The “ballet d'action”, meaning the “ballet with a narrative or a story”, was a genre of ballet that emerged in the 18th century. This genre originally sought for becoming a “drama”. Although it later underwent such a change that it became, by the age of the Romanticism, a sort of spectacle, and although its narratives then came to be seen merely as pretexts or “texts as excuse” for the spectacle, what had been achieved in the earlier stage of the development of “ballet d'action” seems to have had significant influence on dramatic dances which flourished in the twentieth century. So I question, in this paper, how and in which way the early “ballet d'action” was able to construct itself as a kind of “mute drama”, without ignoring, of course, also the spectacular aspect of it.
I first examine articles of performance reviews at that time to find pertinent successful pieces and then analyze the scenarios. As a result, the following observations are possible. Main characters of “ballet d'action” are often getting absorbed in something: a device that creates such situations where they can remain totally mute. For instance, they are getting absorbed in a game of love (as is seen in many pieces) or artistic creation (as in Pygmalion or Apelles et Campaspe), or getting self-absorbed as in Dansomanie or Somnambule. At the same time, certain inner conflicts of the characters undoubtedly accompany these absorptions. Further, those actions of being absorbed in something are often superposed on swiftly changing, spectacular “tableaus” on the stage. Consequently, the main characters' inner conflicts can stand out in contrast to the balletic background.
In the 1880s, Sarah Bernhardt, famous actress of the fin-de-siècle in France, started playing oriental heroines in historical dramas. Above all, her performance in Victorien Sardou's Théodora became an immense hit. Reading the script of Théodora and the reviews from the time, we can clearly recognize that Sardou strategically made use of various images attached to Sarah Bernhardt—an exotic Jewish woman, a courtesan, or a woman of endless gossip—as dramaturgical elements for his well-made play.
In Théodora, Sarah Bernhardt played the role of the Byzantine empress who died for love of a young Greek. Here the implication was: “The East-Woman sacrifices herself for the West-Man.” This way of representing an oriental woman appealed so much to the spectators' desire for cathartic fantasy, who were living in the spiritual climate of France in the late 19th century with its colonialism, racism, and anxiety about the modern “New Woman”.
Although the box-office-success of Théodora and other oriental pieces enabled Sarah Bernhardt to establish herself as an independent actress, she was not satisfied with the commercialist and stereotypic heroines in that direction. That was the reason why she later sought certain “self-representation” in male roles and patriotic dramas. The gendered racial representation in her oriental pieces should be evaluated as a motivation to recover her “self-representation” in French male roles.
In my previous article “Aristotle's Theory on Acting”, I showed that Aristotle's idea was a theoretical source of the European modern non-musical and prosaic theatre. But we can find another theoretical source which defends a musical and versified theatre in the thought of Middle Stoa, especially of Diogenes of Babylon (c. 240-c. 152BC), restored thanks to a new edition of Philodemus' On Music (2007).
Referring to Plato's theory of musical education, Diogenes justifies the Hellenistic form of the tragedy performance, focusing on the solo chant of “tragic singers [tragôidoi]”. This celebration of musical theatre is also based on the Stoic view of language and religion, which favours musical and versified speeches, considered as a natural manifestation of the greatness of gods and virtuous men, and as an auto-celebration of the life itself. According to Heraclides Ponticus, a pupil of Plato, Diogenes affirms that the musical acting practice can lead to all virtues. This theory considers the acting [hupokrisis] not as an act of disguising (“hypocrisy”), but as the means of constructing oneself as a virtuous man, referring to the model of “tragic singers” who construct their musical body through everyday training. This way of thinking about the musical, acting body offers a vision totally different from Aristotle's, who considered the same kind of body as the body of a slave.
In Ningyo Joruri (or Bunraku Puppet Plays), there is a group of pieces depicting the “Taiko” (Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 1537?-1598) himself or other relevant figures. These plays are now generally called “Taikoki-mono.” One of the most major plays in the group is Ehon Taikoki (The Taiko's Exploit, first performed in 1799), a play based on a historical act of “treason” called the “Honnoji no hen” (“Honnoji Incident”), in which Akechi Mitsuhide (?-1582), one of the important feudal lords (daimyos) subjected to Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), made a surprise attack on the latter and forced him to a suicide.
This paper analyses the individual characterization of the “traitor” Takechi Mitsuhide (associating the historical Akechi Mitsuhide) as the protagonist of Ehon Taikoki. For this, I compare the figure of Takechi Mitsuhide and his “treason” with some corresponding “traitors” and acts of “treason” in other Taikoki-mono-plays that are also based on the “Honnoji no hen”.
Through such analysis, this paper finds out that the notion of “treason” in the Edo-period was more fluid than scholars of today tend to consider. Actually, the understanding of “treason” in Taikoki-mono-plays changed from piece to piece, according to who was in power and from what standpoint the acts of “treason” was viewed. Although Takechi Mitsuhide in Ehon Taikoki acts against the Confucian ideology of the Edo-period, he is not simply a villain: the co-authors of the piece have given certain “righteousness” to the acts of the protagonist, so that a strong dramatic tension between him and other characters has been created.