By Christine Colosimo
On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, at the Temple University Dance Studies Colloquium, our very own distinguished professor, Dr. Mark Franko presented a paper entitled, “Parade as a Critical Concept in French Interwar Theory.” Dr. Franko, an eminent scholar in the field of dance studies, has authored eight books, including his most recent, The Fascist Turn in the Dance of Serge Lifar: French Interwar Ballet and the German Occupation, which is forthcoming in June of 2020. This evening’s colloquium talk acted as a sneak preview of Franko’s forthcoming book as he introduced some of its materials, ideologies and theories.
As many of you may know, Dr. Mark Franko is a virtuosic dance researcher and professor of dance. He holds degrees in French literature from the Department of French and Romance Philology, Columbia University. He was a dancer and is a choreographer. His critical theory in developing this new book is informed by his extensive knowledge of both French culture and his career as dancer and choreographer. Through a genealogy of French history and ballet, Franko began the colloquium talk by differentiating terms, such as classicism, neoclassicism, modern, modernity and the modern, all complex and difficult concepts to understand and delineate.
Franko’s talk began with the one act ballet entitled Parade which was choreographed in 1917 for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Parade was conceived by Jean Cocteau and choreographed by the famous dancer, Leonide Massine. The music for this ballet was composed one year earlier, in 1916, by Erik Satie. Pablo Picasso designed the scenery and costumes. Of significance is the partnership between Picasso (paint), Massine (dance), and Satie (music) and Cocteau (libretto, direction, performance) which, until the premier of Parade, had not yet happened. Parade bridges the modern ideal of cubism with ballet theater and modern, contemporary music. You can see from the photos that the costumes and sets are apropos of the plastique arts in Paris at this time. Parade premiered in Paris, France at the Theatre du Châtelet.
The idea behind the ballet Parade and the collaboration between Picasso, Satie and Massine was that of playwright, poet and novelist, Jean Cocteau. Cocteau was the focus of Franko’s talk. Franko is clear to point out that his research is not actually about Parade as a French 1917 ballet, but rather, his talk is about the idea of parade in French performance history. He explained this difference through his theoretical framing of ballet, the return of the “neo” in ballet, and located one aspect of French neoclassicism within the idea of Parade. For me, thinking about the neoclassical in this way is new, but Franko’s theory gives one pause to stop and rethink what is neoclassical.
Ultimately, the topic of Dr. Franko’s talk is about finding “a kind of alternate neoclassicism” within the ballet, Parade. He frames his research in terms of the neoclassical within the limits of French ballet, which focuses on the 1920s and 1930s. He then poses the question, when is classicism, and who has ownership of classicism; the Greek, the French or the Russians? This question has long vexed dance scholars.
Focusing primarily on the writings of Jean Cocteau, Franko compares the latter’s theory on poetic populism with French poet, Paul Valery’s ideology of self-rejuvenating mimesis. He states that dance is an unstable artifact, one which is expressive of cultural and national identity. In his argument, he turns his attention to the folkloric, which is rooted in seventeenth century courtly dance, and introduces discourse around the problems of tradition. Bridging the folkloric to the classic through his framing of ballet is interesting. It sheds a new perspective on that which we think of as neoclassicism.
In conclusion, Franko’s re-reading of Cocteau finds that there is a populist version of neoclassicism, which can be seen in the ballet Parade.
Lastly, for those of you who have never seen Parade, a 2017 version is available for streaming on Medici TV. Leonide Massine’s son, Lorca Messine, sets the original choreography on the Corps de Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in Pompeii, Italy. Only twenty-five minutes, the ballet is well worth a viewing. As Eleonora Abbagnato, the director of the Opera di Roma’s Ballet says, “These ballets belong to the history of dance but at the same time are very modern.”