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Dance history

By Dancewriter Jan 12, 2014 694 Words

Ballet is a form of dancing performed for theatre audiences. Like other dance forms, ballet may tell a story, express a mood, or simply reflect the music. But a ballet dancer's technique (way of performing) and special skills differ greatly from those of other dancers. Ballet dancers perform many movements that are unnatural for the body. But when these movements are well executed, they look natural. The beginnings of ballet can be traced to Italy during the 1400's at the time of the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, people developed a great interest in art and learning. At the same time, trade and commerce expanded rapidly, and the dukes who ruled Florence and other Italian city-states grew in wealth. The dukes did much to promote the arts. The Italian city-states became rival art centres as well as competing commercial centers. The Italian dukes competed with one another in giving costly, fancy entertainments that included dance performances. The dancers were not professionals. They were noblemen and noblewomen of a duke's court who danced to please their ruler and to stir the admiration and envy of his rivals. Catherine de Medici, a member of the ruling family of Florence, became the queen of France in 1547. Catherine introduced into the French court the same kind of entertainments that she had known in Italy. They were staged by Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx, a gifted musician. Beaujoyeulx had come from Italy to be Catherine's chief musician. Ballet historians consider one of Beaujoyeulx's entertainments, the Ballet Comique de la Reine, to be the first ballet. It was a magnificent spectacle of about 51/2 hours performed in 1581 in honour of a royal wedding. The ballet told the ancient Greek myth of Circe, who had the magical power to turn men into beasts. The ballet included specially written instrumental music, singing, and spoken verse as well as dancing--all based on the story of Circe. Dance technique was extremely limited, and so Beaujoyeulx depended on spectacular costumes and scenery to impress the audience. To make sure that the audience understood the story, he provided printed copies of the verses used in the ballet. The ballet was a great success, and was much imitated in other European courts. French leadership. The Ballet Comique de la Reine established Paris as the capital of the ballet world. King Louis XIV, who ruled France during the late 1600's and early 1700's, strengthened that leadership. Louis greatly enjoyed dancing. He took part in all the ballets given at his court, which his nobles performed, but stopped after he became fat and middle-aged. In 1661, Louis founded the Royal Academy of Dancing to train professional dancers to perform for him and his court. Professional ballet began with the king's dancing academy. With serious training, the French professionals developed skills that had been impossible for the amateurs. Similar companies developed in other European countries. One of the greatest was the Russian Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, whose school was founded in 1738. The French professional dancers became so skilled that they began to perform publicly in theatres. But in 1760, the French choreographer Jean Georges Noverre criticized the professional dancers in his book Lettres sur la danse, et sur les ballets (Letters on Dancing and Ballets). Noverre complained that the dancers cared too much about showing their technical skills and too little about the true purpose of ballet. This purpose, he said, was to represent characters and express their feelings. Noverre urged that ballet dancers stop using masks, bulky costumes, and large wigs to illustrate or explain plot and character. He claimed that the dancers could express these things using only their bodies and faces. So long as the dancers did not look strained or uncomfortable doing difficult steps, they could show such emotions as anger, joy, fear, and love. Noverre developed the ballet d'action, a form of dramatic ballet that told the story completely through movement. Most of Noverre's ballets told stories taken from ancient Greek myths or dramas. But during the early 1800's, people no longer cared about old gods and heroes. The romantic period began as people became interested in stories of escape from the real world to dreamlike worlds or foreign lands.

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