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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Painting of ballet dancers by Edgar Degas, 1872.

Ballet is a formalized type of performance dance, which originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France, England, and Russia as a concert dance form. The early performances preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with most of the audience seated on tiers or galleries on three sides of the dancing floor. It has since become a highly technical form of dance with its own vocabulary. It is primarily performed with the accompaniment of classical music. It has been influential as a form of dance globally and is taught in ballet schools around the world, which use their own cultures and societies to inform the art. Ballet dance works (ballets) are choreographed and performed by trained artists, include mime and acting, and are set to music (usually orchestral but occasionally vocal). It is a poised style of dance that incorporates the foundational techniques for many other dance styles.

This type of dancing is very hard to achieve and takes much practice to master. It is best known in the form of Late Romantic Ballet Blanc, which preoccupies itself with the female dancer to the exclusion of almost all else, focusing on pointe work, flowing, precise acrobatic movements, and often presenting the dancers in the conventional short white French tutu. Later developments include expressionist ballet, Neoclassical ballet, and elements of Modern dance.

The etymology of the word "ballet" is related to the art form's history. The word ballet comes from the French and was borrowed into English around the 17th century. The French word in turn has its origins in Italian balletto, a diminutive of ballo (dance). Ballet ultimately traces back to Latin ballare, meaning to dance.[1]



Harlequin and Columbina from the mime theater at Tivoli, Denmark.

Ballet emerged in the late fifteenth-century Renaissance court culture of Italy as a dance interpretation of fencing, and further developed in the French court from the time of Louis XIV in the 17th century. This is reflected in the largely French vocabulary of ballet. Despite the great reforms of 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 came to be influential around the world. Diaghilev's company came to be a destination for many of the Russian trained dancers fleeing the famine and unrest that followed the Bolshevik revolution. These dancers brought many of the choreographic and stylistic innovations that had been flourishing under the czars back to their place of origin.

In the 20th century ballet has continued to develop and has 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 now include contemporary ballet and post-structural ballet, seen in the work of William Forsythe in Germany.

Classical ballet

Classical ballet is the most formal of the ballet styles; it adheres to traditional ballet technique. There are variations relating to area of origin, such as Russian ballet, French ballet, and Italian ballet. Although most ballet of the last two centuries is ultimately founded on the teachings of Blasis. The most well-known styles of ballet are the Russian Method, the Italian Method, the Danish Method, the Balanchine Method or New York City Ballet Method, and the Royal Academy of Dance and Royal Ballet School methods, derived from the Cecchetti method, created in England. The first pointe shoes were actually regular ballet slippers that were heavily darned at the tip. It would allow the girl to briefly stand on her toes to appear weightless. It was later converted to the hard box that is used today. Classical ballet is defined by three rules : - everything is turned-out - when the feet are not on the floor, they're pointed - when the leg is not bent, it's stretched completely.

Neoclassical ballet

Neoclassical ballet is a ballet style that uses traditional ballet vocabulary but is less rigid than the classical ballet. For example, dancers often dance at more extreme tempos and perform more technical feats. Spacing in neoclassical ballet is usually more modern or complex than in classical ballet. Although organization in neoclassical ballet is more varied, the focus on structure is a defining characteristic of neoclassical ballet.

It is the style of 20th century classical ballet exemplified by the works of Stanley Sharp. It draws on the advanced technique of 19th century Russian Imperial dance, but strips it of its detailed narrative and heavy theatrical setting. Balanchine used flexed hands (and occasionally feet), turned-in legs, off-centered positions and non-left is the dance itself, sophisticated but sleekly modern, retaining the pointe shoe aesthetic, but eschewing the well-upholstered drama and mime of the full length story ballet.

Wiener Staatsoper Schwanensee Szene Akt4.jpg

Balanchine brought modern dancers in to dance with his company, the New York City Ballet. One such dancer was Paul Taylor, who, in 1959, performed in Balanchine's Episodes. Balanchine worked with modern dance choreographer Martha Graham, expanding his exposure to modern techniques and ideas. During this period, Tetley began to consciously combine ballet and modern techniques in experimentation.

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 Serge Diaghilev's abstract ballets.

Contemporary ballet

A ballet dancer

Contemporary ballet is a form of dance influenced by both classical ballet and modern dance. It takes its technique and use of pointe work from classical ballet, although it permits a greater range of movement that may not adhere to the strict body lines set forth by schools of ballet technique. Many of its concepts come from the ideas and innovations of 20th century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs.

Two dancers assume a graceful pose.

George Balanchine is often considered to have been the first pioneer of contemporary ballet through the development of neoclassical ballet. One dancer who danced briefly for Balanchine was Mikhail Baryshnikov, an exemplar of Kirov Ballet training. Following Baryshnikov's appointment as artistic director of American Ballet Theatre in 1980, he worked with various modern choreographers, most notably Twyla Tharp. Tharp choreographed Push Comes To Shove for ABT and Baryshnikov in 1976; in 1986 she created In The Upper Room for her own company. Both these pieces were considered innovative for their use of distinctly modern movements melded with the use of pointe shoes and classically-trained dancers—for their use of "contemporary ballet".

Twyla Tharp also worked with the Joffrey Ballet company, founded in 1957 by Robert Joffrey. She choreographed Deuce Coupe for them in 1973, using pop music and a blend of modern and ballet techniques. The Joffrey Ballet continued to perform numerous contemporary pieces, many choreographed by co-founder Gerald Arpino.

Today there are many contemporary ballet companies and choreographers. These include Alonzo King and his company, Alonzo King's Lines Ballet; Complexions Contemporary Ballet, under the direction of Dwight Rhoden; Nacho Duato's Compañia Nacional de Danza; William Forsythe, who has worked extensively with the Frankfurt Ballet and today runs The Forsythe Company; and Jiří Kylián, currently the artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theatre. Traditionally "classical" companies, such as the Kirov Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, also regularly perform contemporary works.


See also


  1. ^ Chantrell (2002), p. 42.
  • Anderson, Jack (1992). Ballet & Modern Dance: A Concise History (2nd ed. ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton Book Company, Publishers. ISBN 0-87127-172-9. 
  • Au, Susan (2002). Ballet & Modern Dance (2nd ed. ed.). London: Thames & Hudson world of art. ISBN 0-500-20352-0. 
  • Bland, Alexander (1976). A History of Ballet and Dance in the Western World. New York: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-53740-4. 
  • Chantrell, Glynnis, ed (2002). The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Word Histories. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-19098-6. 
  • Darius, Adam (2007). Arabesques Through Time. Harlequinade Books, Helsinki. ISBN 9519823247
  • Gordon, Suzanne (1984). Off Balance: The Real World of Ballet. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-023770-0. 
  • Kirstein, Lincoln; Stuart, Muriel (1952). The Classic Ballet. New York: Alfred A Knopf. 
  • Lee, Carol (2002). Ballet In Western Culture: A History of its Origins and Evolution. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94256X. 

External links

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by William Carlos Williams
from Al Que Quiere! (1917)

Are you not weary,
great gold cross
shining in the wind—
are you not weary
of seeing the stars
turning over you
and the sun
going to his rest
and you frozen with
a great lie
that leaves you
rigid as a knight
on a marble coffin?

—and you,
higher, still,
untwisting a song
from the bare
are you not
weary of labor,
even the labor of
a song?

Come down—join me
for I am lonely.

First it will be
a quiet pace
to ease our stiffness
but as the west yellows
you will be ready!

Here in the middle
of the roadway
we will fling
ourselves round
with dust lilies
till we are bound in
their twining stems!
We will tear
their flowers
with arms flashing!

And when
the astonished stars
push aside
their curtains
they will see us
fall exhausted where
wheels and
the pounding feet
of horses
will crush forth
our laughter.

Notes and references

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain). Flag of the United States.svg

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

'BALLET, a performance in which dancing, music and pantomime are involved. Originally derived from the (Sicilian) Gr. 13aX M'Et y, to dance, the word has passed through the Med. Lat. ballare (with ballator as synonymous with saltator) to the Ital. ballare and ballata, to the Fr. ballet, to the O. Eng. word ballette, and to ballad. 'In O. Fr., according to Rousseau, ballet signifies "to dance, to sing, to rejoice"; and thus it incorporates three distinct modern words, "ballet, ball and ballad." Through the gradual changes in the amusements of different ages, the meaning of the first two words has at length become limited to dancing, and the third is now confined to singing. But, although ballads are no longer the vocal accompaniments to dances round the maypole, old ballads are still sung to dance tunes. The present acceptation of the word ballet is - a theatrical representation in which a story is told only by gesture, accompanied by music, which should be characterized by stronger emphasis than would be employed with the voice. The dancing should be connected with the story but is more commonly incidental. The French word was found to be so comprehensive as to require further definition, and thus the above-described would be distinguished as the ballet d'action or pantomime ballet, while a single scene, such as that of a village festival with its dances, would now be termed a divertissement. The ballet d'action, to which the changed meaning of the word is to be ascribed, and therewith the introduction of modern ballet, has been generally attributed to the 15th century. Novelty of entertainment was then sought for in the splendid courts of Italy, in order to celebrate events which were thought great in their time, such as the marriages of princes, or the triumphs of their arms. Invention was on the rack for novelty, and the skill of the machinist was taxed to the utmost. It has been supposed that the art of the old Roman pantomimi was then revived, to add to the attractions of court-dances. Under the Roman empire the pantomimi had represented either a mythological story, or perhaps a scene from a Greek tragedy, by mute gestures, while a chorus, placed in the background, sang cantica to narrate the fable, or to describe the action of the scene. The question is whether mute pantomimic action, which is the essence of modern ballet, was carried through those court entertainments, in which kings, queens, princes and princesses, took parts with the courtiers; or whether it is of later growth, and derived from professional dances upon the stage. The former is the general opinion, but the court entertainments of Italy and France were masques or masks which included declamation and song, like those of Ben Jonson with Inigo Jones for the court of James I.

The earliest modern ballet on record was that given by Bergonzio di Botta at Tortona to celebrate the marriage of the duke of Milan in 1489. The ballet, like other forms of dancing, was developed and perfected in France; it is closely associated with the history of the opera; but in England it came much later than the opera, for it was not introduced until the 18th century, and in the first Italian operas given in London there was no ballet. During the regency of Lord Middlesex a ballet-master was appointed and a corps of dancers formed. The ballet has had three distinct stages in its development. For a long time it was to be found only at the court, when princely entertainments were given to celebrate great occasions. At that time ladies of the highest rank performed in the ballet and spent much time in practising and perfecting themselves for it. Catherine de'Medici introduced these entertainments into France and spent large sums of money on devising performances to distract her son's attention from the affairs of the state. Baltasarini, otherwise known as Beaujoyeulx, was the composer of a famous entertainment given by Catherine in 1581 called the "Ballet Comique de la Reyne." This marks an era in the history of the opera and ballet, for we find here for the first time dance and music arranged for the display of coherent dramatic ideas. Henry IV., Louis XIII. and XIV. were all lovers of the ballet and performed various characters in them, and Richelieu used the ballet as an instrument for the expression of political purposes. Lully was the first to make an art of the composition of ballet music and he was the first to insist on the admission of women as ballet dancers, feminine characters having hitherto been assumed by men dressed as women. When Louis XIV. became too fat to dance, the ballet at court became unpopular and thus was ended the first stage of its development. It was then adopted in the colleges at prize distributions and other occasions, when the ballets of Lully and Quinault were commonly performed. The third period in the history of the ballet was marked by its appearance on the stage, where it has remained ever since. It should be added that up till the third period dramatic poems had accompanied the ballet and the dramatic meaning was helped out with speech and song; but with the advent of the third period speech disappeared and the purely pantomime performance, or ballet d'action, was instituted.

The father of ballet dancing as we know it at the present day was Jean Georges Noverre. The ballet d'action was really invented by him; in fact, the ballet has never advanced beyond the stage to which he brought it; it has rather gone back. The essence of Noverre's theory was that mere display was not enough to ensure interest and life for the ballet; and some years ago Sir Augustus Harris expressed a similar opinion when he was asked wherein lay the reason of the decadence of the modern ballet. Noverre brought to a high degree of perfection the art of presenting a story by means of pantomime, and he never allowed dancing which was not the direct expression of a particular attitude of mind. Apart from Noverre, the greatest ballet-master was undoubtedly Gaetano Apolline Balthazare Vestris, who modestly called himself le dieu de la danse, and was, indeed, the finest male dancer that Europe ever produced. Gluck composed Iphigenie en Aulide in conjunction with Vestris. In 1750 the two greatest dancers of the day performed together in Paris in a ballet-opera called Leandre et Hero; the dancers were Vestris and Madame Camargo, who introduced short skirts in the ballet.

The word "balette" was first used in the English language by Dryden in 1667, and the first descriptive ballet seen in London was The Tavern Bilkers, which was played at Drury Lane in 1702. Since then the ballet in England has been purely exotic and has merely followed on the lines of French developments. The palmy days of the ballet in England were in the first half of the 19th century, when a royal revenue was spent on the maintenance of this fashionable attraction. Some famous dancers of this period were Carlotta Grisi, Mdlle Taglioni (who is said to have turned the heads of an entire generation), Fanny Elssler, Mdlle Cerito, Miss P. Horton, Miss Lucile Grahn and Mdlle Carolina Rosati. In later years Kate Vaughan was a remarkably graceful dancer of a new type in England, and, in Sir Augustus Harris's opinion, she did much to elevate the modern art. She was the first to make skirt-dancing popular, although that achievement will not be regarded as an unmixed benefit by every student of the art. Skirt-dancing, in itself a beautiful exhibition, is a departure from true dancing in the sense that the steps are of little importance in it; and we have seen its development extend to a mere exhibition of whirling draperies under many-coloured lime-lights. The best known of Miss Vaughan's disciples and imitators (each of whom has contributed something to the art on her own account) were Miss Sylvia Grey and Miss Letty Lind. Of the older and classical school of ballet-dancing Adeline Genee became in London the finest exponent. But ballet-dancing, affected by a tendency in modern entertainment to make less and less demands on the intelligence and intellectual appreciation of the public, and more and more demands on the eye - the sense most easily affected - has gradually developed into a spectacle, the chief interest of which is quite independent of dancing. Thousands of pounds are spent on dressing a small army of women who do little but march about the stage and group themselves in accordance with some design of colour and mass; and no more is asked of the intelligence than to believe that a ballet dressed, for example, in military uniform is a compliment to or glorification of the army. Only a few out of hundreds of members of the corps de ballet are really dancers and they perform against a background of colour afforded by the majority. It seems unlikely that we shall see any revival of the best period and styles of dancing until a higher standard of grace and manners becomes fashionable in society. With the constantly increasing abolition of ceremony, courtliness of manner is bound to diminish; and only in an atmosphere of ceremony, courtesy and chivalry can the dance maintain itself in perfection.

Literature. - One of the most complete books on the ballet is by the Jesuit, Claude Francois Menestrier, Des ballets anciens et modernes, 12m0 (1682). He was the inventor of a ballet for Louis XIV. in 1658; and in his book he analyses about fifty of the early Italian and French ballets. See also Noverre, Lettres sur la danse (1760; new ed. 1804); Castel-Blaze, La Danse et les ballets (1832), and Les Origines de l'opera (1869).

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Simple English

's The Nutcracker.]]

Program design by Leon Bakst for Nijinsky's L'Apre-Midi d'une Faune, Paris 1912, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.
File:Bakst - Ida Rubinstein (1885-1960) comme Helene de Sparte,
Costume design by Bakst for the ballerina Ida Rubinstein as Helene de Sparta, 1912.
File:Darcey Bussell, curtain call for Theme and
Darcy Bussell and Carlos Acosta taking a curtain call.
Prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn as a guest dancer with the Mariinsky Ballet in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia in 1948.

Ballet is a type of dance. It is only done by dancers who have had special training. The dancers are employed by a dance company, and they perform in theatres. The first reference to ballet is found in a work of Domenico da Piacenza, who lived in the early 14th century.

Ballet involves the creation of the dance itself, often a type of imaginary story. The story is told with the help of dance and mime. The creation of dance is called choreography. The choreography is learnt by the dancers under the supervision of a trainer, called a ballet master or mistress. Ballet is always performed to music, and in many cases the music was specially composed for a particular ballet. Ballet is a major part of theatre, and a popular example is The Nutcracker.



Early stages

Ballet grew out of Renaissance spectacles which, rather like big pop music events today, used every type of performance art. These Italian ballets were further developed in France. Le Ballet Comique de la Reine (The Queen's Ballet Comedy) was performed in Paris in 1581. It was staged by Balthazar de Beaujoyeux, a violinist and dancing master at the court of Catherine de Medici. It was danced by amateurs in a hall. The royal family were watching at one end and the others in galleries on three sides. Poetry and songs came with the dances.[1]

The basis of classical ballet was formed in the Court of Louis XIV in France, in the 17th century.[2]p40 Even his title (the 'Sun King') came from a role he danced in a ballet. Many of the ballets presented at his court were created by the Italian-French composer Jean Baptiste Lully and the French choreographer Pierre Beauchamp. Also during this time, the playwright Molière invented the comedie-ballet.[1]

Modern technique begins

In the early 19th century ballet technique was codified (sorted out and written down) by Carlo Blasis (1797–1878) of Naples. His dance classes, four hours long, were famous for being the toughest training there was at that time. 'Romantic ballet' flourished in France in the first half of the 19th century.

Ballet with a more athletic style was developed in Imperial Russia of the late 19th century. This company performed in the Mariinsky Theatre at St. Petersburg. The three famous Tchaikovsky ballets, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, date from that time. The next stage was the Diaghilev ballet. Diageilev was a great impresario (showman). In 1909 he founded Les Ballets Russes de Sergei Diaghilev, considered by many to be the greatest ballet company of all time.

"Its success was so extraordinary, its ballets so revolutionary, and its artists so electrifying that its appearance in Paris before the First World War sparked an internatioanal ballet boom".[2]p47

His dancers included the legendary Nijinsky and the Imperial primaballerina Karsavina; also Pavlova, Danilova and Spessivtseva. His choreographers included Fokine, Massine and Balanchine; his composers included Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ravel and Debussy; his set designers included Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Utrillo, Bakst and Braque; and the ballets created changed the course of ballet history.

Later in the 20th century, permanent ballet companies were set up in English-speaking countries. The Royal Ballet in London was started, and in New York a company called the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was founded (1938–1962).


Specific methods are named after the ballet master or mistress who started them, such as the Vaganova method after Agrippina Vaganova, the Balanchine method after George Balanchine, and the Cecchetti method after Enrico Cecchetti.

Other websites

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  1. 1.0 1.1 "Dancing Online, History of Ballet". Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Crane, Debra & Mackrell, Judith 2000. The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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