Ballet is a specific academic dance form and technique which is taught in ballet schools according to specific methods. There are many ballet
schools around the world that specialize in various styles of ballet and different techniques offered. Works of dance choreographed using
this technique are called ballets, and usually include dance, mime, acting, and music (usually orchestral but occasionally vocal). Ballet
is best known for its unique features and techniques, such as pointe work, turn-out of the legs, and high extensions; its graceful, flowing,
precise movements; and its ethereal qualities.
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The Origin of Ballet
Dance is prominent throughout history. Traditions of narrative dance evolved in China, India, Indonesia and Ancient Greece. Theatrical dance was well-established in the wider arena of ancient Greek theatre. When the Roman Empire conquered Greece, it assimilated Greek dance and theatre with their art and culture. While dance continued to be important throughout the Middle Ages, in spite of occasional suppression by the Church, the art of ballet did not emerge until the late 1400s in Italy. Italy began the ballet tradition, but it was the French that enabled it to blossom. Incorporating aspects of Italian ballet, French ballet gained prominence and influenced the dance genre internationally. To this day, the majority of ballet vocabulary originates from French.
In the last century, the United States also developed its own ballet traditions, most notably with choreographer George Balanchine. Although interest in contemporary dance has expanded to include modern dance, jazz, flamenco and other forms, ballet has endured the test of time and is still taught and performed.
The etymology of the word "ballet" corresponds to the art form's development. The word ballet comes from French and was borrowed into English around the 17th century. The French word in turn has its origins in Italian balletto, a diminutive of ballo (dance). Ballet ultimately traces back to Latin ballere, meaning to dance.
Development as an Art Form
The 18th century was a period of vast advancement in the technical standards of ballet and the period when ballet became a serious dramatic art form on par with the opera. Central to this advance was the seminal work of Jean-Georges Noverre, Lettres sur la danse et les ballets (1760), which focused on developing the ballet d'action, in which the movements of the dancers are designed to express character and assist in the narrative. At this time, women played a secondary role as dancers, encumbered as they were with hoops, corsets, wigs and high heels.
Marie Taglioni, a pioneer of pointework.Reforms were made in ballet composition by composers such as Christoph Gluck. Finally, ballet was divided into three formal techniques sérieux, demi-caractère and comique. Ballet also began to be featured in operas as interludes called divertissements.
The 19th century was a period of great social change, which was reflected in ballet by a shift away from the aristocratic sensibilities that had dominated earlier periods through romantic ballet. Ballerinas such as Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler pioneered new techniques such as pointework that rocketed the ballerina into prominence as the ideal stage figure, professional librettists began crafting the stories in ballets, and teachers like Carlo Blasis codified ballet technique in the basic form that is still used today.