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ballet

ballet (băl´ā, bălā´) [Ital. ballare=to dance], classic, formalized solo or ensemble dancing of a highly controlled, dramatic nature performed to music.

See also dance; modern dance.

The Development of Ballet in Western Europe

Foreshadowed in earlier mummeries and lavish masquerades, ballet emerged as a distinctive form in Italy before the 16th cent. The first ballet that combined movement, music, decor, and special effects was presented in France at the court of Catherine de' Medici in 1581. Organized by the violinist Balthasar de Beaujoyeux, it had a classical theme, lasted six hours, was performed among the guests (there were no elevated stages), and was entitled Le Ballet comique de la Reine. This production was the first ballet de cour, the ancestor of the modern ballet, which influenced the English court masque, a 16th-century entertainment with dance interludes. The first treatise on ballet dancing was the Orchésographie of Thoinot Arbeau (1588).

The 17th cent. saw the major development of ballet in France. At first a court entertainment, the simple entrées were extended c.1610 and joined together to form scenes, called divertissements, which culminated in a grand ballet. Ballet also became a court pastime and a royal obsession. Louis XIV himself studied with ballet master Pierre Beauchamps for 20 years. The "Sun King" founded the Royal Ballet Academy (1661), the Royal Music Academy (1669), which became the Paris Opéra, and the first National Ballet School (1672). All parts were performed by male dancers; boys in wigs and masks took the female roles.

The first ballet using trained women was The Triumph of Love (1681) with music by Lully. Ballet remained a court spectacle and included opera or drama until about 1708, when the first ballet was commissioned for public performance. Thereafter the form, infused with new ideas, developed as a separate art (although the court ballet continued its historic traditions). Choreographic notation came into being, and mythological themes were explored.

With the increased influence of the Italian school of ballet, movement became elevated and less horizontal, and the five classic positions of the feet, which form the base for the dancer's stance and movement, were established by Pierre Beauchamps. The costumes, which had been cumbersome with decoration, long skirts, and high heels (for both men and women) were newly designed to allow greater freedom of movement. The virtuosa dancer Marie Camargo, who introduced the entrechat (elevation) for women, shortened her skirt to the middle of the calf and wore tights and what were to be the first ballet slippers (heelless shoes). Her rival, Marie Sallé (who was also the first female choreographer), was the first dancer to wear a filmy, liberating Grecian-style costume, made popular two centuries later by Isadora Duncan.

Jean Georges Noverre, a revolutionary 18th-century maître de ballet, established the determining principles of the ballet d'action, which he described in his Lettres sur la danse et les ballets (1760). He wanted the ballet to tell a story, aided by the music, decor, and dance; he wanted the performer to interpret his role through the dance and through his own body and facial expression. In stressing naturalism, Noverre simplified the costume and c.1773 abolished the mask. Other important innovations came from the great artists of the period, Gaetan and Auguste Vestris, Salvatore Vigano, and Charles Didelot. Technical innovation in dance movement was increased after further modification of the ballet costume.

The Romantic Period and Ballet's Eclipse

In Milan in 1820 Carlo Blasis first set down the technique of ballet as we know it today—with its stress on the turned-out leg, which permits great variety of movement. With the production of La Sylphide (1832) the romantic period formally began, ushering in a new era of brilliant choreography that emphasized the beauty and virtuosity of the prima ballerina. In this production Maria Taglioni first wore the filmy, calf-length costume that was to become standard for classical ballet. The great ballerinas of the era included Taglioni, Fanny Elssler, Carlotta Grisi, and Fanny Cerrito. In keeping with the literature and art of the romantic movement, the new ballet concerned the conflicts of reality and illusion, flesh and spirit. Love stories and fairy tales replaced mythological subjects.

At the same time dancing sur les pointes [on the toes] had come into favor. By the end of the century the blocked toe had appeared, and the tutu, a very short, buoyant skirt that completely freed the legs, had come into use. The male dancer functioned as partner to support the ballerina, the central focus of the dance and drama. Ballet declined progressively after 1850 with the ballet d'action giving way entirely to divertissements; finally the great stars had retired, and the sets, costumes, and choreography had become stereotyped and uninteresting. The naturalistic trend in the theater had all but destroyed the imaginative touch necessary to ballet.

The Modern Ballet Renaissance

Russian Ballet

The renaissance in romantic ballet began in Russia after 1875. The Russian Imperial School of Ballet had been founded in 1738. During the early 19th cent. the Imperial Theatre housed more than 40 ballet productions staged by the celebrated Swedish master Charles Didelot. Marius Petipa, who created a powerful sense of unity by rigorously training his corps de ballet as had not been done before, indicated in his choreography the direction of intensified romantic drama that the newly revived art was to take. Petipa contributed many of the classic ballets still considered to be the greatest expressions of the form, including Don Quixote, La Bayadère, The Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, Harlequinade, and restagings of Giselle, Coppélia, La Sylphide, and, with Lev Ivanov, Swan Lake.

In 1909 the celebrated impresario Sergei Diaghilev took his Russian company to Paris, and for 20 years it dominated the world of dance, displaying the creative talents of such choreographers and dancers as Michel Fokine, Léonide Massine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Bronislava Nijinska, Anna Pavlova, and George Balanchine. The brilliant performances by Nijinsky also helped to reemphasize the importance of the male dancer. After Diaghilev's death in 1929, offshoots were formed by René Blum and Col. W. de Basil, which kept the Diaghilev tradition alive during the 1930s. The company merged with Blum and de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which nurtured the talents of Alexandra Danilova, André Eglevsky, and Igor Youskevitch.

Russian dancing has been maintained at the highest level of excellence to the present day. Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, which brought fame to Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, and V. M. Gordeyev, and the Kirov Ballet (since 1991 the St. Petersburg Maryinsky Ballet), whose dancers have included Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, are the two foremost Russian companies and are ranked among the finest in the world.

British Ballet

In England around 1918, Enrico Cecchetti, who had taught many great dancers including Pavlova, Nijinsky, Massine, and Danilova, set down his method of training (which is still in practice) in collaboration with Cyril Beaumont, proprietor of "Under the Sign of the Harlequin," a world-famous bookstore specializing in the dance. The Cecchetti Society was founded in 1922 to preserve and protect that system.

In 1930 Marie Rambert founded the Ballet Club, the first permanent ballet school and company in England. A year later Ninette de Valois established what became the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet). This company has drawn international attention to the work of Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Rudolf Nureyev, Antoinette Sibley, Svetlana Beriosova, and Anthony Dowell. Nureyev, both a choreographer and a dancer, was instrumental in moving beyond the changes wrought by Nijinsky and altering the traditional supportive role of the male dancer to a far more significant, dynamic, and athletic place in the ballet; many other contemporary choreographers have similarly given their male dancers a more flamboyant showcase.

American Ballet

In the United States, Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg founded the American Ballet company in 1934. Under the direction of George Balanchine, its chief choreographer, the company established the first major school of ballet in the country, developed the talents of many notable American dancers (including Maria Tallchief, Todd Bolender, Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Jacques d'Amboise, Arthur Mitchell, and Edward Villella), and influenced enormously the evolution of an American ballet style as parent company to the New York City Ballet (founded 1948), one of the world's outstanding companies. Other celebrated choreographers who created ballets for the New York City Ballet are Eugene Loring, Jerome Robbins, and Peter Martins.

The other major American company, the American Ballet Theatre (formerly the Ballet Theatre), was founded in 1939 as an offshoot of the smaller Mordkin Ballet. The company's principal dancers have included Lucia Chase, Anton Dolin, Nora Kaye, Alicia Alonso, Michael Kidd, Scott Douglas, Royes Fernandez, Sallie Wilson, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, performing in works designed for them by Michel Fokine, Léonide Massine, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, Agnes de Mille, Herbert Ross, Eugene Loring, Glen Tetley, Twyla Tharp, and many others. Through numerous tours both the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre have earned international reputations of a high order. Other American companies of note include the Joffrey Ballet (founded 1956) and the Dance Theatre of Harlem (founded 1970). In addition to these, there are many active regional ballet companies throughout the United States.

Using traditional formal training and movement, American choreographers have designed a new sort of pure, abstract ballet, far less dependent on literary plot, often using modern rock and electronic music, and have developed greatly simplified decor and costuming (e.g., Balanchine's Agon, Robert Joffrey's Astarte, and Glen Tetley's Chronochromie). Many modern choreographers have also designed dances for stage and film musicals (e.g., Jerome Robbins's West Side Story and Agnes de Mille's Oklahoma!). In the late 20th cent. ballet was increasingly receptive to techniques and music from many dance forms. It grew in popularity, international touring expanded, and, particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union, international exchange was encouraged.

Bibliography

See S. Lifar, A History of Russian Ballet (tr. 1955); F. Reyna, A Concise History of Ballet (tr. 1965); A. L. Haskell, Ballet Retrospect (1965); A. Chujoy and P. W. Manchester, The Dance Encyclopedia (rev. and enl. ed. 1967); W. Terry, The Ballet Companion (1968); L. Kirstein, Movement and Metaphor (1972); M. Clarke and C. Crisp, Ballet: An Illustrated History (1973); E. Binney, Glories of Romantic Ballet (1985); J. Anderson, Ballet and Modern Dance (1986); H. Koegler, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (2d ed. 1987); R. Greskovic, Ballet 101 (1998); N. Reynolds and M. McCormick, No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (2003); J. Homans, Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet (2010).

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"ballet." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"ballet." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ballet

Ballet

BALLET

BALLET. The "unofficial" ballet came to America with immigrant performers and dancing masters. Performances in the colonial and early federal periods were presented in the port cities on the East Coast and inland cities connected to them by navigable rivers. The first documented ballet presented in America was The Adventures of Harlequin and Scaramouch, with the Burgo'master Trick'd (4 February 1735), given in Charleston by Henry Holt, a British dancing master. The next major figure was Alexander Placide, who trained at the Paris Opéra in ballet before learning tightrope with the popular Les Grands Danseurs du Roi. He brought companies of ballet and rope dancers to Santo Domingo (1788), New York (1792), and Charleston (1794–1796). The latter seasons brought the first presentations of the Paris Opéra repertory, staged by Jean-Baptiste Francisqui.

Nineteenth-Century Touring Performers

European performers from opera houses and popular theater continued to tour and immigrate to the United States throughout the nineteenth century. Augusta Maywood and Mary Ann Lee, each raised in Philadelphia theater families, are jointly considered America's first native-born ballerinas. As adolescents, they studied with Paris Opéra–trained Paul H. Hazard and performed in Philadelphia and on the Mississippi River circuit from 1837 before going to Paris for further study. Maywood remained in Europe, becoming a prima ballerina at Milan's Teatro alla Scala. Lee returned to America, where she staged and starred in Giselle and other Romantic ballets of Jean Coralli before retiring in 1847. The tour of Fanny Elssler in 1840 imported the cults of Romantic ballet and performer celebrity to America. She was thronged from Boston south to Havana and New Orleans. Elssler's grace and pointe work inspired poems, music, laudatory odes, and engravings.

As transatlantic travel became safer, family troupes from opera-ballet and popular theater scheduled tours of North America and Central America. The gold rush brought an expansion of American audiences and theaters, especially in the San Francisco Bay area and mining communities in Nevada and Colorado. Tours for ballet on its own or as part of extravaganzas began in New York's Niblo's Garden and moved west to the theaters owned by Thomas Maguire or his rivals in San Francisco. La Scala ballerinas Maria Bonfanti, Rita Sangalli, and Giuseppina Morlacchi presented ballet solos and pas de deux interpolated into huge extravaganzas, most notably The Black Crook (1867). The corps de ballets for these productions were mostly local women, trained by European émigré dancing masters.

The Impact of the Russian Ballets

Meanwhile, in Europe, ballet itself was changing. Mikhail Fokine tried to shift the emphasis of the Imperial Russian Ballet away from full-length, three-or four-act plotted ballets. He choreographed shorter works, many of them more abstract music visualizations, such as his Les Sylphides (1907) to piano works by Chopin. This change was considered "too revolutionary" for the Imperial Ballet but was adopted by impresario Serge Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes tours of western Europe. Although some full-evening ballets, such as Swan Lake, Coppelia, and The Nutcracker, remained popular, the Fokine revolution took hold in twentieth-century ballet companies and served as the model for most ballet presentations in America.

Although Diaghilev's company did not reach the United States until 1916, many rival companies of dancers associated with the troupe brought its repertoire and designs to America, using names such as the All-Star Imperial Russian Ballet. Anna Pavlova, generally considered the greatest ballerina of the early twentieth century, presented music visualizations by (or after) Fokine on annual Western Hemisphere tours from 1910 through the 1920s. Like Elssler, she inspired America's love for Romantic ballet and had a major impact on the development of ballet schools, companies, and audiences.

A large number of Ballets Russes dancers chose to stay in America, becoming teachers, choreographers, and ballet masters for theaters, civic ballets, and opera houses across the country. Many worked in prologs (short vaudevilles that alternated with feature films in motion picture palaces of the 1920s–1940s). Among them were Theodore Kosloff, who became a popular choreographer for silent films, and Mikhail Mordkin, whose school and company were the incubators for Ballet Theatre.

Sol Hurok, an impresario based in New York, had a national network of local auditoriums and concert promoters. Hurok added the post-Diaghilev Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo to his roster in 1934 and presented it until 1939 and after 1946. The Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and the related Original Ballet Russe toured in some manifestation until 1962. These companies brought many more fine European dancers and teachers to the United States, where they worked with opera companies, ballet schools, and universities, raising the level of technical training available in America. Hurok maintained ballet on his national roster throughout his career, becoming known in the 1950s and 1960s for his importation of the (British) Royal Ballet and the Soviet Bolshoi and Kirov companies. He was often able to place excerpts from ballet and folklore on television variety shows, such as the Ed Sullivan Show, greatly expanding the audience for ballet.

Americana Ballet

Choreographers and companies have intermittently pursued the idea that ballet in America should be distinctly American. Ballet Caravan, Lincoln Kirstein's small troupe, existed from 1936 to 1941. Although generally remembered as an interim step between the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet (NYCB), it also represents an unusual ballet experiment with Americana, living composers, and popular front imagery. The Americana ballets created for and by company members included Lew Christensen's Pocahontas (1939, music by Elliott Carter) and Filling Station (1938, Virgil Thomson); William Dollar's Yankee Clipper (1937, Paul Bowles); and Eugene Loring's masterpiece Billy the Kid (1938), with a commissioned score by Aaron Copland. The Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo also occasionally experimented with Americana, commissioning Ghost Town (1939, choreographed by Marc Platt to music by Richard Rodgers) and Rodeo (1942, Agnes de Mille to Aaron Copland). That work, like De Mille's Fall River Legend (1948, to Morton Gould) and Billy the Kid, remains in the active repertory of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). The short-lived Jerome Robbins' Ballets: USA, in the mid-1950s, experimented with American movement vocabularies, jazz music, and silence. One of the few companies independent of ABT and NYCB was the Joffrey Ballet (founded 1956), which became the City Center Joffrey Ballet (NYC) in 1966 and later relocated to Chicago. Joffrey and fellow choreographer Gerald Arpino created ballet works inspired by 1960s American counterculture.

Civic, Regional, and Professional Companies

Major professional ballet companies have been established and maintained across the country. Among the best regarded are the San Francisco Ballet, associated with long-term director Lew Christensen, and Utah's Ballet West, directed by his brother Willam. There have been major companies in Chicago since the rival troupes of Ballets Russes dancers Adolf Bolm and Andreas Pavley and Serge Oukrainsky. Bolm protégée choreographer Ruth Page ran the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet for much of the latter twentieth century.

Former NYCB dancers directed companies across the country, among them the Christensens, Kent Stow-ell's Pacific Northwest Ballet, Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Edward Villella's Miami City Ballet. In the mid-1970s, two of ABT's dancers who had been experimenting with choreography left to form companies—Eliot Feld remained in New York with the Eliot Feld Ballet (later Ballet Tech), while Dennis Nahat established the San Jose Cleveland Ballet.

The schools that had been thriving since the Pavlova tours began to convert from annual recitals to established civic or regional ballet companies. Many had only two seasons per year—a Christmas presentation of The Nutcracker and a late spring "graduation" performance. But some companies became major cultural forces, performing regularly scheduled seasons with live music and professional dancers. The first Regional Ballet Festival was held in Atlanta in 1956. The National Association for Regional Ballet mounts festivals and seminars on choreography, teaching, and nonprofit management across the country. The Nutcracker is still the most popular presentation, giving American audiences a taste of ballet's history.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barker, Barbara. Ballet or Ballyhoo: The American Careers of Maria Bonfanti, Rita Sangalli, and Giuseppina Morlacchi. New York: Dance Horizons, 1984.

Barzel, Ann. "European Dance Teachers in the United States." Dance Index III, no. 4–6 (April–June, 1944).

Delarue, Allison, ed. Fanny Elssler in America. Brooklyn: Dance Horizons, 1976. Anthology includes her memoir of the American tour as well as verses about her.

Hudson, Alice C., and Barbara Cohen-Stratyner. Heading West, Touring West: Mapmakers, Performing Artists, and the American Frontier. New York: New York Public Library, 2001.

MacDonald, Nesta. Diaghilev Observed by Critics in England and the United States, 1911–1929. New York: Dance Horizons, 1975.

Magriel, Paul, ed. Chronicles of the American Dance: From the Shakers to Martha Graham. New York: Da Capo Press, 1978. Anthology originally published in 1948.

Moore, Lillian. Echoes of American Ballet: A Collection of Seventeen Articles. New York: Dance Horizons, 1976. Anthology of historical articles from American Dancer, Dance Index, Dance Magazine, Dancing Times, and Etude.

BarbaraCohen-Stratyner

See alsoAlvin Ailey Dance Theater ; Dance .

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Ballet

BALLET

The origins of the Russian ballet, like those of most other Western art forms, can be traced to eighteenth-century St. Petersburg, where Empress Anna Ivanovna established the first dancing school in Russia in 1738. This school, whose descendant is the present-day Academy of Russian Ballet, was headed by a series of European dancing masters, the first of whom was Jean-Baptiste Landé.

By the 1740s, Empress Elizabeth employed three balletmasters. The continued presence of ballet in Russia was assured by Catherine II, who established a Directorate of Imperial Theaters in 1766, saw to the construction of St. Petersburg's Bolshoi Theater in 1783, and incorporated Landé's school into the Imperial Theater School she founded in 1779.

The tenure of French balletmaster Charles-Louis Didelot (17671837) in St. Petersburg (18011831) marked the first flowering of the national ballet. The syllabus of the imperial school began to assume its present-day form under Didelot, and his use of stage machinery anticipated the exploitation of stage effects to create atmosphere and build audiences for the ballet across Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. After Didelot's departure, Jules Perrot led the Petersburg ballet from 1848 to 1859. Arthur Saint-Léon succeeded Perrot and choreographed in St. Petersburg until 1869.

Russian ballet began to assume its familiar form during the decades of Marius Petipa's (18181910) work in the Imperial Theaters. Petipa came to Petersburg as a dancer in 1847, and became balletmaster in 1862. The ballets Petipa choreographed in Russia functioned as a choreographic response to nineteenth-century grand opera; they featured as many as five acts with numerous scene changes. If Perrot is identified primarily with the development of narrative in Russian ballet, and Saint-Léon could be accused of overemphasizing the ballet's divertissement at the expense of the story line, Petipa combined the two trends to make a dance spectacle with plots as complex as their choreography. The ballets Petipa staged in St. Petersburg still serve as cornerstones of the classical ballet repertory: Sleeping Beauty (1890), Swan Lake (1895) (with Lev Ivanov), Raymonda (1898), Le Corsaire (1869), Don Quixote (1869), and La Bayadère (1877).

The distinctive features of nineteenth-century dance represent developments of the Russian school of dancing under Petipa's leadership. The new focus on the female dancer was the result of recent developments in point technique, which allowed the ballerina not only to rise up on the tips of her toes, but to remain posed there, and eventually to dance on them. Petipa's choreography emphasizes two nearly opposite facets of the new technique that these technical advances afforded: first, the long supported adagio, in which the woman is supported and turned on point by her partner; second, the brilliant allegro variations (solos) Petipa created for his ballerinas, to exploit the steel toes of this new breed of female dancer.

The work of two ballet reformers characterize the late- and post-Petipa era. Alexander Gorsky became the chief choreographer of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater in 1899 and attempted to imbue the ballet with greater realism along the lines of the dramas of Konstantin Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theater. Gorsky's ballets featured greater cohesion of design elements (sets and costumes) and an unprecedented attention to detail. In Petersburg, Michel Fokine fell under the spell of dancer Isadora Duncan and theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold. Influenced by the free dance of the former, and by the latter's experiments in stylized symbolist theater, Fokine pioneered a new type of ballet: typically a one-act work without the perceived expressive confines of nineteenth-century mime and standard ballet steps.

Fokine and his famed collaborators, Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova, achieved their greatest fame in Europe as charter members of Sergei Diagilev's Ballets Russes, which debuted in Paris in 1909. Fokine's ballets (Les Sylphides, Petrushka, Spectre de la Rose ) were the sensations of the early Diagilev season. The Diagilev ballet not only announced the Russian ballet's arrival to the European avant-garde, but also the beginning of a rift that would widen during the Soviet period: the rise of a Russian émigré ballet community that included many important choreographers, dancers, composers, and visual artists, working outside Russia.

The 1917 revolution posed serious problems for the former Imperial Theaters, and not least to the ballet, which was widely perceived as the bauble of the nation's theater bureaucracy and former rulers. Nonetheless, the foment that surrounded attempts to revolutionize Russian theater in the years following the October Revolution had limited impact on the ballet. With most important Russian choreographers, dancers, and pedagogues already working outside of Russia in the 1920s (Fokine, George Balanchine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Bronislava Nijinska, Anna Pavlova, and Tamara Karsavina, to name a few), experimentation in the young Soviet ballet was borne of necessity.

The October Revolution and the subsequent shift of power, both political and cultural, to Moscow, led to the emergence of Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. The company that had long occupied a distinct second place to the Petersburg troupe now took center stagea position it would hold until the breakup of the Soviet Union. The creative leadership of the company had traditionally been imported from Petersburg, but in the Soviet period, so would many of its star dancers (Marina Semyonova, Galina Ulanova).

A new genre of realistic ballets was born in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and dominated Soviet dance theater well into the 1950s. The drambalet, shorthand for dramatic ballet, reconciled the ballet's tendency to abstraction (and resulting lack of ideological content) to the new need for easily understandable narrative. The creative impotence of Soviet ballet in the post-Stalin era reflected the general malaise of the so-called period of stagnation of the Brezhnev years. When Russian companies dramatically increased the pace of moneymaking Western tours in the 1980s, it became clear that the treasure-chest of Russian classic ballets had long ago been plundered, with little new choreography of interest to refill it. As the history of the two companies would suggest, the loss of Soviet power resulted in the speedy demotion of the Moscow troupe and the rise of a post-Soviet Petersburg ballet.

See also: bolshoi theater; diagilev, sergei pavlovich; nijinsky, vaslav fomich; pavlova, anna matveyevna

bibliography

Roslavleva, Natalia. (1956). Era of the Russian Ballet. London: Gollancz.

Scholl, Tim. (1994). From Petipa to Balanchine: Classical Revival and the Modernization of Ballet. London: Routledge.

Slonimsky, Yuri. (1960). The Bolshoi Ballet: Notes. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

Souritz, Elizabeth. (1990). Soviet Choreographers in the 1920s, tr. Lynn Visson. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Swift, Mary Grace. (1968). The Art of the Dance in the USSR. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Wiley, Roland John, ed. and tr. (1990). A Century of Russian Ballet: Documents and Eyewitness Accounts, 1810-1910. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tim Scholl

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ballet

ballet Imagine your legs rotated, from your hips to the tips of your toes, heels touching, to form an angle of 180 degrees. Every muscle, from the waist down, is contracted. Your buttocks are tight and scooped inwards and under. Your stomach is concave, muscles rippling. You have taken a breath so deep that your waist is floating; your ribs a mile from your hips. Your shoulders press down on your rigid spine. Your head floats on its elongated neck. Gently curved arms flow down to precisely positioned fingers.

Ballet begins here — the head held high, the chest broad, the top half of the body generally quite rigid, with the waist downwards performing whatever skills tradition requires. Every position, from a simple demi-plié to the most complex enchaînement or batterie combination, places exacting, apparently unreal demands on the body. Demands that can, from the best performers, elicit movements of unimaginable agility, virtuosity, and beauty.

Surely, human beings must always have used stylized movement to communicate expression of mood and intent, from ritualistic tribal war ceremonies to dances expressing love or affirming the sense of community. Dance is a body language: one dancer's body is usually in dialogue or in full confrontation (aggressive or friendly) with that of another.

Ballet evolved from the formal bals and entertainments held for the pleasure of monarchs and courtiers in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century courts of Western Europe. The movements articulated in court dances were precise, measured, allowing only the best body lines to be exposed. Thus legs and feet were turned out. The trunk was usually three-quarters crossed (croisé) to the partner's body or to the audience, rather than full-face (en face) — certainly never side-on, exposing the ugly silhouette of over-prominent buttocks, knock-knees or large stomach. These conventions charted the route to the highly technical forms of classical ballet, as we know it at the start of the twenty-first century.

Louis IV, the Sun King of France (1638–1715), an ardent lover of dance and an enthusiastic dancer himself, established the Académie Royale de Musique. Here the steps and postures that he and his courtiers loved were formalized and refined, and the French terms that had been used well before Louis's reign were consolidated. French ballet terms are now a world-wide language. A classically trained dancer can follow without difficulty a ballet class in New York, Shanghai, Sydney, or Florence.

Over the centuries, ballet skills have become yet more rigorous and exacting. At the same time, poise and ethereal grace must never be lost. Odile's 32 fouettés (turning en pointe, on one leg, 32 times) in Swan Lake must be delivered with effortless finesse. (The audience will think less of the ballerina who does not achieve both the number of turns and the necessary grace associated with the role.)

As with art and music, the nineteenth century witnessed immense changes in ballet, from the aerial romanticism of the ballerinas Taglioni, Elssler, and Cerrito in the first decades to the strict formulaic style of master choreographer Marius Petipa later in the century. Petipa, ballet master and choreographer for the Imperial Russian Ballet in St Petersburg from 1862, sought, above all, sculpted perfection, epitomized in his ballets The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, to the music of Tchaikovsky. Not only the individual steps but the entire tableaux of corps de ballet represent precision itself. As a rebellion against Petipa's formality and rigidity of style came the more expressive works of Russian choreographer Michael Fokine. In the first decade of the twentieth century, after the Russian Revolution, Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes in Paris, extended the boundaries of ballet in experimental, sometimes controversial works, including Stravinsky's The Firebird, Petruschka, and The Rite of Spring. The most enigmatic of Diaghilev's dancers was Vaslav Nijinsky, who interpreted his roles with primitive sensuality and often abandoned classical techniques, such as turnout.

Through the twentieth century, the classical technique and the choreographic masterpieces of the nineteenth century survived, forever preserved, indeed refined in interpretation, especially by the great ballet companies of Europe and North America. But ballet (or modern dance as it became known, to distinguish it from classical ballet) also continued to develop, becoming ever more experimental, improvised, diverging from the rigours of classical ballet. Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham are but a few of the leaders in contemporary dance, in which expression of movement and mood is conveyed through contraction of the torso, flexing of the feet, parallel position of the legs, and many other movements that are out of bounds in classical ballet.

The arduous training pursued by a modern dancer in the search for near-perfect technique results in muscular and anatomical development of the physique — a striking contrast to the first professional ballet dancers of the nineteenth century as we see them depicted in illustrations. Marie Taglioni, who made her début in Paris in 1822, though considered technically brilliant, was ‘stoop-shouldered and skinny with over-long arms’. A famous dancer of the 1840s, Fanny Cerrito, captured in a black and white photograph, appears dumpy and awkward, resembling a mushroom with her legs protruding from a huge knee-length voile skirt. Théophile Gautier, the French poet and sometime dance critic, described her as
‘short of stature and round in frame … plump, dimpled arms … a delicate ankle and well-rounded leg. Her shoulders, her bosom do not have that scrawniness characteristic of female dancers whose whole weight seems to have descended into their legs.’

Dancers now jump higher, pirouette more times — more than the naked eye can count — spend hours in traction to stretch their limbs and torsos a centimetre or two more. Like modern athletes, their aim is perfection, speed of movement, flexibility of limbs. At the same time, they must retain grace and delicacy. ‘Graceful beyond all comparisons, wonderful lightness and absence of all violent effort, or at least the appearance of it, and a modesty as new as it is delightful to witness,’ as Marie Taglioni was described when dancing at the Paris Opéra in the 1820s.

Andrée Blakemore

Bibliography

Fonteyn, M. (1980). The magic of dance. BBC Books, London


See also body language; dance; female form.

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ballet

ballet is a dramatic entertainment by dancers, usually in costume with scenery and accompanied by music. Originating as elaborations of social dances in the lavish court spectacles of Renaissance Italy, it developed in France following the marriage of Catherine de Medici to Henri II in 1533. The ballet de cour mixed poetry, vocal and instrumental music, dancing, costumes, and scenery—the same recipe as that of the English masque, a similar celebratory entertainment including both professional dancers and members of the court.

The establishment of the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661 was rapidly followed by Lully and Molière's numerous comédie-ballets, and the strong influence of French dance and Lully's music is clearly apparent in late 17th-cent. English stage works such as Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Dance continued to be incorporated into opera. When Marie Sallé came to Covent Garden in 1734, creating a stir in the ballet Pygmalion with her loose muslin dress and free hair rather than panniered skirts and wig, Handel included dance music for her troupe in his operas. Also popular in London at this time was pantomime, often performed between the acts of plays or operas. The dancing-master John Weaver claimed credit for the first pantomime with The Tavern Bilkers: probably the ‘Comical Entertainment in a Tavern between Scaramouch, Harlequin and Punchanello’ advertised at Drury Lane theatre in 1703. The theatre director John Rich was a famous Harlequin in many productions, although Weaver's The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717) ignored grotesque commedia characters and offered what he termed ‘scenical dancing’ and mime.

Sallé's expressive dancing, together with the English pantomime and the acting style of David Garrick, influenced Jean-Georges Noverre, the greatest proponent of the new ballet d'action whose central dramatic narrative was conveyed entirely by dance, mime, and music without spoken or sung text. Among Noverre's pupils was Charles-Louis Didelot, who worked in London at the turn of the 19th cent. Carlotta Grisi, the first Giselle (Paris, 1841), married choreographer Jules Perrot, formerly partner of the great Romantic ballerina Marie Taglioni. The couple worked at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, in the 1840s, and Perrot's Pas de quatre (1845) brought together four of the world's leading ballerinas: Taglioni, Grisi, Cerrito, and Grahn.

As with Noverre, the concept of a unified art-work was also central to Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, whose company had annual London seasons from 1911 to 1914. Diaghilev commissioned many of the leading artists of his time: choreographers Fokine, Massine, and Balanchine; designers Bakst, Picasso, and Cocteau; and numerous composers including Stravinsky, Debussy, Satie, and Ravel. Diaghilev helped establish classical ballet as a serious art-form and trained many of the key figures in British ballet: Marie Rambert, who in 1926 formed the company that became known as the Ballet Rambert (from 1987 the Rambert Dance Company); Ninette de Valois, who established the Vic-Wells Ballet at Sadler's Wells (known as the Royal Ballet from 1956); and Alicia Markova, whose mantle as the leading British ballerina passed to Margot Fonteyn. Renowned for her effortless technique, grace, and dramatic involvement, Fonteyn's later career included an acclaimed partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.

Among leading British choreographers are Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, Kenneth MacMillan, and Antony Tudor, while important composers writing specific ballet scores included Vaughan Williams, Bliss, and Britten. Britten also exploited dance in his operas Gloriana (1953) and Death in Venice (1974). There are now numerous touring dance companies in Britain, some specializing in modern dance.

Eric Cross

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ballet

ballet Theatrical dance form set to music. The first formal ballet, Ballet comique de la Reine, was performed at the court of Catherine de' Medici (1581). In 1661 Louis XIV founded the Royal Academy of Dance. Exclusively performed by male dancers, ballet was confined to the French court. The Triumph of Love (1681) was the first ballet to use trained female dancers. The first public performance of a ballet was in 1708. Choreographic notation developed, and Pierre Beauchamp (1631–1719) established the five classical positions. Jean-Georges Noverre (1727–1810), the most influential choreographer of the 18th century, argued for a greater naturalism. In 1820 Carlo Blasis (1797–1878) codified the turn out technique, which facilitated the freer movement of the dancer. The 1832 performance of Les Sylphides set the choreographic model for 19th-century Romantic ballets, stressing the role of the prima ballerina. Dancing on the toes (sur les pointes) was introduced. At the end of the 19th century, Russian ballet emphasized technique and virtuosity. Subsequently, Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes revolutionized ballet with dynamic choreography and dancing. Today, the preeminence of Russian ballet is maintained by the Kirov and Bolshoi companies. In 1930 Dame Marie Rambert founded the first English ballet school, and in 1931 Dame Ninette de Valois established the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet). Rudolf Nureyev influential work for the Royal Ballet enlarged the role and dramatic range of the male dancer. In 1934 the first major US ballet school was instituted under the direction of George Balanchine. The New York City Ballet was established in 1948, and is now one of the world's principal ballet companies. American ballet introduced a more abstract style and eclectic approach, fusing elements of classical ballet, jazz, popular and modern dance. See also Fokine, Michel; Massine, Léonide; masque; Nijinsky, Vaslav

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ballet

bal·let / baˈlā/ • n. an artistic dance form performed to music using precise and highly formalized set steps and gestures. Classical ballet is characterized by light, graceful, fluid movements and the use of pointe shoes. ∎  a creative work of this form or the music written for it. ∎  a group of dancers who regularly perform such works: the New York City Ballet. ∎  [in sing.] fig. an elaborate or complicated interaction between people: that delicate and cautious ballet known as the planning process.

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ballet

ballet XVII. — F. ballet — It. balletto, dim. of ballo BALL2.

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ballet

balletballet, Calais, chalet, Hallé, palais, pis aller •matchplay • parlay •cor anglais, franglais •melee, pappardelle, Pelé •endplay • Nestlé • airplay •belay, relay •replay • screenplay • Millais • inlay •misplay • cantabile • roundelay •teleplay • pipeclay • byplay • volet •bobsleigh • foreplay • swordplay •horseplay • outlay • paso doble •stroke play • soufflé • bouclé •gunplay • cabriolet • Rabelais •underlay • Beaujolais • Charolais •interplay • overlay • wordplay

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