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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Snippets of History in Ballet Dancing

Ballet dancing first flourished in the courts of Italy following the Renaissance. Upon marrying Henry II, Catherine de Medici took the art of court entertainment with her to France. It is from her great Ballet Comique de la Reine of 1581 that the birth of ballet is usually dated.

Courtiers and even monarchs took part in these court entertainments. The movements were stately, and fitting the etiquette of the court. The performances usually took place in either the ballroom or the great courtyards. Courtiers and honored guests watched from raised platforms.
In those days the court dress did not permit ladies to move with the freedom that they do today, and in most cases their faces, feet and legs could not be seen. Men had a lot more freedom of movement, as tights were a regular part of court dress.

In 1669, Louis XIV set up a dancing academy called the Paris Opera, but it was many years before ballet dancing as we know it today developed. During the early 18th century, professional ballerinas started emerging, however they still looked like court ladies partnered by court gentlemen.

Marie de Camargo started developing the role of ballerina by creating the first entrechat, which is a step where the ballet dancer jumps straight up into the air and beats her feet. To show this off the skirt was permitted to be raised a little.

Marie Salle was the other great ballerina of the age and went a step further to dance her ballet Pygmalion wearing only a thin muslin shift. Paris society found this too scandalous and she had to take her art to London where she continued performing at Covent Garden in 1734.

By the middle of the 18th century, ballet dancing was still rather stifled and ballerina’s still wore heavy dresses and masks to hide their features. The ballet dances and stories were always about gods and goddesses and told by a mixture of mime, music and speech.

When Jean-Georges Noverre published his ideas about how ballet should develop as a separate art in 1760, Paris did not receive them warmly. He did however manage to put some of them to practice while working in Stuttgart, but it was his pupils who developed them fully.
One of his pupils Jean Dauberval produced a charming ballet La Fille Mal Gardee, which is still very popular today.

During the French Revolution, the Romantic Movement in literature, music and painting grew and from that grew the romantic age of ballet dancing. Marie Taglioni created the role of La Sylphide about a woodland sprite that tempts a young Scottish farmer away from his earthly love. Her technique was strong and she could stand on Pointe and with her immediate success, she became the ballerina of the age.

Other supernatural beings were created after that including Ondine, a water sprite. This role was re-created by Frederick Ashton for Margot Fonteyn over a hundred years later. The last great ballet of this age was Giselle, before this creative phase came to an end.
Auguste Bournonville was the son of a ballet master, who created his own version of La Sylphide in 1836. He then went on to produce a stream of ballets in which he used colorful and lively national dances. This trend then followed in ballets you see today.

Marius Petipa's collaboration with Tchaikovsky gave the world some of its most popular ballet music, including Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

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