Friday, September 30, 2011

My Sonoma State University intern Alivia Snyder loves ballet. So I invited her, a dancer, to write about this art form with a history steeped in European folklore:

Ballet is one of the most enchanting and well preserved styles of dance in the entire world. Beginning as a form of entertainment for royalty, it continues to touch many lives today. The strict precision and technique that is evident in ballerinas today is much different than what was displayed for Kings in 15th and 16th century Europe.

The Renaissance was the birthplace of a style of dance entitled ballet de cour. This original form of ballet included traditional clothing and shoes from the era. Tutus and pointe shoes were simply nonexistent. It was also more of an interactive performance, in that towards the end of the dance, the rest of the court would join in and dance all together.

Throughout the 1400s, ballet was appreciated and performed mostly for royalty. Catherine de' Medici, an Italian aristocrat had a passion for the arts, which gave ballet a vehicle through which to spread throughout Europe. When Catherine de’ Medici married French royalty, she was able to provide a platform for ballet in France through her newfound wealth. The first ballet de cour was entitled Ballet Comique de la Reine (1581), which lasted for more than 4 hours and included 24 dancers.

King Louis XIV (1653) of France also had a passion for dance. His personal dance teacher, Pierre Beauchamp, created the five positions for the feet and arms, which are still used to this day. The king even created a dance school, Académie Royale de Danse and appointed Beauchamp the school’s director.

Throughout the 1800s, ballet evolved into the dramatic art form that it is today. Ballet also flourished in Russia with the help of Tchaikovsky. Classics such as Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty were all choreographed and composed during the late 1800. Themes for these productions included mostly European folklore. Pointe shoes, tutus, flowing skirts and pastel colors all started to emerge and ballet found itself in the same league of entertainment at opera.

In the United States, ballet was first introduced in New York City. George Balanchine developed state-of-the-art technique at his studios in New York and Chicago. Balanchine is also recognized for his specific style of neo-classical ballet: a mix between classical and contemporary ballet. Although there are many other styles of ballet, they can all be broken down into classical, neo-classical, and contemporary.

Ballet is an incredibly difficult style of dance to master. The meticulous movements and balance that are required are only truly known to those who study the art. For those of us watching, it is merely appears that the dancers are floating; their poise and grace fill the stage.

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