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ballet. Entertainment in which dancers, by use of mime, etc., perform to mus. to tell a story or to express a mood. The ballet was largely developed in the courts of Fr. and It. during the 16th and 17th cents. and especially in that of Louis XIV (reigned 1643–1715), where Lully was in charge of the mus. The ballets of this period were danced by the court itself and were very formal (gavottes, minuets, chaconnes, etc.), heavy dresses being worn, with wigs, high heels, and other trappings of court life. But the first ballet is generally held to have been the Balet comique de la Royne given in Paris in 1581.

Even in the days of the ballerina Camargo (1710–70), who introduced many innovations, dress was ample, skirts still falling below the knees; however, she introduced a more vigorous style involving high jumps. J. G. Noverre (1727–1810) banished the conventions hitherto ruling as to the use of mythological subjects, set order of dances, elaborate dresses, etc., and thus made himself the founder of the dramatic ballet, or ballet d'action. He est. the 5-act ballet as an entertainment in its own right; collab. with Gluck and Mozart in operatic ballets, and wrote an important treatise on the ballet. Other great masters of this period were Dauberval (1742–1806), Gaetano Vestris (1729–1808), and Pierre Gardel (1758–1840). Vestris was the founder of a family of maîtres de ballet, active in 3 generations (1747–1825), and of several important ballerinas. The Italian choreographer Salvatore Vigano (1769–1819), for whom Beethoven wrote Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, continued Noverre's work. By the end of the 18th cent. the ballet had almost discarded the last of its stately court influences and had developed gymnastic virtuosity, although movement was still mainly confined to the legs and feet. Dancing on the pointe (on the tips of the toes) came in only about 1814; it calls for arduous practice, requires special shoes, and carries a danger of dislocation; Marie Taglioni (career from 1822 to 1847) was its first notable exponent. The Romantic Movement introduced into the ballet an attempt at ethereal informality. Costumes grew shorter and the skin-tight Maillot, named after its Parisian inventor, was daringly introduced.

From the mid-19th cent., spectacular ballets, of a realistic and topical character, became common, and much effective ballet mus. was written, esp. by Fr. composers: Adam's Giselle (1841) has remained a classic and the appearance of Delibes's Coppélia (1870) marks an epoch.

Ballet as an integral part of opera was at its height of popularity in the first half of the 19th cent. Some of the operas of Rossini and Donizetti incl. ballets, and Verdi, bowing to the demands of Paris, where a ballet was de rigueur in opera, incl. ballets in many of his operas for that capital, even writing ballet mus. for Otello for its Paris prod. (1894). The high priest of ballet-in-opera was Meyerbeer, and even Wagner had to introduce ballet into Tannhäuser to placate his Paris audiences (but enraged the blades of the Jockey Club by refusing to place it, as was customary, in the 2nd act, by which time they would have finished their coffee and cigars). The extent of the Parisian ‘craze’ can be judged from the fact that Berlioz's orchestration of Weber's Invitation to the Dance (Aufforderung zum Tanz, 1819) was commissioned for the 1841 prod. of Der Freischütz, and dances from Bizet's incidental mus. to L'Arlésienne were interpolated into Carmen.

Fr. influence on the Russ. Imperial court ths. also created a tradition of ballet in St Petersburg and Moscow to which national traditions were added. Both cities had long had their royal schs. of ballet where technique was highly polished but there was little of mus. worth for them to dance until the masterpieces of Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (1876), The Sleeping Beauty (1889), and Nutcracker (1892). The outstanding choreog. was Marius Petipa (b Marseilles, 1818; d Gurzuf, Crimea, 1910) who was principal ballet master in St Petersburg from 1862 to 1903.

The 20th cent. saw reforms and revolutionary tendencies in the development of ballet which may be identified principally but not wholly with two individuals. The Amer. Isadora Duncan (1878–1927) was inspired by Gr. classicism and by the natural movements of the birds, the waves, etc., thereby rejecting many conventional choreographical formulae. She toured Russ. and was seen by the young dancer Mikhail Fokine (1880–1942) who was also working to free ballet from its 19th-cent. conventions, having been deeply impressed by the visit of Siamese dancers to Russ. in 1900. He achieved his ambition in collab. with the impresario and opera producer Serge Diaghilev (1872–1929). Taking advantage of the Franco-Russ. entente and realizing that radical reforms would not be allowed in the imperial ths., Diaghilev est. his Russian Ballet (Ballets Russes) in Paris, 1909, bringing together choreogs. such as Fokine, and dancers such as Nijinsky, Pavlova, and Karsavina. Ballet scores were commissioned from ‘progressive’ contemporary composers, e.g. Ravel (Daphnis et Chloé), Stravinsky (Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring), Strauss (Josephslegende), and Debussy (Jeux). The artists Bakst and Picasso were among those commissioned to design scenery. Ballet mus. ceased to be wholly subservient to the dancers’ demands. The impact of these Diaghilev prods. on Paris, London, Berlin, and other cities was electrifying and exercised considerable influence on all the arts. Diaghilev introduced 1-act ballets, making an evening from 2 or 3 short ballets. In this way there came about the ballet based on the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor, the famous Spectre de la rose (to the Weber–Berlioz Invitation to the Dance) and, as a vehicle for Nijinsky, a ballet to the mus. of Debussy's Prélude à L'après-midi d'un faune. Diaghilev frequently used re-workings of mus. not comp. for dancing as the basis of successful ballets, the most famous being Les Sylphides (1909), from Chopin pieces. Other composers treated in this way were Rossini, Cimarosa, Scarlatti, and Handel. Stravinsky was adept at these re-workings, as can be heard from Pulcinella ( Pergolesi and others) and Le Baiser de la fée ( Tchaikovsky). After the 1914–18 war, Stravinsky continued for a time to collaborate with Diaghilev but other composers who wrote ballets for him were Satie (Parade), Falla (Three-Cornered Hat) and Prokofiev (Chout, Le Pas d'acier, and L'Enfant prodigue). Most of the outstanding figures of ballet between 1918 and 1939 came from the Diaghilev co., Serge Lifar, Léonide Massine and George Balanchine among them. The virtuosity of dancers and the constantly developing art of choreogs. has successfully brought a vast range of non-ballet mus. into the ballet th. Examples of scores to which ballets have been devised incl. Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel, Tchaikovsky's 5th Sym., Brahms's 4th Sym., Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Elgar's Enigma Variations and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Nevertheless the comp. of orig. ballet scores has prospered. Tchaikovsky's heir was undoubtedly Prokofiev, whose Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet, for the Bolshoy Ballet, are superb, and distinguished scores have been written for ballet by Bartók, Copland, Shostakovich, Henze, Hindemith, Britten, and others.

In Brit. ballet was imported after the days of the masque, but the impetus provided by the Diaghilev co. led to the formation of the Camargo Soc. in 1930, of whom the leading lights were the economist Maynard Keynes (married to Lydia Lopokova), his doctor brother Geoffrey Keynes, and Ninette de Valois. Among its first prods. was Vaughan Williams's Job, the first large-scale modern ballet score (though it is designated ‘a masque for dancing’) by a Brit. composer. The Camargo Soc. became the Vic-Wells Ballet, under the aegis of Lilian Baylis at the Old Vic and SW, later the SW Ballet, and eventually the Royal Ballet (based on CG). Leading figures assoc. with Brit. ballet have incl. Constant Lambert, Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, Antony Tudor, Anton Dolin, Alicia Markova, Robert Helpmann, Marie Rambert, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, and Kenneth MacMillan. Beside the Royal Ballet, leading cos. working regularly in Brit. are Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ballet Rambert, and Northern Ballet. Orig. ballet scores by Brit. composers incl. Bliss's Checkmate and Miracle in the Gorbals, Britten's Prince of the Pagodas, Walton's The Quest, Arnold's Homage to the Queen and Solitaire, and Maxwell Davies's Salome.

In Europe after Diaghilev, and contemporary with him, leading influences in varying degrees were the Paris-based Ballets Suédois, under Rolf de Maré (1886–1964), the Ger. choreog. Kurt Jooss's Ballets Jooss, for which the mus. was written by one composer, Frederick Cohen (1904–67), Rudolf von Laban (1879–1958), Mary Wigman (1886–1973), Ida Rubinstein (c.1885–1960), Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950) and Maud Allan (1883–1956). There has been a vigorous expansion of ballet and ballet potentialities in the USA. Ex-Diaghilev associates such as Balanchine worked there and other pioneers of ballet there incl. Ruth St Denis (1877–1968), Ted Shawn (1891–1972), and Adolph Bolm (1884–1951). Later the chief figures were Mary Wigman and especially Martha Graham (1894–1991), Paul Taylor (b 1930), and Louis Horst (1884–1964) who was director of the Denishawn Sch. 1915–25 and mus. dir. for the Graham co. 1926–48. Amer. composers have been prolific in writing mus. specifically for dancing and while ballet has invaded the popular Broadway musicals such as On Your Toes, Oklahoma!, and Kiss Me, Kate, avant-garde ballet developments have kept pace with those in music. The collab. between the composer John Cage and the choreog. Merce Cunningham (b 1919) pioneered new forms of presenting ballet as, to quote Cage, ‘an activity of movement, sound, and light’, using non-sequential, non-mimetic movement. The aleatory trend in mus. has had its parallel in ballet, where all formal organization has been thrown overboard. Elec. scores have become commonplace, and slide and film projections are used. As mus. is now prod. without instr. or performers, ballet can be prod. without dancers, by means of electrocybernetic devices. Mention should also be made, if briefly, of the influence on ballet of jazz, Latin-Amer. mus., African tribal dances, and the stylized ballets of China and Japan.