throne of Ithaca despite all resistance, so too Catherine's family was chosen by God to rule France. Maybe all of Europe. The viewer was left to connect the dots themself.

This was one of Catherine de' Medici's court festivals, also known as magnificences. The official reason for this particular celebration was the wedding of Marguerite of Lorraine to Anne, Duke of Joyeuse.

It's worth mentioning as well that this event marks the beginning of the French monarchy's patronage of ballet. In later generations, the excuse of ballet patronage was used by subsequent kings of France as a way to hide and house their illicit courtesans, mistresses and call girls. A patronage begun by Catherine de' Medici, whom it is well documented also employed an army of female spy-prostitutes to manipulate the noblemen of Europe. There may be more going on here than appears on the surface.



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