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French Performing Arts in Denmark during the 18th Century: the French Myth in Migration

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This project is a study of the cultural relationships between France and Denmark during the Enlightenment, the use of performing arts as representations of the French myth abroad. The diaspora of French actors, musicians, and dancers in a context of migration represented a cosmopolitan image of power and culture associated with the French court and Versailles. In Copenhagen, this myth was received with mixed feelings of both admiration and a form of national resistance. French performers needed to tailor their productions to meet the expectations of their foreign audience. The politics of spectacle, theater and the controversies surrounding it played a central role in debates on universalist values and cultural differences between Frenchness and Danishness.


Studies of cultural transfer and migration have become quite popular and cover almost all Europe or even distant continents. Yet Scandinavia has still not appeared on the map. For the first time, I include the North in these studies, by focusing on a transnational mapping of French performing arts and artists on their road to Denmark. Moreover, this study is relevant not only for French and Danish history but more broadly for bringing new insights to the European politics of spectacle, cosmopolitanism and cultural differences, translation as a decontextualisation and recontextualisation process. This project is associated with the Château de Versailles and is a step towards building bridges and networks between Frederiksborg and Versailles, court culture, arts, and transnational history.


I intend to map the routes and the careers of French musicians, actors, and dancers working in Copenhagen. A variety of sources document the performance of French culture in Copenhagen. I will study the sources preserved at the Royal Library that are linked to performances in Copenhagen (theatre plays, scores, librettos, dance manuals), along with archival documents preserved both at the National Archives in Copenhagen and in Paris. Pamphlets, periodicals, and letters by both Danish and French agents in Denmark will also be investigated to document the critical reception of French performances in Denmark. Finally, I will focus on the translations of French plays and opéras comiques to enlighten how the original was adapted to its new audience.


Today, at a time when intolerance threatens democratic values, like never before since the end of the Second World War, I believe it is a good time to pause and remember some inalienable values established during the Enlightenment. At a time when politicians no longer sustain education, especially in the humanities, I believe history can offer us important lessons, and remind us how important it is never to forget the past. Migration is crucial today and raises huge societal, cultural, and political questions. Only few people realise that it happened many times before, with more or less successful adaptations, cultural clashes, and (in)tolerance. Fundamental Enlightenment values of tolerance and equality are of great relevance to our society, today more than ever.