Key history of ballet early development of ballet


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Ballet is a theatrical dance form which grew out of European Renaissance court dances in the 15TH century in Italy. Ballet might have remained simply a form of court social dance had it not been for the influence of Catherine de Medici , an Italian noble woman who became queen of France in the mid-sixteenth century & Louis XIV , a great warrior king. Louis the XIV built the lavish palace of Versailles where nobles were invited and expected to participate in ballets. Louis XIV acquired the nickname “The Sun King ” from his role as Appollo in Ballet Royale de la Nuit. In 1661 Louis XIV established the Academie Royale de la Dance, a training facility which was the first attempt to professionalize ballet. Under the direction of ballet master, Pierre Beauchamps , the French ballet terminology and rules for technique developed. Beauchamp’s five positions for the feet and the use of the turn - out leg, became the basis for ballet education still used in ballet classes worldwide. The innovation of the Italian-style theater where dancers were seen from the front only encouraged the further development of turn - out leg positions which enabled the dancer to move from side to side smoothly while facing the audience.


During this period stories were told though pantomine a system of hand gestures, rather than through the dance itself. Heavy masks , wigs , and corsets continued to limit movement, with women’s panniered skirts becoming even more cumbersome than the previous century. One choreographer, Jean -George Noverre designed reforms to add greater authenticity and expressiveness. His book Letters on Dancing and Ballet influenced choreographers of later periods. Marie Camargo raised her skirt hems to the ankle, permitting more aerial work and beats of the leg. Marie Salle was interested in more natural movement which suited the characters in the ballet. In Pygmlion, she chose to wear a simple Grecian-style drape and even wore her hair loose and unadorned .


Ballerinas, cast as supernatural beings, began to rise onto the tips of their toes to enhance the sensation of skimming weightlessly as wilis, ghosts or sylphs- a technique known as dancing en pointe . Heavy fabrics of the previous century’s court dresses were replaced by diaphanous , lightweight skirt fabrics, known as the Romantic ballet skirt and furthered the illusion of otherworldliness. During this century the ballerina became the central figure with Marie Taglioni & Fanny Essler having contrasting styles. Taglioni excelled in ballets, which emphasized her delicacy and lightness . Essler was a great beauty who was famed for her elevation and passionate dancing. In Denmark ballet was developing along different lines under the aegis of Auguste Bournonville, director of the Royal Danish Ballet . His company developed a more open, less ornamented style than the French, with the male dancer participating more as an equal, rather than just a support presence designed to elevate the ballerina.


During the second half of the Nineteenth century, there was a gradual shift of the center of ballet activity from France to Russia . Marius Petipa, ballet master of Imperial Theatre, created 57 new ballets and composed dances for 37 operas. This period was truly a golden age in Russia, in which ballet technique took a giant step forward. Aerial work, Pointe work, turns and leg beats (battu) all increased in scope. The short skirt or tutu was invented. Three of his most widely-performed ballets were choreographed to scores by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky . They are Swan Lake , The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty . Serge Diaghilev, a farsighted arts patron and entrepreneur, was responsible for bringing to world attention the innovative work of Michael Fokine , who sought to develop a unified dramatic content in ballet.


Fokine, who set many ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, felt that ballet’s purpose was to reveal emotions rather than show of physical prowess and that movements should reflect the period and location of the action. He also wanted to eliminate the use of mime to tell the story. In 1912 Diaghilev replaced Fokine with Vaslav Nijinsky , a stunning classical dancer known for spectacular leaps . Nijinsky contradicted the classical positions by making all steps and gestures parallel instead of turned -out , this shocked the audiences. His work was a precursor of modern dance. In 1924, George Balanchine left the Soviet Union and was hired as ballet master of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe in Paris. Balanchine created 10 new works, including Prodigal Son and Appollo , which were later produced in America. The American public was first exposed to good twentieth-century ballet by Anna Pavlova , ballerina whose company toured America extensively until 1925. Many of Diaghilev’s performers were also outstanding teachers. Notable in this area was Enrico Cecchetti , whose training methods are still in use today. The first ballet company to be permanently located in America was the San Francisco Ballet formed in 1933 by the Diaghilev star Adolph Blom. Ballet in England was launched by the Irish-born Ninette de Valois , who danced with Diaghilev’s company for two seasons.


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