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Written by: Vanessa

Italian School of Ballet

The Italian school was known for athleticism and dancers like Cecchetti developed powerful calves & thighs. Technique was pushed to the limit and the Italians mastered the art of ‘spotting’.

Russian School of Ballet

In 1738 the Russian Monarchy established the St. Petersburg school – the world’s second oldest ballet academy.

The Russians emphasised refinement and preserved the integrity of ballet during the late 19th century. Pepita perfected the full-length, evening long story ballet that combined set dances with mimed scenes and some of his best-known works were The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and Swan Lake.

Opera houses in Russia were under the direct control of the Tsar and productions were paid for from the Imperial purse. Dancers became part of the imperial household and prior to the revolution; Russian ballet reflected the Tsar’s superiority.

At first, the lack of talented dancers caused local folk dancers to be introduced, which meant dancing styles were more robust and athletic in style.

The significance of pointe dancing became inseparable with the depiction of the supernatural characters being depicted in ballets. This meant ballet shoes needed to be stronger and dancers could extend their repertoires to do more on pointe.

As the new century begun, people started looking for fresh ideas and by now the Russian ballet had surpassed the French ballet. Many Russian dancers became international stars. Anna Pavlova (1880 – 1942) was probably the most notable ballerina of this time. She maintained the ideal of balancing on the smallest pointiest tip.

In 1907 Mikhail Folkine, (1880- 1942), put on a Greek style ballet entitled Eunice, and made dancers look like they were dancing bare foot by having toes painted on dancers’ shoes. Until then it was against the rules of the imperial theatre for performers to dance with bare feet or legs.

A new dance company, Ballet Russes were formed in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) and when he brought Russian ballet to Western Europe, décor, costume and music were as important as the dance itself.

To commemorate the opening of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris (1913), a performance of ‘The Rite of Spring’ was interrupted by a riot. The agitated audience complained loudly about the barbarism of the music and erotic nature of the dancing. Followers of the Russian born composer, Igor Stravinsky retaliated and a full-blown fight resulted.

English Ballet

At first, stories were portrayed through dance and pantomime but after 1735, greater attention was paid to ballet.

From the early 18th century, England became the place where foreign ballet dancers performed in front of rich patrons. It was not until the early part of the twentieth century however before English ballet dancers contributed to the art form.

In the last century, Margot Fonteyn was a major dancer and became the focus of world attention for almost thirty years.

American Ballet

The School of American Ballet was established in 1934 and within a decade, George Balanchine had formed the Ballet Society.

Costumes of the premier performance were very constricted and were discarded. Dancers danced in what could be called, rehearsal costumes, which allowed the audience to see the full dance.

The look caught on and was instantly recognised in Balanchine’s ballets. The choreographer gave his name to the stereotypical slim line body image we now associate with ballet dancers and achieving the “Balanchine body” has unfortunately led to many eating disorders in ballerinas.

The Ballet Society caught the attention of the directory of New York City’s City Centre Theatre who invited them to work alongside the New York City Opera. This was the beginning to the New York City Ballet.

© Vanessa van Rensburg


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