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About Ballet

Ballet is the name of a specific academic dance form and technique. It is taught in ballet schools according to specific methods. Works of dance choreographed using this technique are called ballets, and usually include dance, mime, acting, and music (usually orchestral and occasionally sung). Ballet is best known for its unique features and techniques such as pointe work and high extensions, as well as its graceful, precise movements and ethereal qualities.

History of ballet

Domenico da Piacenza (1390–1470) is credited with the first use of the term ballo (in De Arte Saltandi et Choreas Ducendi) instead of danza (dance) for his baletti or balli. Some scholars view this as the origin of ballets, while others do not. The first ballet per se is considered to be Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx's Ballet Comique de la Reyne (1581) and was a ballet comique (ballet drama). 1581 also saw the publication of Fabritio Caroso's Il Ballarino, a technical manual on court dancing (both performance and social) that helped to establish Italy as a major centre of ballet development. (Since Caroso's footwork does not have turnout and do not use the arms much, and these dances can be either social or performance dances, many non-ballet scholars don't view Caroso's dance manual to be a ballet manual).

Ballet has its origin in Renaissance court spectacle in Italy, but was particularly shaped by the French ballet de cour, which consisted of social dances performed by the nobility in tandem with music, speech, verse, song, pageant, decor and costume. Ballet began to develop as a separate, performance-focused art form in France during the reign of Louis XIV, who was passionate about dance and determined to reverse a decline in dance standards that began in the 17th century. The king established the Académie Royale de Danse (which is now the Paris Opera Ballet) in 1661, the same year in which the first comédie-ballet, composed by Jean-Baptist Lully was performed. This early form consisted of a play in which the scenes were separated by dances. Lully soon branched out into opéra-ballet, and a school to train professional dancers was attached to the Académie Royale de Musique, where instruction was based on noble deportment and manners.

The 18th century was a period of vast advancement in the technical standards of ballet and the period when ballet became a serious dramatic art form on par with the opera. Central to this advance was the seminal work of Jean-Georges Noverre, Lettres sur la danse et les ballets (1760), which focused on developing the ballet d'action, in which the movements of the dancers are designed to express character and assist in the narrative. Reforms were also being made in ballet composition by composers such as Christoph Gluck. Finally, ballet was divided into three formal techniques sérieux, demi-caractère and comique. Ballet also came to be featured in operas as interludes called divertissements.

The 19th century was a period of great social change, which was reflected in ballet by a shift away from the aristocratic sensibilities that had dominated earlier periods through romantic ballet. Ballerinas such as Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler pioneered new techniques such as pointework that rocketed the ballerina into prominence as the ideal stage figure, professional librettists began crafting the stories in ballets, and teachers like Carlo Blasis codified ballet technique in the basic form that is still used today. Ballet began to decline after 1850 in most parts of the western world, but remained vital in Denmark and, most notably, Russia thanks to masters such as August Bournonville, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa.

Russian companies, particularly after World War II engaged in multiple tours all over the world that revitalized ballet in the west and made it a form of entertainment embraced by the general public. It is one of the most well-preserved dances in the world.

Technique

Ballet, especially classical ballet, puts great emphasis on the method and execution of movement. Young dancers receive an education in the method of dance their school teaches and are required to learn the names, meanings, and precise technique of each movement they learn. Some methods call for written tests on the subject matter taught in class.

Methods

Ballet techniques are generally grouped by the area in which they originated, such as Russian ballet, French ballet, Italian ballet, and American ballet. Specific methods are named after the ballet master or mistress who originated them, such as the Vaganova method after Agrippina Vaganova, the Balanchine method after George Balanchine, and the Cecchetti method after Enrico Cecchetti.

Illusion of flight in ballet

Ballet makes use of the body and its unique composure, mixed motion with earthbound performers.

For example, during the grand jete, the dancer may appear to hover. Physically, his/her center of mass describes a parabola, as does a bullet or any other ballistic object. But advantage is taken of a limitation in the human ability to calculate center of mass when a projectile changes its configuration in flight. When leaping, the dancer extends the arms and legs and lowers the head. The manoeuvre camouflages the fall and leads the audience to perceive a floating effect. A Pas de Chat (step of the cat) is a movement in ballet which, when performed correctly, the dancer must stay in the air for as long as possible with both feet and arms off the ground. This movement gives the illusion that the dancer is floating.

Depending on where the dancer places his/her arms/legs they can make them look longer or shorter depending on their preference. By placing them farther behind the body it creates the illusion of shorter arms/legs, and by moving them forward, longer.

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