The death of Queen Elizabeth II was remarkable in many ways. Citizens of Elizabeth II and an outpouring of love and affection from around the world. 20 hours, all night, a queue to slowly shuffle past her coffin as it was in condition. In the UK, coverage of other news has been effectively stopped.
But the ten days had another notable feature, culminating in Monday’s funeral. Choreography.
In the final moments of Monday afternoon’s burial ceremony, from the moment palace officials placed a discreet death notice precisely on the railing of Buckingham Palace, the Lord Chamberlain broke his cane over the coffin. It unfolded with a surprising amount of formal and choreographed movement.
The funeral has been planned for decades and is regularly rehearsed by the participating military contingents. The smooth unfolding of the procedure, and of course, some of the pomp and ceremony, seemed perfectly predictable.
But it was striking how the ceremonies leading up to the funeral recalled an elaborate ballet – gorgeous and utilitarian, full of gold leaf and brocade, trousers, cockades and helmets (some even had swan feathers!). It’s like a costume that doesn’t make a mark.
Like the classical ballet of the 19th century, the ritual of displaying a group of similarly-moving dancers dressed in the same costume is from Britain and the Commonwealth moving in synchronicity, a kind of oneness that is a ballet director’s dream. shows many military units of in the world.
The stylized choreographic sense kicked off Wednesday at a memorial service for the Queen’s corpse, which lay in rest at Westminster Hall for several days. As the guards were positioned around the catafalque on which the coffin lay, they put one foot forward, their hands precisely on their canes, and their heads bent at the same angle.
When the Queen’s four children came to watch, they waited on the ground for three great cane blows and marched to Catafalque in perfect diamond formation before taking up positions around Catafalque. . Three more taps and they all stepped into the coffin at once, and he struck three more times before they folded their hands in front and bowed.
Like a well-rehearsed dancer who instinctively aligns himself, he was astonishingly sophisticated.
Then came the funeral. A whip-sharp turn in which the entire army moves from front to side as the order rings out. A small, coordinated step of 142 naval ratings (called men). How the two men leading the Queen’s company of bearers removed the guardrails and carefully lifted the royal standard cloth in perfectly coordinated gestures. A mundane choreography elevated to a solemn ceremony.
And then there were the eight bearers, the brilliant soloists of the pageant. During the ceremony, they had to lift a draped coffin — topped with a garland, a jeweled sphere, and a state crown — and then carry it, the gun carriage, Place on the catafalque and finally, the royal hearse.
Each time they must face the coffin, lift it with both hands, lift it unburdened (like a dancer), and then, on command, raise the coffin high into the air before placing it on their shoulders, facing sharply inward. I didn’t. After taking a few steps forward, they turned sideways again and seamlessly carried the coffin to the carriage or catafalque.
Between these ceremonies there were processions. The first was a short march from Westminster Hall to the monastery where the funeral was held. Then, after the ceremony, thousands of soldiers marched on foot and on horseback to Wellington Arch. Queen’s family and family. Everything (even the horses) moved in perfect unison, even when turning corners and passing gates and arches, moving at 75 paces per minute to the music played by the band.
Like a giant corps de ballet, individual lines fan out and come back, disappearing into geometric patterns, stopping or stopping through invisible connections to each other, like dancers reacting to music. It looked like it was starting.
But the ceremony was notable only for the amazing accuracy and timing of the participants. It was also notable for its use of stillness and silence. Total steadfastness required at various points from thousands of armies and members of the royal family marching behind coffins. The dramatic blows of the staff, the orders of the officers, or the deliberate discipline of these moments before the start of “God Save the King” were as dramatic and emotionally powerful as any other great stage performance.
Movement makes sense. But just as we cannot comprehend the intention of a dancer’s pantomime gestures in ballet, we cannot comprehend all the implications of stylized baton rotations, rifle flips, or formation hierarchies in order to feel the occurrence of comfort. is not necesary to. Tradition and history that tell them.
In these rituals and ceremonies there were elaborate, physically specific mourning choreographies that embodied both loss and permanence, grief and the relief of continuity. It was a “noble death ritual”.