Academy of Dance
Director: Prof. Birgit Keil
The Mannheim Ballet and Academy of Ballet in the Past and Present
In the history of dance, Mannheim plays a role of equal pivotal importance to its place in the history of music. Just as the instrumental music of the Vienna classical period had the renowned schools of Mannheim to thank for their crucial stimulus, the Mannheim Ballet and its masters were heavily involved in the reform of the ballet of the eighteenth century; a reform that for the first time ever transformed ballet into a dramatic form that was reliant exclusively on expressive dance and independent of the spoken word.
The cultivation of ballet, which is closely associated with the electoral court theatre, has been traced as far back as the beginning of the eighteenth century and the influences of ballet master Paul de Floris (from 1717), decades before the art appreciating elector Karl Theodor fashioned Mannheim into one of the most distinguished cultural centres of the German Empire.
A significant impetus was introduced with the opening of the opera house in 1742, which was built by Alessandro Galli-Bibiena and was praised by travellers such as Charles Burney for its magnificence and technical perfection. The choreographer Charles Gardel, whose son Maximilien was born in Mannheim in 1741 and who later became an important ballet master at the Paris Opéra, worked here and collaborated on the opening of the opera house. Engaged from Lyon in 1742, the Lauchery family of dancers made a great contribution that included performances by the two prima ballerinas, Lauchery la maggiore and Lauchery la minore. Étienne Lauchery (1732-1820) played an eminent role as one of the most important exponents of the new theatrical ballet movement. In collaboration with his Mannheim musician colleagues Cannabich, Toeschi and Fränzl, he was able to successfully put this new style of ballet to the test at the court theatre of Kassel in the 1760s. He then returned to Mannheim in 1772, bringing his new ballet style to a glittering high-point, which is still reflected today by the 50 printed librettos and some of the few remaining scores.
The work of André Bouqueton is also of significance for a very particular reason. As a choreographer at the electoral theatre from the middle of the 1750s, his ballets perhaps tended to be less experimental but focussed rather on divertissements and spectacular stage effects, which usually formed the highlight of the evening as intermissions of the operas or conclusions to French comedies. However, Bouqueton's greatest contribution was the establishment of one of the first European academies of dance in Mannheim in around 1762, which was indeed before Vienna (1771 by Noverre!) and long before Milan and Moscow. Led by Lauchery from 1772, the aim of this institution was to encourage the rising generation of talented Germans and to fulfil the huge demand for ballet dancers (often over 80 performers). "The ballets are indeed magnificent and complete, and all the dancers are trained here” reported the famous Gothaer Theatre Calendar on the subject of Mannheim for the year 1777.
Despite only working briefly in Mannheim in 1769/70, a further choreographer of great importance is Signor Fabiani. Formerly a member of the company of the ballet reformers Franz Anton Hilverding and Casparo Angiolini, he demonstrably generated the connection with Vienna, which was indeed the most important centre of the ballet reform. It is interesting to note in this light that theatres in both Vienna and Mannheim were accessible to the wider bourgeois public and were not only intended for the courtly society, as was the case at Duke Karl Eugen’s court theatres in Stuttgart and Ludwigsburg where Noverre was working at that time. The high level of estimation enjoyed by the Mannheim Theatre ballet is reflected not only by the number of performances that were given every year but also by the unusually high level of remuneration accorded to this discipline.
With the move of the electoral residence to Munich, theatre in Mannheim became an affair entirely for the aspiring and self-confident bourgeoisie. In the period that followed, interest subsequently increased in the drama that was being practised at the National Theatre. Dance and ballet were then only cultivated in private circles and schools.
Soon after the foundation of the Mannheim Conservatoire at the start of the nineteenth century, it was recognized that dance was also an indispensable necessity for an comprehensive artistic education. However, attempts to establish ballet again at the theatre failed, with ballet being constrained to guest performances until the end of the nineteenth century. Numerous catalysts for such guest performances originated from Berlin where Etienne Lauchery (and later his son Albert) worked, playing an important part in the history of ballet until long into the Romantic Period.
It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that ballet became a staple element of the Mannheim National Theatre, enabling it to continue its great traditions. Under the leadership of ballet mistresses from Louise Dänike, to Lisa Kretschmar and their élèves, the basis was formed for ballet to flourish again in Mannheim. Moreover, particular highlights include important exponents of German Expressionist Dance, such as Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman (especially her Händel, Gluck and in particular her Orff productions) during the period between the wars and also after the Second World War.
With the establishment of the Academy of Dance at the Mannheim State University of Music and Performing Arts in 1971, which emerged from the Faculty of Dance of the University of Music, we have now come full circle, with a history that stretches back to the great traditions of Mannheim in the eighteenth century. Since 1997, the leadership of this institution has been in the capable hands of Professor Birgit Keil, the internationally celebrated star ballerina of the Stuttgart Ballet. Together with a highly qualified and motivated teaching staff, she builds on the tradition of the academy of Bouqueton and Lauchery, drawing from the past as she opens up the pathway to the future for young people from all over the world.
Prof. Dr. Sibylle Dahms, 02.04.2000