Ballet originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century and later developed into a concert dance form in France and Russia. It is a highly technical form of dance with its own vocabulary based on French terminology. It has been massively influential and has defined the foundational techniques used in other dance genres. Ballet requires years of training to learn and master, and a huge amount of practice to remain proficient.
Ballet may also refer to a ballet dance work, which consists of the choreography and music for a ballet production. A well-known example of this is ‘The Nutcracker’, a two-act ballet that was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a music score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Many classical ballet works are performed with classical music accompaniment and are theatrical and use elaborate costumes and staging.
Variations of ballet have emerged and evolved. Early, classical variations are usually associated with geographic origin. Examples of this are Russian ballet, French ballet, and Italian ballet. Later variations, such as contemporary ballet and neoclassical ballet incorporate both classical ballet and non-traditional technique and movement. The most widely known and performed ballet style is late Romantic ballet, a classical style that focuses on female dancers and features pointe work, flowing and precise movements, and often presents the female dancers in traditional, short white tutus.
Romantic ballet is defined by an era during the early to mid 19th century in which ballets featured themes that emphasized intense emotion as a source of aesthetic experience. The plots of many romantic ballets revolved around spirit women and ghosts who enslaved the hearts and senses of mortal men. The 1827 ballet ‘La Sylphide’ is widely considered to be the first, and the 1870 ballet ‘Coppélia’ is considered to be the last work of romantic ballet.
Classical ballet is based on traditional ballet technique and vocabulary. There are different styles of classical ballet that are related to their areas of origin, such as French ballet, Italian ballet and Russian ballet. Several of the classical ballet styles are associated with specific training methods, which are typically named after their creators.
Neoclassical ballet is a style that conforms to classical ballet technique but deviates from classical ballet through such differences as unusually fast dance tempos and its addition of non-traditional technical feats. Spacing in neoclassical ballet is usually more modern or complex than in classical ballet.
Contemporary ballet is a form of dance that combines elements of both classical ballet and modern dance. It employs the fundamental technique and body control (using abdominal strength) principles of classical ballet but permits a greater range of movement than classical ballet and may not adhere to the strict body lines or turnout that permeate classical ballet technique. Many of its concepts come from the ideas and innovations of 20th century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs. This ballet style is often performed barefoot. Contemporary ballets may include mime and acting, and are usually set to music, typically orchestral but occasionally vocal.
“Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.”