Ballet is a formalized kind of performance dance, which originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France, England, and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with most of the audience seated on tiers or galleries on three sides of the dancing floor. It has since become a highly technical form of dance with its own vocabulary. It is primarily performed with the accompaniment of classical music and has been influential as a form of dance globally. Ballet has been taught in ballet schools around the world, which use their own cultures and societies to inform the art. Ballet dance works (ballets) are choreographed and performed by trained artists, include mime and acting, and are set to music (usually orchestral but occasionally vocal). It is a poised style of dance that incorporates the foundational techniques for many other dance forms.
This type of dancing is very hard to achieve and takes much practice to master. It is best known in the form of Late Romantic Ballet or Ballet Blanc, which preoccupies itself with the female dancer to the exclusion of almost all else, focusing on pointe work, flowing, precise acrobatic movements, and often presenting the dancers in the conventional short white French tutu. Later developments include expressionist ballet, Neoclassical ballet, and elements of Modern dance.
The word ballet comes from the French and was borrowed into English around 1630s. The French word in turn has its origins in Italian balletto, a diminutive of ballo (dance) which comes from Latin ballo, ballare, meaning "to dance", which in turn comes from the Greek "βαλλίζω" (ballizo), "to dance, to jump about".
Ballet emerged in the late fifteenth-century Renaissance court culture of Italy as a dance interpretation of fencing, and further developed in the French court from the time of Louis XIV in the 17th century. This is reflected in the largely French vocabulary of ballet. Despite the great reforms of Noverre in the eighteenth century, ballet went into decline in France after 1830, though it was continued in Denmark, Italy, and Russia. It was reintroduced to western Europe on the eve of the First World War by a Russian company: the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev, who came to be influential around the world. Diaghilev's company came to be a destination for many of the Russian trained dancers fleeing the famine and unrest that followed the Bolshevik revolution. These dancers brought many of the choreographic and stylistic innovations that had been flourishing under the czars back to their place of origin.
In the 20th century ballet has continued to develop and has had a strong influence on broader concert dance. For example, in the United States, choreographer George Balanchine developed what is now known as neoclassical ballet. Subsequent developments now include contemporary ballet and post-structural ballet, seen in the work of William Forsythe in Germany.
Classical ballet is the most methodical of the ballet styles; it adheres to traditional ballet technique. There are variations relating to area of origin, such as Russian ballet, French ballet, and Italian ballet. Although most ballet of the last two centuries is ultimately founded on the teachings of Blasis. The most well-known styles of ballet are the Russian Method, the Italian Method, the Danish Method, the Balanchine Method or New York City Ballet Method, and the Royal Academy of Dance and Royal Ballet School methods, derived from the Cecchetti method, created in England. The first pointe shoes were actually regular ballet slippers that were heavily darned at the tip. It would allow the girl to briefly stand on her toes to appear weightless. It was later converted to the hard box that is used today.
Classical ballet adheres to these rules:
- Everything is turned-out.
- When the feet are not on the floor, they're pointed.
- When the leg is not bent, it's stretched completely.
- Posture and placement is vital.
Neoclassical ballet is a ballet style that uses traditional ballet vocabulary but is less rigid than the classical ballet. For example, dancers often dance at more extreme tempos and perform more technical feats. Spacing in neoclassical ballet is usually more modern or complex than in classical ballet. Although organization in neoclassical ballet is more varied, the focus on structure is a defining characteristic of neoclassical ballet.
Balanchine brought modern dancers in to dance with his company, the New York City Ballet. One such dancer was Paul Taylor, who, in 1959, performed in Balanchine's Episodes. Balanchine worked with modern dance choreographer Martha Graham, expanding his exposure to modern techniques and ideas. During this period, Tetley began to consciously combine ballet and modern techniques in experimentation.
Tim Scholl, author of From Petipa to Balanchine, considers George Balanchine's Apollo in 1928 to be the first neoclassical ballet. Apollo represented a return to form in response to Serge Diaghilev's abstract ballets.
Contemporary ballet is a form of dance influenced by both classical ballet and modern dance. It takes its technique and use of pointe work from classical ballet, although it permits a greater range of movement that may not adhere to the strict body lines set forth by schools of ballet technique. Many of its concepts come from the ideas and innovations of 20th century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs.
George Balanchine is often considered to have been the first pioneer of contemporary ballet through the development of neoclassical ballet. One dancer who danced briefly for Balanchine was Mikhail Baryshnikov, an exemplar of Kirov Ballet training. 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 melded with the use of pointe shoes and classically trained dancers—for their use of "contemporary ballet".
Twyla 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. The Joffrey Ballet continued to perform numerous contemporary pieces, many choreographed by co-founder Gerald Arpino.
Today there are many contemporary ballet companies and choreographers. These include Alonzo King and his company, Alonzo King's Lines Ballet; Complexions Contemporary Ballet, under the direction of Dwight Rhoden; Nacho Duato's Compañia Nacional de Danza; William Forsythe, who has worked extensively with the Frankfurt Ballet and today runs The Forsythe Company; and Jiří Kylián, currently the artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theatre. Traditionally "classical" companies, such as the Kirov Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, also regularly perform contemporary works.
^ Chantrell (2002), p. 42.
^ ballo, Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, on Perseus
^ βαλλίζω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Persues
^ ball (2), Online Etymology Dictionary
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