Thesis: Ballet History

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Ballet History

Ballet is a form of dancing that is performed for audiences in a theater. Just like many other forms of dance, ballet may tell a story, express a mood, or simply be a sign of the music. A Ballet dancer's technique and special skills often differ greatly from those of other dancers. Ballet dancers perform many movements that are very unnatural for the body. However when these movements are executed just right, they look natural. It often looks as if Ballet dancers are ignoring the law of gravity as they float through the air in long, slow leaps. They maintain perfect balance while they spin like tops without becoming dizzy. Sometimes their feet move so fast that the eye can barely keep up with the movements. The women often dance on the tips of their toes, and the men lift them high overhead as if they were as light as feathers (Ballet History, 2006).

The dancers enjoy controlling their bodies, and ballet audiences share their feelings. Spectators feel as though they are gliding and spinning right along with the dancers. Simply by moving their bodies, ballet dancers are able to express many emotions including anger, fear, jealousy, joy, and sadness. The lines formed by the dancers' bodies form beautiful, harmonious designs. Ballet technique is often referred to as classical because it stresses this purity and harmony of design (Ballet History, 2006).

Ballets are dramatic performances put on by ballet companies. The artistic director of a company is the person in charge of staging a ballet. In some companies they are also the choreographer, who arranges a ballet's dance movements and teaches them to the dancers. The artistic director tries to produce a pleasant work of art by blending all the parts of the ballet. The parts include: dancing, music, scenery, and costumes. A ballet can be performed without music, scenery, or costumes, but most use all three parts. The choreographer, composer, and scenery and costume designer all work together as a team. The dancing is considered the most important part of a ballet. The designer must plan scenery and costumes that allow the dancers space and freedom to move (Ballet History, 2006).

Different ballet styles have developed in various countries over time. The predominant style that has developed in the United States tends to be energetic and fast. Ballet in Russia is frequently forceful and showy, and French ballet is generally pretty and decorative. Ballet dancers often travel throughout the world and take on different features of foreign styles. As a result of these international influences, all ballet is constantly being broadened and enriched (Ballet History, 2006).

The early development of ballet can be traced to Italy during the 1400's during the time of the Renaissance. Throughout this period, people developed a great interest in art and learning. Trade and commerce grew rapidly, and the dukes who ruled Florence and other Italian city-states grew in wealth. The dukes did a lot to promote the arts. The Italian city-states began competing for art centers as well as commercial centers. The Italian dukes competed with one another by giving costly, fancy entertainments that included dance performances. The dancers were not professionals, but were pleased to dance for their ruler and to stir the admiration and envy of his rivals (Ballet History, 2006).

Catherine de Medicis, who was a member of the ruling family of Florence, became the queen of France in 1547. She introduced into the French court the same kind of entertainments that she had known while she had been in Italy. These productions were staged by Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx who was a gifted musician. He had come from Italy to be Catherine's chief musician. Ballet historians consider one of Beaujoyeulx's productions, the Ballet Comique de la Reine, to be the first ballet. It was a wonderful spectacle of about 51/2 hours performed in 1581 in honor of a royal wedding. There wasn't much dance technique available and so Beaujoyeulx had to depend on spectacular costumes and scenery in order to impress the audience. To make sure that the audience understood the story that was being told he provided printed copies of the verses that were used in the ballet. The ballet was a great success, and was often imitated in other European courts (Ballet History, 2006).

The capital of the ballet world was soon established in Paris due to the Ballet Comique de la Reine. King Louis XIV, the ruler of France during the late 1600's and early 1700's, reinforced that leadership. Louis greatly enjoyed dancing and he took part in all the ballets given at his court, which his nobles performed. Louis founded the Royal Academy of Dancing in 1661 in order to train professional dancers to perform for him and his court. Similar companies began to be seen in other European countries. Considered one of the greatest was the Russian Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg which was founded in 1738 (Ballet History, 2006).

These French professional dancers became so skilled that they began to perform publicly in many theatres. In 1760, the French choreographer Jean Georges Noverre complained that he thought the dancers cared too much about showing their technical skills, and too little about promoting the true purpose of ballet. He felt that the purpose was to represent characters and express their feelings. Noverre suggested that ballet dancers stop using masks, bulky costumes, and large wigs in order to explain the plot and characters. He maintained that the dancers could express these things using only their bodies and faces. He thought that as long as the dancers did not look strained or uncomfortable doing difficult steps, they could show such emotions as anger, joy, fear, and love. Noverre developed the ballet d'action, a form of dramatic ballet that told the story completely through movement (Ballet History, 2006).

Most of Noverre's ballets told stories that had been taken from ancient Greek myths or dramas. During the early 1800's, the romantic period began as people became interested in stories of escape from the real world to dreamlike worlds or foreign lands. Ballet technique was expanded, especially for women, to express these new ideas. It was during this time that women dancers learned to dance on their toes. This helped them look like heavenly beings that were visiting the earth but yet barely touching it. Romantic ballet often presented women as ideal and, for the first time, gave them superior importance to men. Male dancers became chiefly caretakers, whose purpose was to lift the ballerinas and show how light they were (Ballet History, 2006).

In 1832, the Italian choreographer Filippo Taglioni created the first romantic ballet. His daughter Marie danced the title role of the sylphide. The costume that she wore set a new fashion for women dancers. It consisted of a light, white skirt that ended halfway between her knees and ankles. The outfit left her arms, neck, and shoulders bare. This was the beginning of the costumes that we think of today (Ballet History, 2006).

Paris remained the capital of the ballet world during the early 1800's, but many dancers and choreographers who trained and worked there took their technique to cities in other parts of the world. It is thought that the most important of this group was Marius Petipa, who joined the Russian Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. He helped to formulate St. Petersburg into the world centre of ballet. Petipa's specialty was creating spectacular choreography for women. The leading roles in his Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, created in the 1890's, are still the parts desired most by ballerinas today (Ballet History, 2006).

Michel Fokine, who had worked earlier with the St. Petersburg Company, was the first choreographer of the Ballets Russes. His ideas had not been accepted well at St. Petersburg. He had urged that technique be a means to express character and emotion. He felt that a dancer's entire body, rather than separate mimed gestures, should tell the story. He also thought that all the arts involved in a ballet be blended into a harmonious production. With his new company, Fokine had the opportunity to carry out his ideas. "He created such brilliant works as Prince Igor (1909), the Firebird (1910), and Petrouchka (1911)" (Ballet History, 2006). The dancers and choreographers from this company strongly influenced ballet wherever they went (Ballet History, 2006). The Ballets Russes opened in Paris in 1909 and enjoyed immediate success. The male dancers were particularly admired because good male dancers had almost disappeared in Paris. "The company presented a broad range of works, including Fokine's compactly knit one-act ballets with colorful themes from Russian or Asian folklore: The Firebird (1910), Sh, h, razade (1910), and Petrushka (1911)" (History of Ballet, n.d.).

The growth of ballet in the United States was largely due to Russian influence. George Balanchine, who worked for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as a young man, helped to cofound the company that became the world-famous New York City Ballet. A principal dancer from Moscow, Mikhail… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Ballet History.  (2009, September 2).  Retrieved July 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/ballet-history/298805

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"Ballet History."  Essaytown.com.  September 2, 2009.  Accessed July 23, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/ballet-history/298805.