Ballet is a type of performance dance that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century and later developed into a concert dance form in France and Russia. It has since become a widespread, highly technical form of dance with its own vocabulary based on French terminology. It has been globally influential and has defined the foundational techniques used in many other dance genres. Ballet requires years of training to learn and master, and much practice to retain proficiency. It has been taught in ballet schools around the world, which have historically used their own cultures to evolve the art.
Ballet may also refer to a ballet dance work, which consists of the choreography and music for a ballet production. A well-known example of this is The Nutcracker, a two-act ballet that was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a music score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Ballet dance works are choreographed and performed by trained artists. Many classical ballet works are performed with classical music accompaniment and are theatrical and use elaborate costumes and staging, though there are exceptions to this, such as works by George Balanchine.
The word ballet comes from the French and was borrowed into English around 1630. The French word in turn has its origin 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".
The history of ballet began in the Italian Renaissance courts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It quickly spread to the French court of Catherine de' Medici where it was further developed. The creation of classical ballet as it is known today occurred under Louis XIV, who in his youth was an avid dancer and performed in ballets by Pierre Beauchamp and Jean-Baptiste Lully. In 1661 Louis founded the Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Dance Academy) which was charged with establishing standards for the art of dance and the certification of dance instructors. In 1672, following his retirement from the stage, Louis XIV made Lully the director of the Académie Royale de Musique (Paris Opera) in which the first professional ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet, arose. This origin is reflected in the predominance of French in the vocabulary of ballet. Early ballets preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were performed in large chambers with the audience seated on tiers or galleries on three sides of the dance floor.
Despite the great reforms of Jean-Georges 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 ultimately influenced ballet around the world. Diaghilev's company became a destination for many of the Russian-trained dancers fleeing the famine and unrest that followed the Bolshevik revolution. These dancers brought back to their place of origin many of the choreographic and stylistic innovations that had been flourishing under the czars.
In the 20th century, ballet 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 include contemporary ballet and post-structural ballet, seen in the work of William Forsythe in Germany. Also in the twentieth century, ballet took a turn dividing it[clarification needed] from classical ballet to the introduction of modern dance, leading to modernist movements[clarification needed] in both the United States and Germany.
Stylistic variations have emerged and evolved since the Italian Renaissance. Early, classical variations are primarily associated with geographic origin. Examples of this are Russian ballet, French ballet, and Italian ballet. Later variations, such as contemporary ballet and neoclassical ballet, incorporate both classical ballet and non-traditional technique and movement. Perhaps the most widely known and performed ballet style is late Romantic ballet (or Ballet blanc), a classical style that focuses on female dancers and features pointe work, flowing and precise movements, and often presents the female dancers in traditional, short white tutus.
Romantic ballet is defined by an era during the early to mid 19th century (the romantic era) in which ballets featured themes that emphasized intense emotion as a source of aesthetic experience. The plots of many romantic ballets revolved around spirit women — sylphs, wilis, and ghosts — who enslaved the hearts and senses of mortal men. The 1827 ballet La Sylphide is widely considered to be the first, and the 1870 ballet Coppélia is considered to be the last work of romantic ballet.
Classical ballet is based on traditional ballet technique and vocabulary. There are different styles of classical ballet that are related to their areas of origin, such as French ballet, Italian ballet and Russian ballet. Several of the classical ballet styles are associated with specific training methods, which are typically named after their creators. For example, the Cecchetti method is named after its creator, Italian dancer Enrico Cecchetti and the Vaganova method is named after Russian ballerina Agrippina Vaganova.
Neoclassical ballet is a style that utilizes classical ballet technique and vocabulary, but deviates from classical ballet in its use of the abstract. In Neo-Classical Ballet, there often is no clear plot, costumes or scenery. Music choice can be diverse and will often include music that is also neo-classical (e.g. Stravinsky, Webern). Neo- Classical ballet opens up the use of space to multiple possibilities, as the elimination of the necessity of formalities and story telling allows far more possibilities for architecture and design in choreography.
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 Sergei Diaghilev's abstract ballets.[clarification needed] Balanchine worked with modern dance choreographer Martha Graham, expanding his exposure to modern techniques and ideas, and he brought modern dancers into his company (New York City Ballet) such as Paul Taylor, who in 1959 performed in Balanchine's Episodes.
While Balanchine is widely considered the face of Neo-Classical Ballet, there were others who made significant contributions to the development of the style. Fredrick Ashton’s Symphonic Dances (1946) is a seminal work for the choreographer, and is a work staged in white tunics, abstract and minimal set design with no discernable plot. Set to César Franck’s score of the same title, it is a pure-dance interpretation of the score in a manner that exemplifies the Ashton style.
Another form, Modern Ballet, also emerged as an offshoot of neo-classicism. Among the innovators in this form were Glen Tetley, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. While difficult to parse modern ballet from neo-classicism, the work of these choreographers favored a greater athleticism that departed from the delicacy of ballet. The physicality was more daring, with mood, subject matter and music more intense. An example of this would be Joffrey's Astarte (1967), which featured a rock score and sexual overtones in the choreography.
Contemporary ballet is a form of dance that opens up the doors to for any style to influence a work made utilizing ballet technique. Contemporary Ballet can take on a wide variety of aesthetics, incorporating pedestrian, modern, jazz, or ethnic forms, so long as a the roots of classical ballet are apparent. It allows for open ended exploration and experimentation, but a good way to determine if a work is contemporary ballet as oppose to contemporary dance, is to ask the question, is ballet training needed to perform this as it was intended?. Again, it can sometimes be difficult to parse this form from neo-classical or modern ballet. Some prime examples of this would be Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe (1973) for the Joffrey Ballet. In this ballet, Tharp juxtaposed a ballerina clad in white who makes her way through the lexicon of ballet steps, while dancers clad in street clothes, sometimes in pointe shoes, socks or sneakers, dance in wide range of styles to the music of the Beach Boys. In the 1980s William Forsythe made substantial innovations in contemporary ballet with a range of works, including In the Middle Somewhat Elevated (1987). This work featured a robust athleticism and electric score. Forsythe took classical ballet vocabulary and exaggerated it, making the dancers move bigger, faster and in more directions than before.
Many Contemporary Ballet concepts come from the ideas and innovations of 20th century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs. This ballet style is often performed barefoot. Contemporary ballets may include mime and acting, and are usually set to music (typically orchestral but occasionally vocal).
George Balanchine, the founding director of the New York City Ballet, is considered to have been a pioneer of contemporary ballet because of his pioneering development of neoclassical ballet. Another early contemporary ballet choreographer, Twyla Tharp, choreographed Push Comes To Shove for the American Ballet Theatre in 1976, and in 1986 created In The Upper Room for her own company. Both of these pieces were considered innovative for their melding of distinctly modern movements with the use of pointe shoes and classically trained dancers.
Today there are many contemporary ballet companies and choreographers. These include Alonzo King and his company LINES Ballet; Matthew Bourne and his company New Adventures; Complexions Contemporary Ballet; Nacho Duato and his Compañia Nacional de Danza; William Forsythe and The Forsythe Company; and Jiří Kylián of the Nederlands Dans Theater. Traditionally "classical" companies, such as the Kirov Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, also regularly perform contemporary works.
The term “ballet” has evolved to include all forms associated with it. Someone training as a ballet dancer will now be expected to perform neo-classical, modern and contemporary work. A ballet dancer is expected to be able to be stately and regal for classical work, free and lyrical in neo-classical work, and unassuming, harsh or pedestrian for modern and contemporary work. The art form has grown vertically and horizontally and can sometimes be blurred with other dance forms, but although sometimes hidden (intentionally or not), the element of ballet technique will always be apparent.
- Ballet glossary
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It is from this institution that French ballet has evolved rather than the Académie Royale de Danse.
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- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ballet". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.