Ballet The word balletis French and began being used in English around the 17th century. The French word originated from the Italian word balletto, from ballo(dance). Ballet ultimately is from the Latin word ballare, meaning "to dance".
Origins • Ballet originated in the 15th and 16th centuries in Italian Renaissance courts. • It spread to the French Court soon after, and its development continued. • In the late 17th century Louis XIV (14th) founded the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opera) from which came the first professional theatrical ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet. Today there are many Dance Companies throughout the world. • The use of French in Ballet terminology reflects it’s origins under Louis XIV.
When beginning in Italy, many ‘staples’ of what we know ballet to be today were not yet used (tutus, ballet slippers, pointe work etc), the performers wore clothing that was considered fashionable. For women this was long, formal gowns. The choreography was adapted from court dance steps and was open to participation from the audience that joined in at the end of the dance. • When Catherine de' Medici, an Italian aristocrat with an interest in the arts, married the French crown heir Henry II, she brought her enthusiasm for dance to France. Catherine's dances usually involved mythological themes and reinforced the agenda of the Royal Family.
Ballet developed as a performance-focused art form in France during the reign of Louis XIV, who was passionate about dance. Pierre Beauchamp, who formalised and notated the five positions of the feet and arms, was also the king's personal dance teacher and favourite partner in the 1650s. • Ballet became considered a more serious art form in the 18th century. The technical standards of ballet were raised along with its popularity. Central to this advance was the seminal work of Jean-Georges Noverre’s, Lettressur la danse et les balletsin 1760 was central to the raising of these standards, focusing on developing the ballet d'action, where the movements of the dancers are designed to express characters and help tell the story. Women continued to have secondary roles as dancers, as they were restricted with hoops, corsets, wigs and high heels.
During the 19th century there was a period of great social change, which was reflected in ballet. Ballet became less a dance for people to participate in and more spectator focused. Ballerinas such as GenevièveGosselin, Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler experimented with new techniques such as pointework that made the ballerina (rather than the men) the most prominent stage figure . Teachers like Carlo Blasisfurther notated ballet technique in the basic form and terminology that is still used today. The ballet boxed toe shoe was also invented in this era invented to support the introduction of pointework. • Choreographers were composing romantic ballets that appeared light, airy and free that would act as a contrast to the industrialisation that was taking place in society. The stories revolved around spirits based in folklore, such as, romantic ballet, La Sylphide, one of the oldest romantic ballets still danced today These ballets portrayed women as fragile unearthly beings, who could be lifted effortlessly and almost seemed to float in the air. The costumes being worn by ballerinas also began to change to enable ease of movement. They were shorter, and showed the shins and were light-coloured and flowing..
Marie Taglioni as Flore in Charles Didelot's ballet Zephire et Flore (ca. 1831). She was a pioneer of pointework.
Russian Ballet • While France was instrumental in early ballet, other countries and cultures soon adopted the art form, most notably Russia. Russia has a recognized tradition of ballet, and Russian ballet has had great importance in its country throughout history. After 1850, ballet began to wane in Paris, but it flourished in Russia. In the late nineteenth century, oriental themed ballets were very popular. Colonialism brought awareness of Asian and African cultures, but many rumours of their culture were incorrect and/or exaggerated and fantasy. The East was often perceived as a faraway place where anything was possible, provided it was exotic and luxurious.
Russian ballet continued development under Soviet rule after the revolution in 1917despote there being not much talent as many fled the country during the revolution. However, it was enough to ensure the continuation of ballet in Russia. Very little was produced in Russia during the 1920s. However by the mid-1930s a new generation of dancers and choreographers had revitalised ballet. During this time technical perfection and precision of dance was promoted (and demanded) by Agrippina Vaganova. • The Soviet era of the Russian Ballet highly valued technique, and strength in their dancers. It demanded strength higher than that commonly found in Western dancers of the same era. The talent of their prima ballerinas such as Galina Ulanova, Natalya Dudinskaya and Maya Plisetskaya and choreographers such as PyotrGusevis evident when watching restored old footage from that time.
Ballet was popular with the public during the socialist era and has endeared to today. At that time, pressure from the socialist leaders forced choreographers to create pieces that highlighted the Socialist belief structures. Many of these were treated with ambivalence by the public and were eventually removed from the repertoire of many dance companies. • Some pieces of that era, however, were remarkable such as the Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev and Lavrovskyand Flames of Paris.Thewell-known ballet Cinderella, for which Prokofiev provided the music, is also the product of the Soviet ballet. During the Soviet era, these pieces were mostly unknown outside the Soviet Union. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union they gained more recognition.Russian companies, particularly after World War II, engaged in multiple tours all over the world that revitalized ballet in the West.
Mikhail Mordkin as Prince Siegfried and Adelaide Giuri as Odette with students as the little swans in the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre's production of the Petipa/Ivanov/Tchaikovsky Swan Lake in 1901
Ballet’s introduction to the Western World • Following the resurgence of popularity for ballet in France, ballet began to have a broader influence, particularly in the United States of America. • From Paris, Fokine went to the USA and settled in New York. He believed that traditional ballet offered little more than prettiness and athletic display. For Fokine that was not enough. In addition to technical ability he wanted to experience drama, expression and historical authenticity. He believed a choreographer must research the period and cultural context of the setting and reject the traditional tutu in favour of accurate period costuming. • Fokine choreographed many works, both original such as, Sheherazade and Cleopatra, as well as reworking Petrouchkaand The Firebird. One of his most famous works was The Dying Swan, performed by Anna Pavlova, a famous Russian ballerina. Beyond her talents as a ballerina, Pavlova had the theatrical gifts to fulfill Fokine's vision of ballet as drama. Legend has it that Pavlova identified so much with the swan role that she requested her swan costume from her deathbed.
Anna Pavlova in the Fokine/Saint-Saëns The Dying Swan, Saint Petersburg, 1905
George Balanchine is well-known for adapting ballet to the then-new media, movies and television. Balanchine rechoreographed classics such as Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty as well as creating new ballets. Today, partly thanks to Balanchine, ballet is one of the most well-preserved dances in the world. • Barbara Karinska was a Russian immigrant and a skilled seamstress who worked with Balanchine to make costume an integral part of a ballet performance. She introduced a simplified classic tutu that allowed the dancer more freedom of movement. With meticulous attention to detail, she decorated her tutus with beadwork, embroidery, crochet and appliqué.
Neoclassical Ballet • George Balanchine is often considered to have been the first pioneer of what is now known as neoclassical ballet, a style of dance between classical ballet and today's contemporary ballet. George Balanchine's Apollo in 1928 was on of the first neoclassical ballets. Apollo and other works are still performed today, predominantly by the New York City Ballet.
Contemporary • One dancer who trained with Balanchine and absorbed much of this neo-classical style was Mikhail Baryshnikov. Following Baryshnikov's appointment as artistic director of American Ballet Theatre in 1980, he worked with various modern choreographers, most notably Twyla Tharp. Tharp choreographed Push Comes To Shove for ABT and Baryshnikov in 1976; in 1986 she created In The Upper Room for her own company. Both these pieces were considered innovative for their use of distinctly modern movements and use of pointe shoes and classically-trained dancers—for their use of "contemporary ballet". • Tharp also worked with the Joffrey Ballet company, founded in 1957 by Robert Joffrey. She choreographed Deuce Coupe for them in 1973, using pop music and a blend of modern and ballet techniques.
Positions of the feet • There are 5 basic positions of the feet. • All 5 positions require feet to be turned out (from the hip) and to be flat on the floor.
1st position -The feet are aligned and touching heel to heel, making as nearly a straight alignment as possible. The knees are also touching with legs straightened. In beginners' classes, most exercises at the barre start from first position
2nd position -The feet are aligned as in first position, but with heels spaced approximately twelve inches apart. The term seconde generally means to or at the side.
3rd position - One foot is placed in front of the other so that the heel of the front foot is near the arch of the back foot. There are two third positions, depending on which foot is in front. In beginners' classes this is a transition position in the progress to fifth position, or when a dancer is physically incapable of a fifth position (especially in adult beginners' classes)
4th position - There are two types of fourth position: open and closed. In both cases, one foot is placed approximately twelve inches in front of the other. In open fourth position the heels are aligned, while in closed fourth position the heel of the front foot is aligned with the toe of the back foot. There are two variations of each type of fourth position, as determined by which foot is in front.
5th position - One foot is placed in front of, and in contact with the other, with the heel of one foot aligned with the toe of the other foot. There are two fifth positions, depending on which foot is in front.
Positions of the arms • There are different schools of notation for the positions of the arms. • Unless specified as allongé, arms are rounded with the palms facing in. • In allongé, elbows are straightened and palms rotated to face outwards.
Bras bas: both arms are rounded with the fingers almost touching, both hands just in front of the hips. • First position: maintaining this curved shape, arms are brought up so that the tips of the fingers are in line with the navel. • Second position: arms are out to the sides, angled down and forward, with palms facing forward. Elbows are slightly lower than the shoulders, and wrists are slightly lower than the elbow. • Third position: one arm is in second position, the other is in first position. • Fourth crossed position: one arm is in first position, the other is rounded and raised above the head. • Forth Ordinaire position: one arm is in second position, the other is rounded and raised above the head. • Fifth position or bras en couronne: both arms are rounded and held above and slightly forward of the head.