Ballet in Kansas City presents a brief history of ballet

Ballet North in Kansas City gladly presents a very brief history of ballet's origins.

Italian men started it all off, a long time ago...

Ballet originated in the Renaissance court as an outgrowth of court pageantry in Italy circa the late 1300's into the mid-1400's, where aristocratic weddings were lavish celebrations. Court musicians and dancers collaborated to provide elaborate entertainment for them. Ballet was further 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. When Catherine de' Medici, an Italian aristocrat with an interest in the arts, married the French crown heir Henri II, she brought her enthusiasm for dance to France and provided financial support.

A ballet of the Renaissance some 550 years ago was a far cry from the form of theatrical entertainment known to audiences today. Tutus, ballet slippers and pointe work were not yet used. The choreography was adapted from court dance steps. Performers dressed in fashions of the times which were extremely cumbersome and restricted the fluid, effortless movement ballet has become associated with over the past 200 years.

The first plan

Domenico da Piacenza was one of the first dancing masters. Along with his students, Antonio Cornazzano and Guglielmo Ebreo, he was trained in dance and responsible for teaching nobles the art. Da Piacenza left one work: De arte saltandi et choreus ducendi ("On the art of dancing and conducting dances"), which was put together by his students.

Ballet's earliest known complete piece that survives to this day is Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx's Ballet Comique de la Reine (1581) and was a ballet comique (ballet drama). In the same year, the publication of Fabritio Caroso's Il Ballarino, a technical manual on court dancing, both performance and social, helped to establish Italy as a center of ballet's technical development.

The French Revolution - The Good One, That Is...

Ballet developed 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. In 1661 King Louis XIV established the Académie Royale de la Danse. It evolved into the company known today as the Paris Opera Ballet. The earliest references to the five basic positions of ballet appeared in the writings of Pierre Beauchamp, a court dancer and a choreographer.

Jean-Baptiste Lully, an Italian composer serving in the French court, played a significant role in establishing the general direction ballet would follow for the next century. Supported and admired by King Louis XIV, Lully often cast the king in his ballets. The title of Sun King for the French monarch, originated in Louis XIV's role in Lully's Ballet de la Nuit(1653). Lully's main contribution to ballet were his nuanced compositions. His understanding of movement and dance allowed him to compose specifically for ballet, with musical phrasings that complemented physical movements. Lully also collaborated with the French playwright Molière. Together, they took an Italian theatre style, the commedia dell'arte, and adapted it into their work for a French audience, creating the comédie-ballet. Among their greatest productions was Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670). Later in life, Lully became the first director of the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique when its scope was expanded to include dance. Jean-Baptiste Lully brought together Italian and French ballet to create a legacy that would define the future of ballet.

The first ballet school was in France, taught by Juliette Blanche. Its terminology crystallized there. Nearly every movement in ballet is described by a French word or phrase. The drawback of the common terminology is that dancers must learn the French names for the steps and movements; the advantage is that they can take a ballet class anywhere in the world and, no matter how unintelligible the rest of the talk is, the terminology will still be in French and therefore understood. Ballet is, in this way, perhaps the first global language along with Mathematics and Musical Scores.