History of Ballet: Essay

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Since the 15th Century, ballet has developed greatly from what it originated from to the current day. Originating in Italy, nobles used ballet as entertainment at ceremonies such as weddings and parties, and became popular with both the Italian court and nobles. The ballet we know and love today has been created through themes of gender stereotypes and racism which caused controversy and issues within the dance styles, with many racial issues such as dancers of color being rejected for roles because of the characters being traditionally white, dismissing their talent and artistry just because of the color of their skin. This is highlighted by ballet practitioners such as Misty Copeland and Chloe Lopes Gomes. Throughout this research, I will be discussing how ballet has developed throughout time since its creation and focusing on issues mentioned in this introduction such as racial issues within the dance style and how this has affected historical and cultural factors of ballet.

The following ballet became popular with the nobles in 15th century Italy, a noblewoman by the name of Catherine de Medici funded the French court to be able to do ballet and created festivals that portrayed displays of costumes, music, and ballet itself. Following this and making it immensely popular, King Louis XIV became involved with the ballet scene and as he loved it so much, he cast himself in the ballets, playing main roles as well as requesting professional training to continue his adoration for the style. King Louis's love for the ballet was publicized, and this led to ballet companies being opened in Paris which moved ballet to the stage, incorporating opera and ballet together. From there, the romantic era of ballet began in the 19th century which was the creation of wearing pointe shoes and romantic tutus. This was also the period of time when ballets such as Giselle and The Nutcracker were created, which would both become some of the most well-known ballets in history. In modern times, ballet has developed massively from how it originally started. It has now taken a step away from the classical aspects and is frequently mixed with contemporary dance to put a more modern and theatrical take on the dance style. Practitioners such as Matthew Bourne and George Balanchine are good examples of this change, with Bourne's work being focused classically but mixed with contemporary elements to assist with the storytelling and to create a more unfamiliar experience for the audience, assisted with the use of costuming, set design and exaggerated choreography. Despite this, classical ballet is still very much popular in companies around the world, strongly used in companies such as the Royal Ballet in London and the English National Ballet who perform classical romantic era ballets such as La Sylphide.

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La Sylphide was first performed in 1832 in Paris, however, more notably performed in 1836 in Copenhagen and choreographed by August Bournonville. In an article written by the Colorado Ballet, the original production of La Sylphide in Paris heralded a new era in the history of dance (Colorado Ballet, 2017), concluding that it created the romantic era of ballet and would become the inspiration for many upcoming romantic ballets such as Giselle. The work of Romantic Ballets was the blueprint for fantasy-themed ballets and made a huge focus on storytelling and literature made into movement. With women now in pointe shoes, they became the stars of the productions, with the men supporting them. La Sylphide is a fantasy story that revolves around a Scottsman who is due to be married. However, he discovers a Sylph whom he leaves at the wedding which leads to death and misfortune. Many romantic era ballets such as La Sylphide's storylines were focused on issues such as good and evil and male and nature which is also portrayed in Swan Lake. These issues both helped with the storytelling aspect of the romantic ballets, showing that these productions were the starting point for many future ballets. La Sylphide is still performed by many ballet companies today, including the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. The Danish Ballet who was the company to perform Bournonville's production of La Sylphide, still performs the original choreography to this day, using the original score and portraying how important La Sylphide was to the development of Ballet and how it is still used and loved by many companies to this day.

Throughout the development and history of ballet, cultural issues such as racism have hindered the dance style. For example, in an interview with ballet dancer Chloe Lopes Gomes, she discusses how she was asked by her ballet company to wear white makeup so that she would fit in with the rest of the ballet company. As a clearly racial issue, this shows that there are discriminatory issues within ballet still happening today. However, ballet practitioners such as African American dancer Misty Copeland are working to change this, bringing equality to the world of ballet.

Misty Copeland, raised in California, began dancing at age 13, considered a late start by many. Being considered a child prodigy, Copeland got noticed doing an American Ballet Theatre workshop whilst studying at the San Francisco Ballet School and became an official company member in 2000. She worked her way up through the company, becoming a member of the corps de ballet in 2001 and a soloist in 2007. Along with all this, Copeland became the first African American to become a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in 2015, making history in both the company and adding to the increasing amount of equality within ballet itself. Copeland is so important in showing that talent shouldn't be based on color. There had been many occasions throughout the whole history of ballet where black dancers have been asked to wear white makeup as an attempt to make them fit in with the whitewashed companies and hide the color of their skin. Artists such as and Janet Collins and Raven Wilkinson were affected by this racial discrimination during the 20th century, however, Chloe Lopes Gomes was affected by this issue very recently, showing that racism is still an ongoing issue within many ballet companies today. Despite this, there are ballet companies that are celebrating diversity and showing that the color of your skin shouldn't define your talent.

Ballet Black is a British dance company who are made up of dancers of Black and Asian descent. Founded in 2001, Ballet Black's mission is to change the normality of all white dance companies and introduce more diversity into these famous dance companies. With the huge success of the company's creation, they went on to gain a partnership with the Royal Opera House, holding their rehearsals there as well as eventually performing as part of their seasons. Following this, Ballet Black has contributed to the creation of pointe shoes made for black, brown, and Asian dancers, allowing more diversity into the ballet world and giving more opportunities for Black and Asian dancers to be considered into white majority companies. Ballet Black continues to perform both classical and modern ballet productions and celebrate diversity within their company with the hope to create more equality within major ballet companies which has been dismissed throughout the history of ballet.

Throughout this research, I've developed an understanding of the history of ballet and how it has developed as a dance style since its origins in the 15th century. Race plays a massive part in this as artists such as Misty Copeland and companies such as Ballet Black have added diversity into the traditionally white dance style, changing history and adding to the cultural diversity and the need for equality within the picture. As well as this, productions such as La Sylphide shaped ballet into what it is today, with companies such as the English National Ballet still performing many romantic era ballets to this day. The romantic era also introduced important aspects to modern-day ballet such as pointe shoes and tutus to make the dancers look more elegant and portray the innocence and beauty of the female characters. So, in conclusion, race and the romantic era of the 19th century played huge parts in the historical and cultural development of ballet and how it has evolved since it came about with the help of Misty Copeland and productions such as La Sylphide and Giselle.

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History of Ballet: Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/history-of-ballet-essay/
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