The History of BalletThe first experience of watching a ballet, for me or any little girl, can be fascinating and exhilarating. Wondering how a dancer can be so steady on her toes as she spins in circles and leaps through the air. Watching a ballet, there is a feeling of wanting to be graceful, as well as the warm sensation felt by a little girl as she slips into dream land. My mom had taken me to my first ballet when I was 11 years old. When we returned home home, she signed me up for classes at the local dance center. The expectations to become a prima ballerina would involve much hard work and concentration. I knew when I started it would take years of steady practice and commitment. Learning the history of ballet and the famous dancers made me intrigued. I wanted to be like them. So I had set the goal, then I set the pace. To my misfortune I was unable to reach my goal. Gymnastics was another activity I enjoyed. I was unaware of the damage I was doing to my body until I found myself in a hospital bed being told by the doctors, no more dancing. I could no longer practice ballet, I could only watch. I have no regrets. Watching a ballet is just as much fun.
At my first dance lesson I was so excited and scared at the same time. We practiced as a group going in circles doing pirouette and ballon. A pirouette is done on demi-pointe by the male, on pointe by the female dancer and ballons are the spring of a dancer in leaping and jumping movements. Adagios, are slow and sustained movements; also, the section of pas de deux in which the ballerina, partnered by the dancer, displays her mastery of lyrical movement. The steps seam hard at first, but with practice they are actually fun to perform. A rond de jambe is perhaps the move that holds the most enjoyment for the smallest ballerinas to perform. To be really good at ballet is to understand the history and enjoy classical music. My first dance studio, the instructor taught the history of ballet as well as the meaning behind all the moves and steps.
My all time favorite ballet to watch is the Nutcracker, music wrote by non other than Tchaikovsky. In the 19th century, the ballet was regarded as the lowest kind of music. Famous composers did not write scores especially for ballets. A new phase in the development of the musical and choreographic culture of Russia and the world was started by Peter Tchaikovsky’s ballets. A brilliant composer whose music is the “emotion” of a ballet. The opera and ballet companies are famous the world over. The repertoire includes such classics as Tchaikovskys “Eugene Onegin” and “Swan Lake” and works by Mozart, Verdi and Rossini. Other popular productions are Massenets ballet “Manon” and the operas “Don Juan” by Mozart, “War and Peace” by Prokofiev and Wagners “Das Rheingold”. The latest productions are Tchaikovskys “The Nutcracker” Puccinis “La Boheme” and Verdis “Macbeth”. The most famous Russian ballet companies are; Tatchkine, St. Petersburg, Bolshoi companies just to name a few of the most famous.
The history of ballet dates back to the 18th century starting with Baroque dance. Fabritio Caroso da Sermoneta was a famous Italian Renaissance dancing master. He was born around 1526-1535 and died around 1605-1620. His dance manual “Ballarino” was published in 1581, with a subsequent edition, significantly different, Nobilta de dame, printed in 1600 and again after his death in 1630. In the 19th century there was the pre-romantic, romantic and the classical ballets. Anthony Tudor deserves an honorable mention for his choreography and teaching. Pre-romantic ballet occurred sometime circa ?? up to 1831. The romantic period covered the early to mid 1800’s. This era also introduced the calf-length dress. A few of the great Romantic dancers were Marie Taglioni, Fanny Elssler and Carlotta Grisi. The tequnique became more developed, but the role of the male dancer was reduced to being the partner. Important choreographers of the period was Jules Perrot, Arthur Saint-Leon and August Bournonville. The Classical ballet is a dance to classical music. The dress changed to tights and leotards, with an optical skirt. Special shoes or technic shoes, were worn until the bones were strong enough for the point shoes.
Michail Baryshnikov, the famous Russian dancer has a style all his own. His dedication and brilliance has made him the number one male dancer. My dream is one of these days see a performance by before he retires his shoes to the Russian Ballet Hall of Fame. In the dance classes I learned about Galina Mezentseva. She had become the “Prima Ballerina Assoluta”, the highest rank a dancer can achieve, and a star of the prestigious Kirov Ballet. Galina had completed a nine year program in the “Classe de Perfection” with the highest of honors. I had learned also of the top distinguished teachers such as Nadezda Bazarova and Nina Belikova. Very few of my fellow class mates ever made it to the great ballet companies. My teacher had made it clear that everyone had a chance to be the best, that is why he always taught us the history of ballet.
I don not remember everything I am taught, but when it comes to the ballet and the classics like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Notre Dame de Paris, I enjoy watching every minute of the performance. Truly To enjoy the ballet or even an opera, there has to be an enjoyment of classical music. The two go hand in hand. I can close my eyes, listen to the music, and see myself dancing. It’s a feeling of floating above and watching the performance as if I am the best dancer. To understand and appreciate the ballet, there has to be some sense of the history behind it all. To have a perfect ballet there needs to be; a good choreographer, a story line, the perfect music that flows with the story line and last of all the dancer who can interpret the theme. There is so much more than can be learned by reading the history of the ballet and the dancers who make it all come alive, even in a dream. Ballet can give a sense of peace, even if it’s for only a few hours.
special note:This essay is based on what I learned as a little girl, from my dance teacher, growing up.