This paper examines the transition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ theories of ballet as drama in France, particularly those of C.-F. Ménestrier (1682), L. de Cahusac (1754), and J. -G. Noverre (1760). Ménestrier was one of the first theorists on ballet as drama in early modern France. He defined “unité de dessein” as rules specific to ballet for their construction to differentiate an authoritative rule in the era of “unité d'action”. In “unité de dessein”, the ballet is composed by conducting the subject; in other words, enumerating all elements of the subject. Therefore, a ballet could contain some actions and present diverse places and times. Meanwhile, describing the history of dance, Cahusac recognized that ballet changed in Quinault’s opera, as it was incorporated into the principal action of the opera. That is, Cahusac introduced the idea of “action” into ballet. However, the important point is, while in the tradition of “unité d'action” the unity lies in the consistency in creating works, the action in Cahusac’s definition is intended for the unity of audience’s interest. He insisted that if ballet sustained the audience’s interest by incorporating itself into the principal action, the audience’s soul could be touched. Noverre agreed with the concept of action as unity of the audience’s interest; however, he emphasized the unity of a scene, which is more momentary than the successive action in Cahusac’s definition. Noverre strongly criticized allegoric costumes or narrative monologues in ballet because they destroy the optical unity of the scene. Rather, he believed that the scene should consist of physical expressions, which imitate the passion of the character. In that case, the scene could achieve optical unity, and the content expressed by the scene could be read naturally and immediately by the audience.
Based on the above, it can be said that although the theories of ballet as drama had already begun to be discussed by Ménestrier, who was succeeded by Cahusac and Noverre, the important aspects of the unity of ballet changed between the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The origin of unity of ballet as drama in Ménestrier’s definition is the author who conducts the subject, and the work itself contains some actions and diverse places and times. On the other hand, Cahusac and Noverre agreed upon the concept of action aiming for the unity of audience’s interest. That is, the principle of unity shifts from author to audience. Particularly, Noverre’s concept of action is important in ballet as drama because the dance is not the only medium of expression. Rather, the allegoric costumes or narrative monologues play an important role in the narrative. However, Noverre pursued action as the unity of a scene for the audience’s interest, and created a scene expressed by physical expressions and therefore understood immediately and naturally by the audience. Thus, the story of ballet as drama began to be told by physical expression, and ballet in its current form was born.
In today’s world, the Internet has become an integral facet that conditions our lives both epistemologically and ontologically. Thus, a theater work that engages with the problem of Internet also should situate it as the center of its dramaturgy, not merely as a topic in the story or as spectacular décor. Firefall, by New York-based playwright and director John Jesurun, which premiered in 2009, can be regarded as such a work. On one hand, the piece engages with the technology of computers and the Internet and, on the other, has a dramatic text. This duality is, as theater critic Bonnie Marranca said, the distinctive feature of the piece. This paper aims to clarify the details of this duality and its effect and, thus, evaluate Firefall as a response from theater arts to a post-Internet world.
This paper focuses on two issues from Firefall. The first can be referred to as an access to reality. In Firefall, Jesurun constructed a purpose-built website and performers and staff used their respective laptops to access the site during the performance. Considering the actual existence of the Internet to which the Firefall website belongs, we can find here an access to the reality that destabilizes the closed completion of a piece of work as fiction.
More important is the second issue, the unrelatedness of the double task and the consequent suspense. As stated above, performers were required to operate laptops while simultaneously acting the roles of fictional characters. As a result, this double task is literally irrelevant; for example, they do not paradoxically illuminate the other task as seemingly irrelevant counterpoints. In the course of the performance, a performer who is designated as an “interrupter” occasionally disrupts the others’ acting by abruptly playing movies on the website. However, given the above-mentioned irrelevancy, what this interruption brings should not be understood as a sort of Brechtian A-effect. It is a suspended moment that is separated from both operating gestures and representational acting and can be considered to be an accident in the performance.
In the conclusion section, referring to a discussion about failure by performance studies scholar Sara Jane Bailes, I propose an understanding that interprets Firefall’s accident as a generative moment. It is the moment when the exteriority of technology to our lives becomes obvious and thereby, in fact, brings a better understanding of it. Then, the border of success and failure would become more obscure.
On Broadway and West End, the new millennium regarded as an era of juke-box and movie musicals. However, there is another trend, including Urinetown (2001), The Producers (2001), Avenue Q (2003), Spamalot (2005), The Drowsy Chaperone (2006), The Book of Mormon (2011), and Something Rotten! (2015). These shows share several aspects that differ from juke-box musicals and movie musicals. This essay aims to reevaluate these musicals as metamusicals: an alternative genre of musical theater that emerged around the 2000s. Regarding this kind of musicals, Kathryn Edney argued that City of Angels (1989) was one of the first “hyper-aware” musicals. In Showtime, Larry Stempel referred to shows such as Urinetown, Avenue Q, and The Drowsy Chaperone as “self-reflexive.” Osanai Shin categorized The Producers, Spamalot, and The Drowsy Chaperone as “meta musicals”—along with revivals of backstage musicals such as Kiss Me, Kate (1999) and 42nd Street (2001). Reviews by notable theater critics, such as Ben Brantley, also share this viewpoint regarding these musicals. However, while they mention the possibility of the emergence of a new genre of musical theater, their analyses are sporadic and disagree on some points, such as which shows might be included in this new trend. As the analysis of this essay reveals, these shows are basically musical comedies filled with self-references but not necessarily backstage musicals. Rather, these musicals are saturated with inside jokes, parodies, and self-referential spoofs even though they are not necessarily backstage musicals. In this regard, there is a sharp distinction between the shows produced before and after the turn of the century. As in The Drowsy Chaperone, The Book of Mormon, and Something Rotten!, self-referential jokes are not merely a device of musical comedy to entertain its audience. Instead, they consists the main body of the show. In these metamusicals, characters are aware that they are in musicals. In fact, they are hyperaware of their existence in a musical. They comment on how musicals should be and how they feel about certain songs, and they often complain about the show they are in. At the same time, the plot of the show comments on itself as being a musical. All in all, metamusicals examine the relevance of the conventions of musical in this postmodern world.
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Edited and published by : Japanese Society for Theatre Research. Comparative Theatre Section Produced and listed by : Odanaka Lab, Department of Culture asRepresentation, Graduate School of Literature and Human Sciences,Osaka City University