Music is a form of expression. It is a way of communicating an idea and telling a story. But music can be used in various ways. Throughout my life, I’ve found the power of music within my passion for dance. I enjoy finding different instrumental pieces and discovering how I can create movement based on them. However, my favorite part about creating choreography is letting myself go and using my experience in theatre to understand the power of conveying a story. I decided to follow this passion when we were assigned to create a creative assignment based off of one of the topics we’ve covered this year in World History Class.
I have always been really interested in change and learning about how an individual is able to go against society to express themselves. This has been a representation of a lot of occurrences throughout my own life. When I first came to America in the 2nd grade, I spoke no English and had to discover, like Napoleon Bonaparte did, how to fit in while staying true to my identity. In addition, in joining a professional dance company in the city, I had to go against the standards of having to be a college graduate in their 20s.
I decided that my own talents and abilities should enable me to succeed and thus took a risk in auditioning for this company. Napoleon followed a similar philosophy throughout his life, abandoning the social expectations and letting his own skills and talent override his status. In establishing these similarities between Napoleon and myself, I decided that the best way to represent his life is through choreography. The analysis and specific connection to Napoleon Bonaparte to the piece of choreography that I created is described below.
This piece of choreography is performed to the song, “Elementi Della Terra”. This song is solely instrumental and gave me the vibe of wartime and chaos. The reason I chose this piece of music is because of Napoleon’s origins in Corsica and his leadership during the chaos in France. Napoleon was born in 1769 in Corsica. Corsica was a small island, often compared to Italy because of their overlaps. However, Corsica was proud of its individual independence because of the threat of France along with other external powers. Economically.
Corsica had fewer resources than France and thus was in no position to compete against them. Corsica has to really battle for its independence, hating France because of its desire to annex it and take its sovereignty away. This idea motivated the beginning position of the piece. I decided to begin low and close to the ground to represent Napoleon’s challenge in growing up in such a surrounding, where he knew that his own island was inferior and in danger. However, I slowly and carefully, as seen by the heel- toe pattern, began to get up and stand tall.
This movement resembled Napoleon’s Corsican pride. However, the sudden breaks and flickers of the arms resemble the constant fight Corsica had in maintaining its independence. At :20, 1 concave in and my arms surround my body as a representation of the Corsica unity and their shared struggle of fighting France and its power. These flickers end as I walk forward, tall and proud, with arms stretched in opposite directions. This movement was inspired by the idea that Corsica was proud of its identity and its ability to stay independent regardless of the threat of France.
However, my body breaks and collapses in the next movement at:40, showing the collapse of this independence as France takes it over. I took my time as I looked up to demonstrate the idea of Corsica looking at France, in fear and hatred. Looking up sent my head back as I took a few steps back and rolled my head. This was the idea that France took more than just Corsica’s independence. It also metaphorically took Napoleon’s father from him. Napoleon’s father willingly became the middleman or link of communication in the French and Corsican interaction.
The reason for the sudden step back originates from the betrayal that Napoleon feels his father is engaging in. He is not able to forgive him and metaphorically look straight at him, which is why I incorporated the head roll. Reaching out my head in the next part demonstrates how Napoleon’s father pulled Napoleon’s hand in granting him a scholarship to military school. This was possible for Carlo, Napoleon’s father, by embracing his upper class status. I jerked my hands into a gun position at:57, to show Napoleon’s abrupt position in this military school.
He was unlike the other students there. They were the sons of wealthy second estates members. In addition, these were culturally pure French students and thus they viewed Napoleon as an outsider, an Italian who can barely speak the French language. His receiving of the scholarship was also a sign of his lower status. The next phrase represents what | imagined to be going inside Napoleon’s head at this point. He is conflicted because he doesn’t fit in and, remembering my experience when I was just two years younger than his age at this point, I remember that it was a challenging experience.
The next part of the movement includes placing my hands to form two parallel lines at 1:08. This usage of this gesture resembles Napoleon’s need for self-defense. Thus, the arm reach in the next step motivates the rest of the movement to actually go in the opposite direction. This movement ends with the same parallel lines formed by the hands. The hands then reach out as a way to ask for companionship but the head throws the body over to the other side, falling to the floor. This movement again resembles Napoleon’s struggle in being considered an outsider.
Like a normal nine year old, I made the assumption that he wanted friends but was turned down because of his identity. However, the next part is powerful because I decided to stand up and wipe myself off. This phrase concludes with my walking tall and proud to demonstrate Napoleon’s decision not to try to fit in or succumb to his loneliness. Rather, he decides to take pride in his Corsican identity. My hands extend out into fists and finally release into open hands, demonstrating Napoleon’s decision to now be himself, and not hold back.
The next aspect of Napoleon’s life begins as I walk straight, looking around me, and tossing my arms up beside me. This resembles his early experiences as a military leader. The reason my body concaves and I take a few steps back is because of Napoleon’s hesitance and the obstacles he faces because of his status. I walk on the tip of my toes at 1:55 to represent how Napoleon was almost walking on eggs. He had to be careful in his decisions and had to make himself credible as a military leader in order to be considered credible. The next as represents his struggle of trying to be successful and let his talents override his social position.
I jump up, attempting to reach something, to represent Napoleon’s efforts to prove himself even though he wasn’t born as royalty. The next phrase is very sharp and explosive to represent this attempt to experience the values of the French Revolution. The idea that even though he wasn’t born to the upper class, equivalent to the 1st or 2nd estates, he should still be able to succeed and be an individual is evident by the many leg movements. I specifically chose leg movements to resemble the desire to step through and dominate regardless of the obstacles he faced.
In the next section, I fall to the ground, pick myself up and fall again. This represents Napoleon’s battles. The standing up represents his victories. These victories include the Battle of Toulon, in which the British attacked and Napoleon used his military strategies to kick them out. However, I fell to represent the failures that he had throughout his career as well. However, when I stay seated and push myself back, with my chest out, I am depicting Napoleon’s ability to maintain his victorious image to the French. He did so by bribing the spies to only speak of his victories to the France.
In addition, he used visual propaganda by establishing paintings of himself succeeding as a military leader. The movement I used to depict this visual and verbal proof includes turning my back and then returning to sitting position at 2:19. The reason I chose to incorporate this movement is because even though he failed, he did so with his back to France, meaning that they could only see his victories. The next part of the piece represents Napoleon’s discovery that he can do better than the Directory, offering more efficiency. The head roll at 2:22 represents this discovery.
This discovery consists of the idea that he wants to use the philosophy of embracing what was successful for his social mobility onto the masses. The pointing in the next section represents the social reforms and the Napoleonic Code that he created, which applied to everyone regardless of how they were born. These reforms included Lycees, which existed from 1801 and on. They were free magnet schools for males. This offered them to test into one of three subject studies. The idea was that they would be educated and thus could serve in the government and contribute to their society when they were older.
Gathering my arms and collecting them visually depicts what Napoleon did to the chaos in France through the concordat of 1801. By brining the Church relations back into the picture, he created stability and unity. Thus by forming my hands in a circular formation and creating a complete circle with my head roll at 2:30, I am representing the communal bond that now existed in France thanks to his reforms. When I stand up, I present Napoleon’s role as a military leader and his role as a powerful dictator of sorts. I recreate the parallel shape with my arms.
But, at 2:36, I let it break. The reason for this lies behind the idea that although Napoleon valued order and organization, he also valued trust within his soldiers. Thus, he fought alongside them, willing to engage in menial tasks rather than ordering them from afar. The next phrase, starting at 2:43 represents Napoleon’s genius military strategy. The movements I chose reminded me of war and battle, specifically of a determined figure leading his army. The arm reaches beginning at 2:59 represent the strength of Napoleon’s army.
They were able to succeed at many battles because of his genius military strategy and the communal bond he formed by fighting alongside them. At 3:06, my body begins telling the story of Napoleon’s rise to power and the creation of the consulate. The transition into this section is very smooth similar to Napoleon’s transition into replacing the Directory with the Consulate in 1799. He is able to do this because he appeals to all different types of people. Primarily, he appeals to the peasants who identity with his story and trust that he can rid the chaos in France.
In addition, he appeals to surviving conservatives and nobility who appreciate the fact that he creates a Republic rather than a dictatorship. Lastly, he appeals to the soldiers as mentioned earlier, and to the Moderates in the directory who aren’t happy with the progress of the directory. The sharp movements that follow resemble his desire for order, efficiency, stability in France, and power ultimately. This is visible in his obsession with Natural Boundaries and his ultimate role in being an Emperor.
In creating this choreography, I was able to do something that I truly love to do- applying my academic knowledge to my passion. I really enjoy these types of opportunities because they help me perceive information in a new way. In addition, I was able to find similarities within history to my life today. Of course, my experiences are very different from that of 18th century Napoleon Bonaparte, but we do share some similarities. This project helped me find yet another way in which music and dance can be used to convey a story, even a historical Napoleon Bonaparte type of story.