Ballet is a form of classical dance, consisting of highly developed technique, grace, and precision through specific gestures and patterns. “Ballet is a universe of the imagination, a place of magic and enchantment, beauty and romance” (Garfunkel xi).
Ever since the Middle Ages, the art of ballet has made a major impact on theatre, performing, and the lives of many. It has the ability to affect the moods and emotions of both the dancer and the audience, simply through music and movement. Although it has been around for a very long time, the style and technique of it has changed throughout the years. There are many respectable and talented dancers who have greatly altered the art of dance through the developments they have made in ballet.
To begin with, the art of dance began in the Middle Ages and was usually only used for celebrations and communal purposes. During the Renaissance, more types of dance, especially ballet, began to flourish throughout Europe. It all started in Italy, with Queen Catherine de’ Medici, who learned the love and interest of dance from her father, Lorenzo II. On October 15, 1581, ballet de cour was first introduced in Catherine’s palace. It was presented through the Ballet Comique de la Reine in honor of the marriage of the queen’s sister Margaret to the duke of Joyeuse. Ballet de cour, or court ballet, is a type of entertainment that combines mime, music, and dancing in one performance to tell a story. “The setting for these court ballets was, of course, the palace itself or, in fine weather, a courtyard or open space might serve” (Clarke 63).While all of the musicians that played during Ballet Comique de la Reine were professionals, all of the dancers were, in fact, amateurs. The dancers were chosen from the members of the court, since there had not been many professional dancers at the time. Ballet Comique de la Reine was considered a great success, and had been widely imitated throughout Europe for many years after. Another influential form of court ballet is the English Masque, which first became popular at the Tudor court of Henry VIII. English masques were remarkably elaborate performances, and became notable for the quality of their sung portions and their essential scenic effects.
... s court poets wrote: The world is made from discord accorded we dance thus to have no discord. Le Ballet Comique de la Reine ... next and last stage of the dance was the Final Grand Ballet. In this choreographed sequence, the dancers constructed forty different geometric figures ... her belief that if everyone pays more attention to the arts and dance, there will be no more conflict. This is because ...
King Louis XIV of France was another aristocrat who contributed greatly to the art of ballet. He was actually involved in dancing himself, having first participated in a court ballet as a child. Having a tall, well-built body perfect for dancing, Louis XIV was passionate about ballet and truly raised the standards of dance in the seventeenth century. In 1661, he founded The Royal Academy of Dance, which put a main concern on organizing and teaching social dances to members of the court. Eight years later, he also established the Royal Academy of Music to train professional musicians how to present operas and opera-ballets. These two royal academies eventually merged in 1672 to form what is known today as the Paris Opéra, the oldest dancing school in existence. As Louis XIV got older, he also grew fatter, and finally stopped performing in court ballets altogether. “When the king stopped participating in court ballets, so did the members of his court. But the monarch still loved to watch ballets, and it is during his reign and under his patronage that ballet began to change from a pastime for noble amateurs into an art for professionals” (Garfunkel 10).
Even today, the five positions of classical ballet are essentially the foundation for all ballet technique. They are the simplest and most basic aspects of ballet, and usually the first lesson a ballet dancer is taught. These five positions were created and named by choreographer Pierre Beauchamp, which made him one of the founders of ballet d’école, or academic ballet. In each of the five positions, the dancer must begin and end with his or her legs and feet turned out from the hips. First position is practiced with the heels together and arms gently curved and held low before the body. From first position, the heels become separated and the arms extend to the sides at shoulder height to form second position. In third position, one foot is placed directly in front of the other, with the front heel touching the middle of the other foot, while one arm is curved overhead and the other is extended to the side as in second position. The feet are separated in fourth position, with one foot in front of the other, and the heel of one foot in line with the toes of the other. One arm in rounded in front of the chest while the other is extended to the side as in second and third position. Finally, fifth position consists of one foot placed directly in front of the other, with each heel touching the toes of the other foot. Both arms can be curved overhead for a high fifth position or curved low in front of the body for a low fifth position.
Lyrical and ballet are both extremely common yet incredibly different types of dance. They both differ from each other for numerous reasons. Before ballerinas begin their extensive class, the instructor warms the dancers muscles up at the barre. A barre is a long wooden horizontal rail attached to the wall and is approximately the height of the dancers rib cage. When the dancer is at the barre, ...
Like Pierre Beauchamp, Jean-Baptiste Lully played a significant role in establishing the general direction ballet would follow for the next century. He was an Italian composer, better known as the king’s royal composer of music. He had the control over who would perform and what be performed in any spectacle, which was an extremely important role at this time. Another way he influenced ballet of his time was through his introduction to the first profession female dancers in French ballet in 1681. Unlike before then, women were now to play a much larger role in the story of ballet.
Next, in the eighteenth century, much change and transformation is brought about to the art of ballet. Ballet began to move from the royalty and exclusiveness of the court to the welcoming openness of the public stage. Along with the change of location, also came the change in costumes, which had become even more fancy and exaggerated. Not only were the dancers covered in padding and wigs to make them look larger on the stage, they also had to wear traditional theatrical masks to hide any of their facial expressions. The innovation of costumes was only the beginning of all the attempts at refinement. Prima ballerinas Marie Sallé and Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo were the first to go against tradition.
The History of Ballet The first experience of watching a ballet, for me or any little girl, can be fascinating and exhilarating. Wondering how a dancer can be so steady on her toes as she spins in circles and leaps through the air. Watching a ballet, there is a feeling of wanting to be graceful, as well as the warm sensation felt by a little girl as she slips into dream land. My mom had taken me ...
Marie Sallé began dancing when she was just a little girl, not even ten years old when she first danced professionally. She began dancing in the Paris Opéra when she was twenty years old, and performed in ballet d’action, or narrative ballet. Unlike dancers were expected to be, she was always very modest and graceful, not only in her private life, but also on stage. Sallé’s fellow dancers and director did not exactly agree with the way she went about things in that manner. Despite the success of Pygmalion, the ballet that she had choreographed herself, it would still take many more years for her modifications to be accepted by other dancers.
Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo was also a brilliant dancer, yet very different from Marie Sallé. “Camargo, or La Camargo as the wildly popular ballerina was known, exemplified the more pure-dance side of her art” (Greskovic 19).
Camargo made her debut at the Paris Opéra when she was sixteen years old. Not only was she famous for her speed, agility, elevation, she had a tremendous effect on fashion, especially after outrageously shortening her skirt a few inches to show off her neat footwork. Another acclaimed moment in Camargo’s career was when she took over a principal male dancer’s routine at a moment’s notice when he did not appear on cue for his solo.
Another significant character to this time period was “the Father of Modern Ballet”, Jean-Georges Noverre. He was a dancer, choreographer, ballet master, and teacher. He worked with some of the greatest composers of his day, such as Christoph Gluck and Wolfgang Amadaeus Mozart, to create over 150 ballets. Being ballet’s first great theorist, Noverre published one of the most well-known books in ballet history, Letters on the Dance and Ballet. The way he believed a dancer should convey his or her emotions, character, expressions, movements, and gestures were all in this book.
The last thing one must know about ballet in the eighteenth century is the distinct types of dance in that time period. Three different styles of dancing were taught: the noble, the demi-caractère, and the caractère. The noble style is the most elegant and graceful, consisting of fluid, harmonious dancing. The demi-caractère, or demi-character, style incorporates acting ability and technical skill. The caractère, or character, style is used mostly in story ballets. “The eighteenth century had been called the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, a period when the artistic and social standard of perfection was mathematical order, moderation, classicism, and an aristocratic approach to life” (Garfunkel 29).
As I sit here, I wonder what I will become; all I see is pure success like no one has ever seen. My life is full of great and achievable goals that can fulfil my life with happiness. I see myself see myself thirty years from now becoming the most successful person the world has seen. I will have graduated high school and college with 4.0 GPA, majoring in aeronautical engineering while being in the ...
However, these ideals did not seem appropriate for the new century that was about to bring about so much change.
Just as many things began to diversify in the beginning of the nineteenth century due to the Industrial Revolution, the artistic world was also ready for its own revolution. This is exactly how the birth of Romanticism came about. “Romanticism triumphed at the Paris Opéra in 1832 with the staging of Filippo Taglioni’s La Sylphide” (Clarke 74).
La Sylphide was the first full-length ballet of the Romantic era, and it had instantly become an overnight success. His daughter, Marie Taglioni, performed in this ballet as the Sylph, and his son, Paul Taglioni, played the role of James. Marie Taglioni was, in fact, one of the greatest ballerinas of all time, yet it had not always been this way for her. “She was not a pretty child, but her unusual looks and frail manner have since become the accepted style of the Romantic ballerina” (Dodd 21).
Not only were people deceived by her appearance, but her teachers never thought she had any talent. Therefore, her father decided to take matters into his own hands and took over Marie’s training when she was seventeen years old. All of her six hour long practices everyday definitely paid off and made her the amazing ballerina she was. “During her long career, Marie Taglioni danced in hundreds of ballets, appearing in all the great capitals of Europe. She was the most famous performer of her day” (Garfunkel 37).
Nine years after La Sylphide, Giselle, “perhaps the epitome of Romantic ballet” (Dodd 24), was created. “Though Giselle, based on a legend of Slavic origin unearthed by Heinrich Heine, written by Théophile Gautier and Vernoy de St. Georges, had its debut in 1841, it still remains today as part of the traditional repertoire” (Mara 108).
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Romantic ballet fell into a decline. Nevertheless, the beginning of Imperial Russian Ballet all started with Empress Anna Ivanovna, who encourages the founding of the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg in 1738. Marius Petipa, whose father was already a ballet master at the school, arrived in St. Petersburg in 1847. He spent ten years as a dancer at the school, until he finally earned the opportunity to follow his dream of becoming a choreographer. He knew that his role as a choreographer was a success when he produced his first full-length ballet called La Fille du Pharaon. Petipa continued to create wonderful ballets during the 1870s and 1880s, yet “despite Petipa’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of inventive choreography, the public’s interest in ballet began to wane. Audiences were becoming bored with long, leisurely ballets fueled by incoherent plots and accompanied by lackluster music. Petipa was in danger of losing his position at the Imperial Theatres” (Garfunkel 65).
Early to Mid-Twentieth Century Influences on Theatre of the Absurd Big feet, stampeding rhinoceroses, and barren sets are typical of the theatre of the absurd. The dramatic content, symbolism, and spectacles are an amazing thing to see and an impossibility to comprehend. The philosophy of the absurd and the dawn of mankind influenced these plays in the twentieth century. The main proponents and ...
It was at this time that many Italian dancers began dancing in St. Petersburg, and simply the way they brought change to the outfits of ballet dancers gave Petipa the idea that this unique Italian style could help restore Russian ballet and win back the attention of the public. The newly appointed director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolojsky, decided to give Petipa one more chance to prove that he could reclaim the interest of an impassive and bored audience. He chose the well-known story of “The Sleeping Beauty” as Petipa’s next ballet. Petipa worked together with the outstanding composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who was indeed more than happy to write for the ballet. The Sleeping Beauty premiered at the Maryinsky Theatre on January 15, 1890.
Pleased with how well The Sleeping Beauty went, Vsevolojsky wanted to get started on another ballet with Petipa and Tchaikovsky, and chose their next collaboration to be The Nutcracker. “As was his usual custom, Petipa provided a detailed scenario for the ballet accompanied by equally detailed musical instructions for the composer” (Garfunkel 73).
However, as rehearsals began to take place, Petipa became ill, leaving his job to his long-term assistant Lev Ivanov. The Nutcracker debuted at the Maryinsky Theatre on December 17, 1892, and it soon became a Christmas tradition at that theatre. “Today, The Nutcracker, in hundreds of different choreographic versions, is perhaps the most performed classical ballet in the world, a magical holiday present for children and adults alike” (Garfunkel 75).
Theatre, as we know it, always aims to provoke its audience through emotions, by invoking the muses of comedy and tragedy, and everything else in between. Many names are synonymous to the history and success of theatre, but none comes close to the iconic contributions of Britain’s most illustrious duo, collectively known as Gilbert and Sullivan. Sharp, clever wit and brilliant rhyme have found ...
The next, and last, ballet by Tchaikovsky, Petipa, and Ivanov was Swan Lake, and the first performance took place in Moscow in 1877. However, the performance was unsatisfactory, and sadly, Tchaikovsky blamed his music for the failure. In 1893, Tchaikovsky died, and in his honor, Vsevolojsky and Petipa wanted to reintroduce the ballet in a new production. Unfortunately, Petipa became ill once again, leaving the responsibility of choreography to Ivanov. On January 27, 1895, the new Swan Lake made its way to the stage as the last of the great nineteenth-century Imperial Russian ballets.
As the twentieth century came around, many modern ideas and styles also came about. A brilliant young dancer named Michel Fokine brought these modernizations to the attention of others through his vision of ballet, which was much different from the customary views of the time. “As early as 1904, Fokine has sent memos to the administration at the Maryinsky, pressing them to expand the possibilities of classical ballet by opening it up to a new expressiveness, poetry, and freedom of movement” (Garfunkel 85).
In this message, he also criticized ballet music, costumes, and even the movements and gestures of performing dancers. Two things influenced his decision to write this letter: the reforming Letters on the Dance and Ballet by Noverre, and Isadora Duncan, an exceptional American dancer who brought her contemporary form of dance to Russia.
Fokine’s viewpoints were generally ignored, until he joined Serge Diaghilev, a man who truly had the ability to inspire artistic works. When he first became interested in ballet, Diaghilev put together a group of the best artists from the Imperial Theatres, including Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, and Vaslav Nijinsky, and performed at the Châtelet Theater. Seeming very impressed with Fokine’s revolutionary ideas, Diaghilev also asked him to choreographer several of his ballets. They began by doing older ballets, such as Les Sylhpides, until Diaghilev decided that totally new collaborations should be created. Diaghilev worked with both Fokine and composer Igor Stravinsky to produce Firebird, Petrouchka, and many other ballets.
After some time, Diaghilev began to think that Fokine’s new kind of ballet was not enough, and wanted to turn Nijinsky into a choreographer. Nijinsky choreographed The Afternoon of a Faun, in a way that was very different from anything before. “For the rather prickly Fokine, Diaghilev’s promotions of Nijinsky as a choreographer was enough to make him resign, and for the 1913 season Diaghilev had the 24-year-old Nijinsky as both principal dancer and sole choreographer” (Clarke 97).
In the fall of 1917 in Spain, Nijinsky performed in public for the last time, because he was soon after diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was replaced by Léonide Massine, who immediately started choreographing his first piece, which was a circus ballet named Parade. Next, he choreographed The Three-Cornered Hat, which incorporated flamenco and traditional folk dancing. “The Three-Cornered Hat was the result of Massine’s long stay in Spain during the war years” (Drew 14).
In 1921, Massine left the company, leaving Diaghilev without a choreographer for the upcoming season. Yet he still wanted to present a spectacular ballet, so he decided to restage Petipa’s masterpiece, The Sleeping Beauty, under the name of The Sleeping Princess. He asked Stravinsky to orchestrate the music, and somehow he managed to find Nicholas Sergeyev to recreate Petipa’s choreography. In 1924, George Blananchine entered the company, and in 1928, he choreographed his first original work, Apollon Musagète, or Apollo. He also went on to create The Prodigal Son, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. The ballet premiered on May 21, 1929, and within three months of that premiere, Serge Diaghilev died in Venice. Left leaderless without him, his company disbanded, having presented sixty-three ballets throughout its existence.
Since then, ballet has made its way throughout the world, mostly in England and the United States. The United States has established many schools for studying ballet in the twentieth century that are still in existence today, such as Ballet Theatre, which is now known as American Ballet Theatre, The San Francisco Ballet, “the oldest continuous professional company in the United States” (Garfunkel 139), The School of American Ballet, owned by Isadora Duncan, and The New York City Ballet. Also in the twentieth century, ballet has approached the stage in a totally different way –on Broadway. For hundreds of years, ballet has affected the lives of many people. Although it has transformed so much from the Middle Ages to today, ballet still has the strong ability to trigger emotions more than any other art, and will most likely continue to do so time and time again.
Clarke, Mary. How To Enjoy Ballet. Piatkus, 1982.
Dodd, Craig. Ballet. Chartwell Books Inc., 1979.
Drew, David. The Decca Book of Ballet. London: Frederick Muller Limited, n.d.
Garfunkel, Trudy. On Wings of Joy. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1994.
Greskovic, Robert. Ballet 101. New York: Hyperion, 1998.
Mara, Thalia. So You Want To Be A Ballet Dancer. New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation, 1959.