The Secret Doctrine of Being Beautiful

Monday, January 31, 2005

History of Ballet

Ballet has its roots in Renaissance court spectacle in Italy, but was particularly shaped by the French ballet de cour, which consisted of social dances performed by the nobility in tandem with music, speech, verse, song, pageant, decor, and costume. Ballet began to develop as a separate art form in France during the reign of Louis XIV, who was passionate about dance and determined to reverse a decline in dance standards that began in the 17th century. The king established the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661, the same year in which the first comédie-ballet, composed by Jean-Baptist Lully was performed. This early form consisted of a play in which the scenes were separated by dances. Lully soon branched out into opéra-ballet, and a school to train professional dancers was attached to the Académie Royale de Musique, where instruction was based on noble deportment and manners.
The 18th Century was a period of great advancement in the technical standards of ballet and the period when ballet became a serious dramatic art form on par with the Opera. Central to this advance was the seminal work of Jean-Georges Noverre, Lettres sur la danse et les ballets (1760), which focused on developing the ballet d'action, in which the movements of the dancers are designed to express character and assist in the narrative. Reforms were also being made in ballet composition by composers such as Christoph Gluck. Finally, opera was divided into three formal techniques sérieux, demi-caractère, and comique. Ballet also came to be featured in operas as interludes called divertissements.
The 19th Century was a period of great social change, which was reflected in ballet by a shift away from the aristocratic sensibilities that had dominated ealier periods through Romantic ballet. Ballerinas such as Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler pioneered new techniques such as pointework that rocketed the ballerina into prominence as the ideal stage figure, professional librettists began crafting the stories in ballets, and teachers like Carlo Blasis codified ballet technique in the basic form that is still used today. Ballet began to decline after 1850 in most parts of the western world, but remained vital in Denmark and , most notably, Russia thanks to masters such as August Bournonville, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa. Russian companies, particularly after World War II enganged in multiple tours all over the world that revitalized ballet in the west and made it a form of entertainment embraced to one degree or another by the general public.



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