Ballet from 16th Century France to Russia
History of Dance
I have chosen to write my paper on ballet. I will begin with sixteenth century court dance and will work up to classical ballet in Russia during the late nineteenth century. I have researched the topics of footwork, location, monetary support, style, the dancers, cultural influences, costumes, shoes, and gender roles.
In Italy during the sixteenth century, ballet was common place in the court circles. It was associated with weddings, victories, welcoming, and any other type of festivity. It was also used by the king as a political tool, starting with King Louis XIII. The person who truly imported ballet into France was Catherine De Medici. Under Louis XIV ballet spectacles became even more lavish, and power became a central theme in the dance. “Under Louis XIV, le roy soleil, ballet spectacles became still more lavish and his majesty and power were a favorite theme for sycophant courtier choreographers. Menestrier mounted a ballet in which the thirteen Louis paid homage to the glorious fourteenth. Where in the previous reign ballet had a tendency to be bawdy and Louis XIII himself specializing in low comedy roles, appeared more than once with great success as an old woman, Louis XIV loved the lavish and the heroic” (Haskell, 12). At the age of thirty, Louis abandoned dance and allowed Beauchamps to bring in “professional” dancers, who were actually traveling acrobats trained to dance in the court. At this time only men really danced, even playing the female roles.
About twenty years later, women began to play a role in ballet. The dances were simple because their long skirts prevented them from being able to do complex steps and the choreography was just a series of geometrical patterns. Elevation was not yet born, and the dancers had to wear heeled shoes. In 1721 La Camargo became the first great ballerina, making amateur dancers a thing of the past. She shortened her skirt to show
more leg and also started the heelless shoe, using more of her foot than had been done before. La Camargo’s contemporary, J.G. Noverre, developed the aesthetic of ballet. Marie Antoinette made him maitre de ballet en chef, even though two others were entitled to the position over him. Noverre was not the biggest fan of technique, but basically invented the turn-out position that is now the basis for ballet technique.
During the romantic period dance began to change in many ways, especially in France. There was a movement in all the arts, and dance drew inspiration from them all, especially from written texts and paintings. The anima became the main focus of themes, no longer the animus. In ballets, women were the objects of desire and highly unattainable, flitting from one side of the stage to another. The people of the time were fascinated with mythical creatures and exotic locales. “Better to talk to a workman than to see one on the stage, says Theophile Gautier” (Haskell, 37). Male dancers were looked at as both ridiculous and gross, while women’s beauty was glorified. There were some exceptions, but for the most part a male dancer should stay in the background, which was a huge difference from the time of Louis XIV.
The Romantic Movement demanded new technique. The dancer must float, glide, and seem to fly. What used to be considered grotesque was now aesthetically pleasing. This was the moment when the tips of the toes became extremely important, almost obscuring all other aspects of the ballet. Ballet was becoming an expressive art and the whole body was now being used. “The Romantic Movement not only upset the balance of orchestration, it demanded new technical effects. The dancer must no longer be terre a terre, she must glide, float, and seem to fly. From this moment the tips of the toes, the points, come into the picture and gradually begin to assume an importance so great that they obscure every other department of the...
Cited: Au, Susan Ballet and Modern Dance. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988
Clarke, Mary Ballet: An Illustrated History. New York: Universe Books, 1973.
Haskell, Arnold L. Ballet Panorama. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1938.
Lifar, Serge A History of Russian Ballet. New York: Roy Publishers, 1974.
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