Painting of ballet dancers by Edgar Degas, 1872.
Edgar Degas, Classical Bell Tutus in "The Dance Class" by Degas, 1874.)
Anna Pavlova in Giselle, wearing a Romantic Tutu

Ballet is a kind of performance dance, which originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with most of the audience seated on tiers or galleries on three sides of the dance floor. It has since become a highly technical form of dance with its own vocabulary. It is primarily performed with the accompaniment of classical music and has been influential as a form of dance globally. Ballet has been taught in ballet schools around the world, which use their own cultures and societies to inform the art. Ballet dance works (ballets) are choreographed and performed by trained artists, include mime and acting, and are set to music (usually orchestral but occasionally vocal). It is a poised style of dance that incorporates the foundational techniques for many other dance forms. This genre of dance is very hard to master and requires much practice. It is best known in the form of Late Romantic Ballet or Ballet Blanc, which preoccupies itself with the female dancer to the exclusion of almost all else, focusing on pointe work, flowing, precise acrobatic movements, and often presenting the dancers in the conventional short white French tutu. Later developments include expressionist ballet, Neoclassical ballet, and elements of Modern dance.



The word ballet comes from the French and was borrowed into English around 1630. The French word in turn has its origin in Italian balletto, a diminutive of ballo (dance) which comes from Latin ballo, ballare, meaning "to dance",[1][2] which in turn comes from the Greek "βαλλίζω" (ballizo), "to dance, to jump about".[3][4]


Harlequin and Columbina from the mime theater at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The history of ballet began in the Italian Renaissance courts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a dance interpretation of fencing. It quickly spread to the French court of Catherine de' Medici where it was developed even further. The creation of classical ballet as we know it today occurred under Louis XIV, who in his youth was himself an avid dancer and performed in ballets by Pierre Beauchamp and Jean-Baptiste Lully. In 1661 Louis founded the Académie Royale de Danse (Royal Dance Academy) which was charged with establishing standards for the art of dance and the certification of dance instructors. In 1672, following his retirement from the stage, Louis XIV made Lully the director of the Académie Royale de Musique (Paris Opera) in which the first professional ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet, arose.[5] This origin is reflected in the predominance of French in the vocabulary of ballet. Despite the great reforms of Jean-Georges Noverre in the eighteenth century, ballet went into decline in France after 1830, though it was continued in Denmark, Italy, and Russia. It was reintroduced to western Europe on the eve of the First World War by a Russian company: the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev, who came to be influential around the world. Diaghilev's company came to be a destination for many of the Russian trained dancers fleeing the famine and unrest that followed the Bolshevik revolution. These dancers brought many of the choreographic and stylistic innovations that had been flourishing under the czars back to their place of origin.

In the 20th century, ballet had a strong influence on broader concert dance. For example, in the United States, choreographer George Balanchine developed what is now known as neoclassical ballet. Subsequent developments now include contemporary ballet and post-structural ballet, seen in the work of William Forsythe in Germany.

Classical ballet

Classical ballet is the most methodical of the ballet styles; it adheres to traditional ballet technique. There are variations relating to area of origin, such as French ballet, Danish Bournonville ballet, Italian ballet and Russian ballet, although most ballet of the last two centuries is ultimately founded on the teachings of Carlo Blasis. The most well-known styles of ballet are the Paris Opera Ballet School Method, the Russian Method, the Italian Method, the Danish Method, the Balanchine Method or New York City Ballet Method, and the Royal Academy of Dance and Royal Ballet School Methods, derived from the Cecchetti method, created in England. The first pointe shoes were actually regular ballet slippers that were heavily darned at the tip. It would allow the girl to briefly stand on her toes to appear weightless. It was later converted to the hard box that is used today.

Classical ballet adheres to these rules:

  • A position called 'plie' is used in almost every exercise
  • Everything is turned out.
  • When the feet are not on the floor, they're pointed.
  • When the leg is not bent, it's stretched completely.
  • Posture, alignment, and placement are vital.

Neoclassical ballet

Neoclassical ballet is a ballet style that uses traditional ballet vocabulary but is less rigid than the classical ballet. For example, dancers often dance at more extreme tempos and perform more technical feats. Spacing in neoclassical ballet is usually more modern or complex than in classical ballet. Although organization in neoclassical ballet is more varied, the focus on structure is a defining characteristic of neoclassical ballet.

Scene from Act 4 of Swan Lake, Vienna State Opera, 2004

Balanchine brought modern dancers in to dance with his company, the New York City Ballet. One such dancer was Paul Taylor, who, in 1959, performed in Balanchine's Episodes. Balanchine worked with modern dance choreographer Martha Graham, expanding his exposure to modern techniques and ideas. During this period, Tetley began to consciously combine ballet and modern techniques in experimentation.

Tim Scholl, author of From Petipa to Balanchine, considers George Balanchine's Apollo in 1928 to be the first neoclassical ballet. Apollo represented a return to form in response to Serge Diaghilev's abstract ballets.

Contemporary ballet

A ballet dancer

Contemporary ballet is a form of dance influenced by both classical ballet and modern dance. It takes its technique and body control using abdominal strength from classical ballet, although it permits a greater range of movement that may not adhere to the strict body lines or turnout set forth by schools of 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 style is generally danced barefoot.

Arms in Cecchetti's "Spanish fourth" position.

George Balanchine is often considered to have been the first pioneer of contemporary ballet through the development of neoclassical ballet. One dancer who danced briefly for Balanchine was Mikhail Baryshnikov, an exemplar of Kirov Ballet training. Following Baryshnikov's appointment as artistic director of American Ballet Theatre in 1980, he worked with various modern choreographers, most notably Twyla Tharp. Tharp choreographed Push Comes To Shove for ABT and Baryshnikov in 1976; in 1986 she created In The Upper Room for her own company. Both these pieces were considered innovative for their use of distinctly modern movements melded with the use of pointe shoes and classically trained dancers—for their use of "contemporary ballet".

Twyla Tharp also worked with the Joffrey Ballet company, founded in 1957 by Robert Joffrey. She choreographed Deuce Coupe for them in 1973, using pop music and a blend of modern and ballet techniques. The Joffrey Ballet continued to perform numerous contemporary pieces, many choreographed by co-founder Gerald Arpino.

Today there are many contemporary ballet companies and choreographers. These include Alonzo King and his company, Alonzo King's Lines Ballet; Complexions Contemporary Ballet, under the direction of Dwight Rhoden; Nacho Duato's Compañia Nacional de Danza; William Forsythe, who has worked extensively with the Frankfurt Ballet and today runs The Forsythe Company; and Jiří Kylián, currently the artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theatre. Traditionally "classical" companies, such as the Kirov Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, also regularly perform contemporary works.


See also


  1. ^ Chantrell (2002), p. 42.
  2. ^ ballo, Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, on Perseus
  3. ^ βαλλίζω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  4. ^ ball (2), Online Etymology Dictionary
  5. ^ Craine & MacKrell 2000, p. 2: "It is from this institution that French ballet has evolved rather than the Académie Royale de Danse."
  • Anderson, Jack (1992). Ballet & Modern Dance: A Concise History (2nd ed. ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton Book Company, Publishers. ISBN 0-87127-172-9. 
  • Au, Susan (2002). Ballet & Modern Dance (2nd ed. ed.). London: Thames & Hudson world of art. ISBN 0-500-20352-0. 
  • Bland, Alexander (1976). A History of Ballet and Dance in the Western World. New York: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-53740-4. 
  • Chantrell, Glynnis, ed (2002). The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Word Histories. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-19098-6. 
  • Craine, Deborah; MacKrell, Judith (2000). The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198601067.
  • Darius, Adam (2007). Arabesques Through Time. Harlequinade Books, Helsinki. ISBN 9519823247
  • Gordon, Suzanne (1984). Off Balance: The Real World of Ballet. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-023770-0. 
  • Kirstein, Lincoln; Stuart, Muriel (1952). The Classic Ballet. New York: Alfred A Knopf. 
  • Lee, Carol (2002). Ballet In Western Culture: A History of its Origins and Evolution. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94256X. 

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  • ballet — [ balɛ ] n. m. • 1598; it. balleto, dimin. de ballo « bal » 1 ♦ Danse figurée, exécutée sur scène par une ou plusieurs personnes. Danser un ballet. L art du ballet. ⇒ chorégraphie. Auteur, compositeur de ballets. ⇒ chorégraphe. Ballet classique,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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  • ballet — BALLET. s. mas. Danse figurée et concertée entre plusieurs personnes, qui représente quelque sujet particulier.Ballet, se dit aussi d Une espèce d Opéra composé d actes détachés réunis sous un titre commun, et dont chacun amène une fête. Grand… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • ballet — Ballet. s. m. Espece de danse de personnes masquées qui font certaines figures & postures en dansant, & qui representent quelque chose. Grand ballet. entrée de ballet. faire un ballet. repeter un ballet. danser un ballet. les pas d un ballet. un… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

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  • ballet — [ba lā′, bal′ā] n. [Fr ballette < It balletto, dim. < ballo, a dance: see BALL2] 1. an artistic dance form based on an elaborate formal technique, characterized by gestures and movements of grace, precision, and fluidity 2. a) a theatrical… …   English World dictionary

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