Ballet

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Classical bell tutus in The Dance Class by Degas, 1874

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.

Etymology[edit]

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",[1][2] which in turn comes from the Greek "βαλλίζω" (ballizo), "to dance, to jump about".[3][4]

History[edit]

Anna Pavlova in Giselle, wearing a Romantic tutu

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.[5] 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.[6]

Styles[edit]

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.

Classical ballet[edit]

Scene from act 4 of Swan Lake, Vienna State Opera, 2004
Harlequin and Columbina from the mime theater at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

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.

Neoclassical ballet[edit]

Neoclassical ballet is a style that conforms to classical ballet technique and vocabulary, but deviates from classical ballet through such differences as unusually fast dance tempos and its addition of non-traditional technical feats. Spacing in neoclassical ballet is usually more modern or complex[clarify] than in classical ballet. Although organization[further explanation needed] in neoclassical ballet is more varied, the focus on structure[clarify] is a defining characteristic of neoclassical ballet.

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. During this time period[when?], Glen Tetley began to experimentally combine ballet and modern techniques.

Contemporary ballet[edit]

Contemporary ballet is a form of dance influenced by both classical ballet and modern dance. It employs the fundamental technique and body control (using abdominal strength) principles of classical ballet but permits a greater range of movement than classical ballet and may not adhere to the strict body lines or turnout that permeate classical 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. This ballet style is often performed barefoot. Modern ballets may include mime and acting, and are usually set to music (typically orchestral but occasionally vocal).

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 LINES Ballet, Matthew Bourne who does a mixture of contemporary and classical ballet pieces with his company New Adventures; 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 Theater. Traditionally "classical" companies, such as the Kirov Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, also regularly perform contemporary works.

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Chantrell (2002), p. 42.
  2. ^ ballo, Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, on Perseus
  3. ^ βαλλίζω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  4. ^ ball (2), Online Etymology Dictionary
  5. ^ Craine & MacKrell 2000, p. 2: "It is from this institution that French ballet has evolved rather than the Académie Royale de Danse."
  6. ^ Wulff, 1998, p. 44

Sources

External links[edit]