Encyclopedia of Dance: Ballet


Ballet is the art of spiritualized plasticity, thought embodied in movement, life shown by means of choreography.

Ballet is a kind of art in which the creator’s idea is embodied by means of choreography. A ballet performance has a plot, theme, idea, dramatic content, libretto. Only in rare cases do plotless ballets take place. In the rest, by choreographic means, the dancers must convey the feelings of the characters, the plot, the action. A ballet dancer is an actor who, with the help of dance, conveys the relationship of the characters, their communication with each other, the essence of what is happening on the stage.

The history of the emergence and development of ballet

Ballet appeared in Italy in the 16th century. At this time, choreographic scenes were included as an episode in a musical performance, an opera. Later, already in France, ballet was developed as a magnificent, sublime court performance.

October 15, 1581 is considered to be the birthday of ballet all over the world. It was on this day in France that the Italian choreographer Baltazarini presented his creation to the public. His ballet was called Cercea or The Queen’s Comedy Ballet. The performance was about five hours long.

The first French ballets were based on court and folk dances and melodies. Along with the musical, there were conversational, dramatic scenes in the performance.

Development of ballet in France

The rise in popularity and flourishing of ballet art was facilitated by Louis XIV. The court nobles of that time took part in the performances with pleasure. Even the radiant king got his nickname «The Sun King» because of the role he performed in one of the court composer Lully’s ballets.

In 1661, Louis XIV founded the first ballet school in the world, the Royal Academy of Dance. The head of the school was Lully, who determined the development of ballet for the next century. Since Lully was a composer, he determined the dependence of dance movements on the construction of musical phrases, and the nature of dance movements — on the nature of the music. In collaboration with Molière and Pierre Beauchamp, the dance teacher of Louis XIV, the theoretical and practical foundations of ballet art were created. Pierre Beauchamp began to create the terminology of classical dance. To this day, the terms for designating and describing the main ballet positions and combinations are used in French.

In the 17th century, ballet was replenished with new genres, such as ballet-opera, ballet-comedy. Attempts are being made to create a performance in which the music would organically reflect the storyline, and the dance, in turn, would organically flow into the music. Thus, the foundations of ballet art are laid: the unity of music, dance and dramaturgy.

Beginning in 1681, participation in ballet performances became available to women. Until that time, only men were ballet dancers. Ballet, as a separate art form, received its finished form only in the second half of the 18th century thanks to the stage innovation of the French choreographer Jean Georges Nover. His reforms in choreography assigned an active role to music as the basis for a ballet performance.


Development of ballet in Russia

The first ballet performance in Russia took place on February 8, 1673 in the village of Preobrazhenskoye at the court of Tsar Alexander Mikhailovich. The originality of Russian ballet is formed by the French choreographer Charles-Louis Didelot. He affirms the priority of the female party in the dance, increases the role of the corps de ballet, strengthens the connection between dance and pantomime. A real revolution in ballet music was made by P.I. Tchaikovsky in his three ballets: The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. These works, and behind them the performances, are an unsurpassed pearl of the musical and dance genres, unparalleled in the depth of dramatic content and the beauty of figurative expression.

In 1783, Catherine II created the Imperial Opera and Ballet Theater in St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater in Moscow. Such masters as M. Petipa, A. Pavlova, M. Danilova, M. Plisetskaya, V. Vasiliev, G. Ulanova and many others glorified Russian ballet on the stages of famous theaters.

The 20th century was marked by innovations in literature, music and dance. In ballet, this innovation manifested itself in the creation of modern dance — a plastic dance free from the technique of classical choreography. One of the founders of modern ballet was Isadora Duncan.

Features of classical choreography

One of the main requirements in classical choreography is the eversion of the legs. The first ballet performers were court aristocrats. All of them mastered the art of swordsmanship, which used the eversion foot position, allowing better movement in any direction. From fencing, the requirements of turnout turned into choreography, which was a matter of course for the French courtiers.

Another feature of the ballet — performance on the toes — appeared only in the 18th century, when Marie Taglioni first used this technique. Each school and each dancer brought their own characteristics to the art of ballet, enriching it and making it more popular.

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