History of Ballet

Renaissance Period, 1300s-1600s

At party’s guests of the royal courts in Italy were all considered ballet dancers. That’s because they would dance with guests and the entire ballroom would be filled with dainty movements and poses to the rhythms of the live classical music. Ballet at this time was made up of small movements due to the heavy costumes and heeled shoes party goers wore to the extravagant pageants. Domenico de Piacenza and Bergonzio di Botta were two of the most well-known choreographers at the time. Technically, the first ballet to be produced was by Botta in 1489. Piacenza is said to be responsible for the word “ballet” since many of his pieces were called “balletti” which derives from the Italian word “ballare,” which translates to “to dance.” Catherine de Medici introduced ballet to France once she married into the royal French family in 1533.


Baroque Period, 1600s-1800s

During King Louis XIV’s rule, ballet became codified and structured due to the king’s love for this art form. He and his choreographer, Pierre Beauchamp wrote down many movements, including the five feet positions that are still used today in ballet training. Ballets began telling stories during this time period due to the use of facial expressions and more concrete plots and sets used on stage.

Romantic Period, Early 1800s

The invention of pointe shoes between the Baroque and Romantic period (often categorized as the Pre-Romantic period) completely changed ballet. Female dancers were taken more seriously and their training in ballet became more vigorous. Movements had a more air-like quality, and lifts during partner work became more prevalent during this time. The choreographer Filippo Taglioni is said to be the creator of romantic ballet because of his piece, La Sylphide, which was created specifically for his daughter, Marie Taglioni, a prima ballerina during the Romantic Period.

Classical Period, Late 1800s

During the classical period, Marius Pepita, also known as the “father of classical ballet” choreographed and set pieces in different countries where he fused together Russian and French ballet with qualities from the Romantic ballet period. He worked very closely to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and together they created the musical scores for The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. The movements became more intricate with bigger leaps specifically by men and more turn rotations by both men and women.

Neoclassical, early 1900s

George Balanchine was the founder of neoclassical ballet where dancers wore simple costumes, danced to abstract plots, and performed on stages with minimal set design. Though Russian, Balanchine created his legacy in New York City where he and Lincoln Kirstein founded the School of American Ballet and later the New York City Ballet. Some famous works during this time period include Apollo, Jewels, and Episodes.

Contemporary Ballet, late 1900s – Present

Contemporary ballet is seen performed in ballet companies all over the world. The main characteristics of contemporary ballet are that movements are looser and more flexible and that choreography is mixed with modern technique. The extremely athletic dancers not only train in classical ballet and modern dance technique, but also cross-train either through Pilates or Gyrotonics. Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon are two of the most famous contemporary ballet choreographers.


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