The Beginnings of Classical Ballet

The Beginnings of Classical Ballet
THE quotation above is capable of many interpretations. The Balet comique de la Royne (1581) has been a convenient point at which to commence a history of ballet. This spectacle, which bore little resemblance to present-day ballet, was the climax of seventeen fetes given by Catherine de Medici to celebrate the betrothal of the Duc de Joyeuse to Marg-uerite de Lorraine-Vaudemont. It can also be interpreted as a climax of the Renaissance in France, when authors, having sttudied the theories, principles, technique and effects used in the plays of Greek dramatists, believed they were producing something similar.
The end (or object) of the production might be regarded as an expression of Catherine de Medici’s hopes that by understanding the truths hidden in its symbolism and allegory: “Hearts would be softened and opposite opinions be brought together” (Champion) and the Protestant members of her court would see the errors of their ways and return to the Catholic church.
To find thhe seeds from which Balet comique and later ballets stem a search must be made amongst the dance rituals of primitive Greek tribes where originally the dancing of the group was everything, but where finally the priests and acolytes eliminated al

ll others from the ceremony and continued their dance before a wondering audience. At this point in religious ritual the story of dance as entertainment might be said to begin because the performers had consciously to discipline themselves and their movements to communicate the meaning of the ritual and fili the now limited dance space. Thus a definite technique of dance started to develop. Although this bore little or no relationship to classical dance technique it had this in common with it: in both the movements had to be so displayed that the audience saw them to the best advantage.


The dramatis personae and themes of classical ballet began to emerge as the tragodia—or goat-song—took shape under a priest who was also a poet. As he sang the tale of his god, so his acolytes danced and mimed that god’s deeds, whilst the audience at the climax or end of the recital, would join in the ritual by performing the appropriately expressive dance of rejoicing, sorrow, Bacchic frenzy and the like.

This form of ritual changed character when, inspired by the poems of Homer, a secular form of dramatic entertainment appeared in which bard and dancer-mime expressed through ch

hant and gesture the deeds of some great hero, his relationship to the gods and the fates determining his life and death; Thespis, the father of Greek tragedy, introduced actors, thereby allowing dialogue in which the players could respond and exchange comment, and thus enlarged the scope of the drama.

The public love of this form of entertainment grew as the second actor became as important as the first and led a chorus, who not only interpreted the words directly into action, as the first dancer-mimes had done, but also reacted expressively to the speech of both actors. This task ultimately led the chorus also to create the background and at¬mosphere against which the hero’s deeds could be depicted. At a later stage poets began to compete for the honour of presenting such plays at the Olympic Games and other events linking the citizens of the Greek towns together.

The tragedy chosen was played as an act of homage to a city’s god. Its purpose was to fire the imagination and spirit of the townsfolk. It had to appeal to everyone, therefore its plot was limited to certain traditional themes in which the heroes, who were likened to gods, performed or were ex
xpected to perform deeds and acts that were known. There had to be generalization because both the characters and their actions had to be recognized as belonging to that theme upon which a particular plot was based. It is from the generaliza¬tions of action and character that the libretti of many later dramatic plays and ballets have developed, and the techniques of classical choregraphic design.

The tragedy frequently took the form of a trilogy with each play forming, as it were, an act of the whole in which the events presaging and influencing a hero’s deeds and his life in the hands of the gods and the fates were so discussed that they would convey some poli¬tical or moral lesson.

The same characters appear in play after play and their actions, emotions and moods are discussed by the various authors in much the same terms. The heroes Theseus, Jason, Her¬cules and Ulysses not only have similar types of adventure, but are likened to each other in gesture, action and looks. The sad heroines Andromache, Hecuba, the faithful sisters or daughters Antigone, Elektra, Iphigenia and the tragic Cassandra are given similar dramatic manifestations of emotion, mood and ac

The gods and goddesses make infrequent appearances, but, like their servants Mercury and Iris, when they do it is always with those qualities and attributes with which they have been associated. Moreover from the time of Euripides, their main task was frequently to descend as the deus ex machina and deliver some comment or explanation of the drama, or even make some prophecy as an epilogue to the play.


The dramatis personae and themes of classical ballet began to emerge as the tragodia—or goat-song—took shape under a priest who was also a poet. As he sang the tale of his god, so his acolytes danced and mimed that god’s deeds, whilst the audience at the climax or end of the recital, would join in the ritual by performing the appropriately expressive dance of rejoicing, sorrow, Bacchic frenzy and the like.

This form of ritual changed character when, inspired by the poems of Homer, a secular form of dramatic entertainment appeared in which bard and dancer-mime expressed through chant and gesture the deeds of some great hero, his relationship to the gods and the fates determining his life and death; Thespis, the father of Greek tragedy, introduced actors, thereby allowing dialogue in which the players could respond and exchange comment, and thus enlarged the scope of the drama.

The public love of this form of entertainment grew as the second actor became as important as the first and led a chorus, who not only interpreted the words directly into action, as the first dancer-mimes had done, but also reacted expressively to the speech of both actors. This task ultimately led the chorus also to create the background and at¬mosphere against which the hero’s deeds could be depicted. At a later stage poets began to compete for the honour of presenting such plays at the Olympic Games and other events linking the citizens of the Greek towns together.

The tragedy chosen was played as an act of homage to a city’s god. Its purpose was to fire the imagination and spirit of the townsfolk. It had to appeal to everyone, therefore its plot was limited to certain traditional themes in which the heroes, who were likened to gods, performed or were expected to perform deeds and acts that were known. There had to be generalization because both the characters and their actions had to be recognized as belonging to that theme upon which a particular plot was based. It is from the generaliza¬tions of action and character that the libretti of many later dramatic plays and ballets have developed, and the techniques of classical choregraphic design.

The tragedy frequently took the form of a trilogy with each play forming, as it were, an act of the whole in which the events presaging and influencing a hero’s deeds and his life in the hands of the gods and the fates were so discussed that they would convey some poli¬tical or moral lesson.

The same characters appear in play after play and their actions, emotions and moods are discussed by the various authors in much the same terms. The heroes Theseus, Jason, Her¬cules and Ulysses not only have similar types of adventure, but are likened to each other in gesture, action and looks. The sad heroines Andromache, Hecuba, the faithful sisters or daughters Antigone, Elektra, Iphigenia and the tragic Cassandra are given similar dramatic manifestations of emotion, mood and action.

The gods and goddesses make infrequent appearances, but, like their servants Mercury and Iris, when they do it is always with those qualities and attributes with which they have been associated. Moreover from the time of Euripides, their main task was frequently to descend as the deus ex machina and deliver some comment or explanation of the drama, or even make some prophecy as an epilogue to the play.

That some form of discipline was enacted is clear from de Martene’s De Antiquis Monarchum where he quotes a tenth-century document analysing over three hundred gestures used by Benedictine, Cistercian and other religious orders during the hours of silence and in Divine Service. It cannot be said that these gestures were the exclusive prop¬erty of the Christian Church. Nothing could be further from the truth as many of them are used and understood by people of all creeds and nations today. It would seem, therefore, that the pantomimi themselves gave regular form to the most common of their gestures, and the monks and nuns in their desire for regulation, directed these into rigid formulas of movement. Amongst these formulas are many which are the conventional gestures of the classical ballets d’action.


It is impossible to date with any accuracy the first spectacle to be associated with the term ballet. Father Ministries mentions the thirteenth-century horse ballets. Others find the elaborate masking, mummings, masquerades and balls of a slightly later period, a more feasible beginning as then a definite style of court dance with a proper technique of move¬ment began to be used. Some of these were organized round a theme which demanded little more than the wearing of appropriate costumes. A more useful pointer to the future shape of ballet as a spectacle might be an entertainment quoted by Prunieres in Le Ballet du Com en France avant Benserade et Lully. When Philip the Good of Burgundy married Isabel of Portugal (1430) he founded theknightly Order of the Golden Fleece to the Glory of God and the Propagation of the Holy Faith. Following the example of the Church’s religious processions, he introduced into the solemn proceedings a cart containing mummers who enacted the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, whilst a bishop preached a sermon likening the story of Jason to the Crusading Knights battling to rescue the Holy land from the Infidel.
The fact that this story lent itself so easily to symbolism and allegory made it a popular theme for other festive occasions, notably that staged by Bergonza di Botta for his famous dinner-ballet in honour of the marriage of Isabella of Aragon to the Duke of Milan (1489). But this was only one of many magnificent entertainments given throughout Savoy and Northern Italy during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Each was given to celebrate some notable event, staged throughout the town by the various authorities and contained wonderful scenic devices designed by such artists as Leonardo da Vinci.

The Mould of Classical Ballet:
I The Academic Background

WHILST the fantastic spectacula were staged outside in the streets and squares of the North Italian towns, they contained something for everyone. Scenes from plays by Terence and other classical authors were jostled by highly symbolical processions and groupings, fire¬works, water-shows, juggling, acrobatics, circuses and the rest. There was a place for the many different kinds of player. Those performers descended from the pantomimi and jongleurs were perhaps the most valued because they fitted into any form of entertainment. They were both vocal artists and dancer-mimes, and on being thrown out of some noble household for a ribald joke, or offending by clever innuendo, could go out into the streets and poke fun at those who irritated or oppressed the townsfolk, or indulge in some other popular “ploy.” But once dinner-ballets and similar entertainments began to be staged in¬side the palaces of prince or prelate, only the more serious player could be used, because the scope of such spectacles was more limited. They were staged for some specific purpose, therefore only those who would conform to the discipline of words fraught with meaning and dance-steps moulded to spell out some complicated symbol would be employed.


The production of the dinner-ballets and similar entertainments given in honour of a marriage or of the signing of a treaty, the welcoming of a hero or other like occasion was the responsibility of learned philosophers. On all such occasions the leading figures brought important spiritual advisers in their train, thus the various alliances united families, states and also learned men.
The task of these last was to advise on political and other eventualities and to help pro¬duce the spectacles which, it was hoped, would strengthen the significance of the union and be a compliment to those participating.

These meetings of philosophers sometimes led to the forming of academies where dis¬cussions took place to elucidate the writings of the great classical authors and bring about the reconciliation of pagan and Christian dogmas by the use of symbolism and allegory.

The Revival of Learning in France gained impetus when Francis I invited leading philo¬sophers and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci to his court. But it was not until his son, Henri II, married Catherine de Medici that lavish entertainments began to be staged. Catherine was an astute woman and realized that the struggle for power between the vari¬ous religious factions had to be resolved. She was quick to invite the help of learned Frenchmen of all parties to take part in the religious and political debates, and also to help stage the numerous festivities which she felt were needed to enhance the prestige of the court.

Jean-Antoine de Baif was a member of the group known as the Pleiade amongst whose interesting activities was their attempt to revive the theatre of the Greeks. De Baif invented a system ofvers mesures in order “To unite music with dance, song and measure as in the ancient days of Greece,” so that the moral effects of the music would bring about the desired result. In practice this system was a method of making the metrical rhythm of the words form the basis of the musical rhythm. Thus the verbal declamation determined the timing and phrasing of the notes and these in their turn, determined the timing of the steps and gestures.

Theoretically the work of De Baif and the Pleiade was far more than drawing up rules for the composing of vers mesures. Like academicians elsewhere they interpreted the term music in the widest possible sense—everything to do with the Muses—and believing that no art, particularly that of living, could be practised without strict ethical and intellectual discipline, they drew up and discussed the educational syllabus required by those who wished to join in their activities. It suggested that the education of the French academicians, who were also courtiers, was to be complete in every detail as was that of the earlier Italians, whose education has been so brilliantly analysed by Castiglione in The Courtier (1528).

Henri III (Catherine de Medici’s third son) became interested in the work of De Baif’s academy on hearing of the “effects” it supposedly had on its audience. Being a highly reli¬gious man and inheriting the throne of a country still torn between rival factions, despite Ins mother’s efforts to unite the parties, he felt the need of staging religious processions to the great cathedrals and monasteries as well as more lighthearted entertainments in an attempted reconciliation.

After he had visited a concert given by De Baif and taken part in some of the debates of the Pleiade, a contemporary, Sauval, wrote “All Ballets and masquerades were conducted by De Baif and Maudit.” The king was so impressed by the “effects of the music,” that De Baif and his colleagues were invited to compose the anthems and music and to help design the symbolical attributes and banners to be carried by Henri and his courtiers in penitential processions, as well as to take part in the debates, which Henri arranged at his own palace, and in the entertainments arising therefrom.


The author of The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century, Frances A. Yates, not only gives the history but also a brilliant analysis and interpretation of the many spectacular entertainments given throughout the life of Catherine de Medici and notes that a Huguenot, Agrippa d’Aubigne, who attended the palace debates when a member of the captive Henri of Navarre’s suite, claims to have invented Balet comique de la Royne.

The ballet is always attributed to Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx (or Baltazarino Belgiojoso), who came to Paris as valet de chambre with Catherine de Medici. This Italian musician and dancing-master seems to have acted as producer for a work prepared by many hands chosen for the task by Catherine herself. There is no evidence that the Pleiade was collectively involved in the production, but individually they and their followers were extremely active in staging the seventeen fetes given in honour of the Joyeuse marriage. Moreover as the De Baif academicians had had much experience in staging similar entertainments, it is not surprising that certain items found in their earlier works were repeated and enlarged upon, because their influence undoubtedly penetrated all spheres of art, and Balet comique de la Royne must be quoted as one of the first ballets in which a proper synthesis of the arts was made in the sense that Diaghilev was to make it more fully understood some four hundred years later. It is perhaps useful to take note of some of these earlier items in order to emphasize the importance of the Pleiade in establishing the recognized style of the ballets du cour.

At the Fontainebleau fetes (1564) when he received the Papal Ambassadors after the Council of Trent, Charles IX was wakened one morning by Three Sirens on the canal outside his window singing verses by Ronsard describing how Charles would restore peace. They were followed by Neptune (who symbolized the king) and immediately a nymph appeared on the rocks to signify “That the woodland deities would return with the return of peace,” an item to be repeated with little alteration in the first part of Balet comique.

At the Fontainebleau fetes (1564) when he received the Papal Ambassadors after the Council of Trent, Charles IX was wakened one morning by Three Sirens on the canal outside his window singing verses by Ronsard describing how Charles would restore peace. They were followed by Neptune (who symbolized the king) and immediately a nymph appeared on the rocks to signify “That the woodland deities would return with the return of peace,” an item to be repeated with little alteration in the first part of Balet comique.

The Bayonne fetes (1565) were given in honour of Catherine’s daughter, Isabel, wife of Philip of Spain and for these De Baif wrote a masquerade where the King of France van¬quished the Fairy of the Pyrenees, who had enchanted some knights and maidens; an action to be repeated in Balet comique where Circe twice casts a spell over some nymphs. But it is more important to note that this masquerade introduced groups of peasants, each group performing a folk dance as an allegorical figure representing their province was brought into the hall. This idea was copied in later French ballets and it undoubtedly helped to introduce new steps into classical dance.

After the Pleiade became a recognized academy they included a ballet, Paradis d’Amour, in the fetes they organized for the wedding of Henry of Navarre and Marguerite de Valois (1572). Parts of the action of this work closely resembled that of Balet comique and it con¬tained an elaborate sequence of geometrical figures danced to musique mesuree by Twelve Nymphs representing the Virtues, whilst the diagrams themselves were supposed to repre¬sent Eternal Truths; a subject to be repeated and enlarged upon in the grand finale of Balet comique.

The Mould of Classical Ballet:
II The Staging of the Classical Ballet a’Action

BY the beginning of the eighteenth century the formulas for creating classical ballets were set. The various French academicians laid down that the Greek or Roman themes be given proper allegory and symbolism to suit the purpose of the entertainment. The action was set in words and music, and divided into three or four parts linked and enlivened by entrees of dancers. The formulas for classical technique were being developed by French academicians from the work of earlier dancing-masters, and the amateur courtiers were rapidly giving place to professionals in the opera-ballets where solo virtuosity instead of the configuration of group dance commanded attention.

The development of virtuosity was largely due to the Commedia dell’Arte companies. These groups of players, originally servants of noble Italian households, were expected to behave like courtiers. This was particularly true of the innamorati (serious lovers) who received similar education. Because they were actors playing the roles of courtiers, they understood the need of perfecting the requisite techniques of dancing, music and the like in order to create the right impression by properly phrasing and accenting each step, gesture and pose. Similarly the comic characters, particularly the Harlequins and Colum¬bines, who were the dancers of the companies, not only studied fashionable court dance so as to poke fun at grand manners, but enlivened their technique with newly invented steps or borrowed from some folk dance, acrobatics or tumbling. Something of the virtuosity of the Commedia dell’Arte dancers is described by De Brosses, who speaks of one young woman who executed twenty entrechats without pausing and “clicked her heel eight times at each leap.
And she did this for all the entrepas for which our masters are so admired. Indeed compared with her supple grace, La Camargo seems like a block of stone.”

These remarks were written about a beautiful pupil of Fassano, leader of a group of travelling players, when he introduced her to Paris. Fassano himself introduced complex steps of elevation and batterie to the Russian dancers of St. Petersburg, when he took over their training from Lande. He was perhaps the most prominent of the Italian dancers to enrich the technique of the classical dancers when the state and court theatres began to be established. Having a technique of their own, the Italian Commedia dell’Arte players were probably the only type of professional able to teach young artists the various kinds of ballet, whether tragic or comic. The ordinary dancing-master had still to make his dancing theatrically effective, instead of making it conform to the etiquette of the ballroom.

But the Italian comedians did not rely on virtuosity only. Like other travelling players they performed in the popular theatres as well as at court, and in the former a freer type of play, not dependent on words, was more acceptable, especially during the interludes where miming, dancing and the like were welcomed “Because the eye is quicker to seize upon the meaning of a gesture than the ear to seize upon the meaning of a word—unless one has been specially educated to rely on hearing instead of seeing.”


For all the influence of the Commedia dell’Arte and other travelling players on both official and unofficial French theatres, the next step forwards in the development of ballet was taken by John Weaver in England when he presented The Loves of Mars and Venus at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (2nd March, 1717). This was the first classical ballet d’action in which the dancers conveyed meaning through movement without the aid of actors or singers to explain the action.

Although The Loves of Mars and Venus can be considered as a development of the French ballet du com and the opera-ballets, and is closely linked to their traditions, it is also a development of certain English theatrical traditions. England had an extremely vigorous theatrical life of her own whilst these French and Italian entertainments were developing and it differed slightly from that on the continent.

Firstly there were no official bodies to direct all art towards one purpose. Even the elaborate court mummings, maskings and masques had something for everyone as had the earlier mystery, miracle and morality plays, and the drama which developed from these sources; Shakespeare’s plays are superb examples of the rich variety of the English theatre. There are symbolism and allegory in them as in the work of other playwrights, but these are only secondary considerations, the action is the essential ingredient.

Secondly “the dancing English,” whose love of dance was first noted by Saint Augustine, were making greater use of dance and mime in all their entertainments by the reign of Elizabeth I than were other peoples. This was particularly important in the masques and anti-masques which frequently included specially arranged dances, perhaps to create the necessary atmosphere for a more important piece of poetry, or to depict some comic characters playing a major part in creating satirical or witty diversion during a serious production.

hirdly professional dancers appeared in English masques earlier than in ballets else¬where. The masque sometimes required as long as fifty days’ rehearsal. The producer, therefore, seems often to have used the highly accomplished morris dance teams, whose virile stepping had played an important part in earlier folk and religious dramas. Indeed the morris dance had served as a basic technique for such players as Will Kempe and George Jolley, whose lively performances in England and on the continent have been well recorded.

JOHN WEAVER (1673-I760)

A glance at the advertisements of The Daily Courant from 1702 to 1730 will give any reader an excellent idea of the various items presented on one evening at the London theatres of that time. Plays of Shakespeare and other dramatists appear and as well Italian singers, acrobats, jugglers and novelty acts. Messieurs Balon and Dupre are advertised to dance on the same bill as Mrs. Santlow (later Mrs. Booth), Misters Weaver and Thurmond, to name only a few of the stars. Amongst their items are a New Morris, The Highland Lilt, The Whip of Dunboyne, The Dutch Skipper (who later becomes drunken!), Spanish and Italian entrees and dances for Harlequins, Scaramouche and other Commedia dell’Arte characters.

John Weaver worked in London from 1702 to 1733 as a dancer (sometimes playing Harlequin, which suggests a more than average technique), as teacher, and ballet-master. He brought an analytical as well as a practical mind to the problems of dance on the stage, which, he asserted, differs from that performed in society and made out his case in his reply to Addison and Steele in The Spectator when he also mentions the publication of his Essay Towards a History of Dancing.


Although Luigi Riccoboni, the Italian comedian, was not a dancer, except that as a “serious lover” he performed contemporary court dance, he helped to link French and English ballet. Firstly he placed on record his impressions of certain English actors, particularly those of Garrick to whom he dedicated his History of the Theatre. Because of his eminence, his writings were studied by other players anxious to profit from his experiences, and to learn about the influence “things English” had on many continental thinkers and reformers in all fields during the eighteenth century. The most outstanding features of the English theatre for Riccoboni were the naturalness of the acting, the lack of official direc¬tives which narrowed theatrical art elsewhere thus driving it into conventional channels, the direct approach to human problems, particularly as shown by Shakespeare, and the more tolerant attitude of the audience towards innovations. The last point was of vital importance to such reformers as Noverre, Dauberval and Didelot, and later Diaghilev, because any experiment was at least allowed to proceed, even if it were finally given an adverse verdict.

Secondly although Riccoboni was firmly grounded in the traditions of the Commedia dell’Arte, he also believed in the value of contemporary ideas. It was perhaps his sense of the need for experiment which led him to persuade his son, Francois, to introduce Salle’s Pygmalion to Parisian audiences, feeling no doubt that the inclusion of a serious work in the otherwise comic ballet repertoire of his company would enhance their reputation and make his Theatre italien an even stronger rival to the Opera comique, who staged somewhat similar items.

This introduction of a serious ballet a”action into the repertoire of a more or less per¬manently settled company helped to develop the expressiveness of their classical dance, because its success led to other productions in a similar vein. One of these, produced by Francois Riccoboni, Les Filets du Vulcain (1738), seems to have been based on Weaver’s libretto and contained similar dances. For example “Mars and Venus dance to a light melody, a kind of well-expressed dialogue which outlines the inception of their mutual tender feelings.” Vulcan dances a monologue of “raging jealousy,” and there was a “pas de trois” of infidelity.

Further innovations were made at the Theatre Italien by Jean Baptiste de Hesse, a dancer from the Netherlands, who joined the company in 1734, dancing as a figurant in Pygmalion and later becoming ballet-master. Many of his ballets were of the same comic genre as earlier works based on the Commedia deU’Arte characters, but he also staged several tragic ballets d’action and some lighter pastoral pieces which greatly influenced other chore-graphers, because of their dramatic unity and well-balanced action. It seems that from 1740 De Hesse initiated a firm system of artistic training which ensured that his entire cast and not merely the leading players, were able to dance not only with technical facility, but also to give expression to their movement. There was thus a uniformity of emotional quality in the dances of both soloists and corps de ballet, which made such a work as his Ads and Galatea (1753) appear to his contemporaries as a “genuine tragedy pantomime” with a unity of action and purpose.

VIENNA — HILFERDING (1710 – 68) AND ANGIOLINI (1723 – 96)

It was while the first classical ballets d’action were being staged in Paris that the Viennese dancer, Franz Hilferding, came to study and on his return to Vienna, began to experiment, staging such highly dramatic works as Racine’s Britannicus, Crebillon’s Idomenee and Vol¬taire’s Alzire in the form of ballets in which the entire action was expressed through gesture. These works were on the same lines as the scene performed by M. Balon and Mile. Prevost. But he also presented other ballets of a lighter, more lyrical nature, where dance took precedence and was reinforced by expressive movement, following the example of Weaver and Salle.
Hilferding, like De Hesse, did not confine his serious and more lyrical works to strictly classical themes, but frequently introduced pastoral subjects, and in his comic ballets rejected the usual stock Commedia dell’Arte characters and used instead themes drawn from real life, preferably from the countryside. This enabled him to design dances charac¬teristic of threshers, charcoal-burners and the like that became an important feature in the ballets he and his pupil, Angiolini, were to produce during their long service in St. Petersburg, where the latter attempted and succeeded in giving stylized form to some of the highly expressive Russian folk dances.

When Gasparo Angiolini took over the leadership of the Viennese ballet on Hilferding’s departure for St. Petersburg (1757) he made further efforts to integrate dance, gesture and music. At this time the Viennese State Theatres were under the direction of Count Durazzo, whose wide study of the European theatres and anxiety to further the arts of opera and ballet led him to promote whatever would eliminate the senseless conventions and arti¬ficialities into which the opera seria and opera-ballet had fallen. His was greatly influenced by his friend, Count Algarotti, whose writings and lecture to the English Royal Society (1750) on the reform of opera served as a theoretical basis for many other contemporary writers on similar subjects; notable among them was Noverre who sometimes used Algarotti’s own ideas, merely substituting the term ballet for the term opera in his Letters on the Dance (1760).

Angiolini’s first works, apart from some national ballets intended to reveal the spirit of certain peoples in whose customs and dances he was interested, were little different from those of Hilferding. These met with such success that he produced his first important dramatic ballet d’action, Don Juan based on Moliere’s play Le Festin de Pierre with music by Gluck (1761). In this he was clearly trying to create a dance-drama instead of the mimo-dramas or pastoral idylls of his master. It was also in essence different from the strong dramas with their realistic gestures then being produced by Noverre at Stuttgart, following that master’s study of Garrick in Shakespeare’s plays, which broke all the academic rules to which Noverre had been accustomed during his training in Paris.

Don Juan was a success and was played more frequently than any other dramatic ballet staged during the latter half of the eighteenth century.

It is not possible to discover the details of Angiolini’s choregraphy for Don Juan, yet from contemporary writings it is clear that Count Durazzo presented this “drama expressed through dance” as a protest against the senseless artificialities or merely sensuous succession of dance divertissements strung together by vocal explanation of the usual state theatre ballets. The music too was unlike that used elsewhere. Gluck’s score did not consist of the usual academically formed dance numbers. Doctor Burney mentions that after Gluck’s visit to England (1745) he “Endeavoured to write for the voice more in the natural tones of the human affections and passion than to flatter the lovers of deep science and difficult execution.” These remarks are equally true of the music for Don Juan, where Gluck emphasized the varying emotional content of the three acts by setting each in a different key and so phrasing the different phases of each episode that they arrived at a proper climax. This same sense of the vitally descriptive power of music to enhance the emotional content of the dance is equally obvious in Gluck’s later score for Semiramis, Angiolini’s next important work, and in the dances for such operas as Orpheus which Angiolini also arranged.

Angiolini, like his master Hilferding, worked on the theory of choregraphic design and has left on record some valuable comments on the production of a dramatic ballet d’action in his introduction to Semiramis (1765), and in two letters to Noverre (1772), written when his anger was roused by Noverre’s personally made claim to be the “unico riforma-tore della danze pantomima”; a claim repudiated because Angiolini believed Hilferding had a right to this title, not only because he had staged dramatic ballets d’action, but also because he had entirely dispensed with the crude comic ballets and had done away with the conventionally elaborate costumes and masks.

Angiolini’s first letter to Noverre is a criticism of the latter’s Agamemnon, a vindication of Hilferding’s position in history, and a refutation of Noverre’s argument that ballet should not be governed by the same rules as drama. His second letter is a criticism of Noverre’s Letters.

Angiolini attacks Agamemnon and incidentally other Noverre ballets, because the unity of action is disrupted by the introduction of a second action as well as unnecessary divert¬issements. He also accuses Noverre of neglecting the other two unities. Angiolini makes his own viewpoint on this difficult problem clear in his libretto for Semiramis: “One’s first thought is that the three unities of time, place and action are almost as necessary to Danse-pantomimes as to comedies and tragedies.” By the unity of place he understands the action occurs in one place, in one town; by the unities of time and action he believes it is difficult to prolong the action and not keep it within twenty-four hours; firstly because it is tiring, if not impossible for the main characters to dance for any length of time; secondly because it is impossible to include other episodes without confusing the audience.

This singleness of purpose seems to have marked all Angiolini’s work as choregrapher and may have been the reason why his Semiratnis did not meet with immediate success. It was too closely based on Voltaire’s drama from which he eliminated all but the main action and principal characters. This proved to be too dramatic and too little relieved by dance to please the Viennese public, although they came to appreciate its merits later when Noverre’s own ballets appeared to them to be top-heavy with action and divertisse¬ments. Noverre’s works also seemed to lack that sensitive feeling for the music, which had been obvious when Angiolini worked with Gluck. Mozart noted Noverre’s insensitivity when he complained to his father that the great man, having commissioned Les Petits Riens, added “Six old miserable ariettas written by others,” to pad out the action.

Towards the Romantic Ballet of the Nineteenth Century

IT was the great theorist of classical dance, Carlo Blasis, who noted the importance of Bordeaux when he was on tour and who believed it to be the fountainhead of ballet production as opposed to Paris, where, he asserted, every dancer must go if only to perfect his technique. From before the French Revolution and for some years afterwards the Bordeaux ballet was under the leadership of Jean Dauberval, who had studied and worked with Noverre, and whose inability to gain permission for experiment at the Paris Opera had sent him to the provinces. In Bordeaux he produced many different kinds of ballet about which Parisian critics complained that sentimentalism and melodrama had replaced the tragic nobility of Noverre. But it would seem that although Dauberval did utilize such themes, he was working towards a more flexible type of technique, which could be adapted to suit the style of each work instead of basing it, like the older ballet-masters, upon the strict formulas of classical dance, conventional gesture and an occasional use of some folk or Commedia dell’Arte idiom.
(1724 – 1806)

Dauberval’s famous ballet, La Fille mal gardee (1789), is one of the oldest and one of the first purely demi-caractere ballets in the repertoire. Like Galeotti’s Les Caprices du Cupidon, which is the oldest ballet and was produced in Copenhagen (1786), it has passed through the hands of many ballet-masters and has lost its original choregraphy. Yet its importance should not be minimized for in its original form it helped to establish a new and im¬portant type of ballet, which allowed choregraphers more scope to design dance styles of their own.

La Fille mal gardee was based on Egidio Duni’s comic opera of that name produced in Paris and introduced to the ballet stage some real-life village characters seen tlirough the eyes of authors and players for the popular theatres. They were part of the Commedia dell’Arte traditions, but were shown in a contemporary setting. The original score, com¬piled by an amateur, consisted of folk-dance tunes supplemented by popular airs.

Until La Fille mal gardee was produced by Perrot in 1848 Dauberval’s choregraphy seems to have remained practically unchanged except for the introduction of the pointes for the 1828 Paris production by Aumer (Dauberval’s pupil). According to contemporary accounts, Dauberval’s choregraphy fell into three distinct categories: it was a character dance, or dances of character, or it was a special type of dance based on classical technique, an important distinction which became of the utmost value to Dauberval’s pupils.


Dauberval seems to have understood character dance to be one in which the dancers changed their own nationality or status into that of some other country or environment, and used the characteristic gestures, steps, rhythms and qualities found in a particular type of folk dance – a definition which also included the court and social dances he arranged to create local colour in other ballets. Thus in La Fille mal gardee, Dauberval arranged dances based on the dances of Southern France and the Basque Provinces for the corps de ballet playing the roles of peasants and villagers.

A dance of character Dauberval understood to be one in which the dancer changes his or her personality and presents instead the portrait of some clearly defined individual derived from the study of his character, idiosyncrasies and specialized movements. In these dances Dauberval’s characters had descended from the old Greek comedies by way of the Commedia dell’Arte and included a scheming old woman (mother or nurse), traditionally played by a man en travesti; a cunning and wealthy villager with a simpleton son (foolish zany, or clown) and a marriage broker, for whom Dauberval used some of the stock tricks of the Harlequinade.


But the two categories described above did not completely satisfy Dauberval’s need to establish a style for all the characters. His heroine and hero, Lisa and Colin, were descended from Columbine and Harlequin, who had become the real dancers of the Commedia dell’Arte. He therefore devised a specific form of classical dance which he himself termed the demi-caractere.

This demi-caractere dance was based on the classical formulas of his day and had gradually been making its appearance in the dances of the nymphs, shepherds and other rustic characters in the pastoral scenes of ballets and operas by Lully, Rameau, Gluck and the ballet-masters mentioned earlier.

But withDauberval, this softly graceful form o£demi-caractere work was greatly developed and became strongly characterized by the use of special ports de bras, in which the strict rulings of the academic school were very frequently ignored. Arms were not kept rounded, nor did they move in one piece, so to speak. They could be bent at wrist or elbow, or used in movements borrowed from the typical attitudes of a peasant in some dance or work process. Dauberval is said to have used the false positions described by Weaver and Noverre for both arms and feet in order to make his dancers look more natural.

With the success of Dauberval’s La Fille malgardee, the habit of borrowing a theme from opera or drama became more widespread among choregraphers probably because they realized that an audience who came to the theatre already knowing the action would follow the ballet more readily.

The choice of a well-known theme possibly rises from the fact that whenever a ballet-master originates a new type of ballet, dance itself lags behind and the action tends to be worked out and developed in dramatic gesture, thus depriving the stage at some points of dance movement.

But as the dancers grow accustomed to this new type of ballet, they develop expres¬sive qualities, thus enlarging their technique, so that the themes tend to lose their melo¬dramatic elements and impact and become more lyrical or more characteristic in the dance content.

Weaver felt that his dancers were not able to express themselves as fully as he wished in his ballets, so he incorporated purely mimed episodes. Salle and others working with her, De Hesse, Hilferding and Angiolini had developed a more flowing expressive style of movement, which acquired great emotional qualities, through working with the dramatically naturalistic gestures of Garrick, as seen by Noverre. Dancers who had ac¬quired this style performed for Dauberval in Bordeaux, and he was thus able to dispense with the so-called rhetorical or formal gestures and steps, and pave the way for further innovations by his pupil, Didelot.

The French Revolution (1789) sent many of the leading dancers from the Paris theatres into the provinces and abroad, where they were able to dance for those ballet-masters whose works were not acceptable to the Directorate of the Paris Opera, which now ceased to act as arbiter of taste to the fashionable world elsewhere: this dispersal of artists was, however, entirely beneficial to the art of ballet.

London became an important meeting ground for artists of all schools and it was here that Charles Didelot, a student of Dauberval, gained his experience dancing in ballets by his master, Noverre, Gardel and others during the 1788-9 season. He thus assimilated much valuable and varied material before setting out on his own creative journey on which, firstly, he paved the way for the Romantic ballet and, secondly, founded a dis¬tinctive school of Russian classical dance.

Didelot took the initiative in the staging of a romantic style of dance when he produced his famous ballet Zephyr et Flore at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (1796), where he designed unusual dance movements for a classical legend. His introduction of a fantastic element into academic dance arose from his desire to present Greek myths in a form more acceptable to the London audience, by no means all of whom came from similar aristocratic circles to those frequenting the classical ballet theatres on the continent.

The three innovations which Didelot made in Zephyr et Flore to give his dance its fantastic and expressive qualities were—
1. The first use of the pointes.
2. The development of the pas de deux as a conversation between two dancers.
3. The introduction of simple lifts and more lyrical groupings.

The last two innovations were particularly important in his creation of mimed-dance or danced-mime. He also made a thorough reform of costume, which the London Press continually noted; he appeared as Zephyr in the briefest of Greek tunics and flesh-coloured tights, and both he and Flore wore wings as they flew away together.

It is curious that the introduction of simple lifts and the use of the pointes may have developed from the use of the improved flying machine invented by the English mechanics for Zephyr et Flore, by means of which the dancers were able to fly the length and breadth and even circle the stage instead of merely ascending and descending in the older gloire, which had hoisted the gods and goddesses up and down Olympus since the days of Balet comiaue de la Royne.

Admittedly the dancers had been rising higher on to the tips of their toes in their desire for speed and more spectacular feats of balance, but it is not certain that the pointes were actually used before this ballet, when the rise to the tips was made possible because the dancers, using the flying machines, momentarily held that position as the machinists took their weight before beginning their flight.

There is plenty of evidence to prove that the pointes were first used by Didelot in Zephyr et Flore. Pushkin mentions how Istomina’s feet scarcely touched the floor -when this ballet was produced in St. Petersburg (1822). The Moscow ballet-master, Glouzhkovsky, had said the same about the tragic Danilova, who lost her life through an accident in this ballet (1808).

Castile Blaze writing in the Journal des Debats (1827) recollects the 1815 production in Paris: “Everyone remembers the elder Mile. Gosselin and the astonishing flexibility of her limbs, that muscular strength which enabled her to remain sur les pointes for one or two minutes.” (See also BARON’S Letters to Sophie.)

The development of mimed-dance or danced-mime was Didelot’s most important contri¬bution to ballet. He did this firstly by distinguishing between the physical qualities of the movements (i.e. bending, stretching, rising, jumping, gliding, darting and turning); secondly by defining the difference between the male and female dancer; and thirdly by exploiting the dancers’ natural ability to express themselves through movement. All this enabled him to make the conflict in the action more clearly defined whenever it was necessary.

Until Zephyr et Flore it seems both dancers performed the same steps, the only difference being each dancer’s ability to display a certain type of movement. With the introduction of the pointes and simple lifts, however, Didelot made it possible to define more exactly which steps are best danced by a woman and which best by a man. The one accentuates the danseuse’s lightness and daintiness, the other the danseurs strength. This distinction is an essential element of any pas de deux (or any dance) where the man dances equally with the woman and is not merely a porter. When this fact was lost sight of during the late nine¬teenth century, in every European country except Denmark and Russia, the male dancer became effeminate and his part was often played by a woman en travesti.

Didelot’s need to emphasize this difference probably arose from his realization of his own limitations in style and a need to distinguish it from that of his wife, with whom he usually danced. His dancing seems to have been more in the style of the danseur noble, but as he was short, broad-shouldered, and not good-looking, Noverre and Dauberval usually cast him for such roles as Cupid or Mercury, or in demi-caractere works such as Colin in La Fille tnal gardee. However his pupil, Glouzhkovsky, says that despite his looks he was a most graceful dancer with great purity and flow of line, as well as impeccable technique. Since he did not possess great elevation he arranged dances for himself based on gliding steps, which displayed his easy ports de bras, his excellent poses and lively pirouettes. He possessed great speed and lightness, and these qualities were of particular importance when dancing Zephyr, because he heightened their effectiveness by utilizing the flying machine to give height and length to his jumps.


Didelot’s introduction of simple lifts into the pas de deux of Zephyr et Flore doubtless rose because he wished Flore to appear as if swept up in the gentle wind’s embrace and then, as she gradually reciprocated his love, a climax would be reached, and they could fly away together. By thus enlarging the dancers’ sphere of movement, he also enlarged their means of expression, and this type of mimed-dance would make the argument more convincing when set in a dramatic context than it would be if dancers reverted to passages of conventional gesture.

Although Didelot did not do away with the scenes d action in his “dancing tragedies,” he tried to create these of danced-mime only. That is, he endeavoured to dispense with conventional gesture as such, and used a more fluid and natural type of mime. But he presented such scenes only when they were justified by the development of the plot. Similarly he has left it on record that any purely dancing episodes also had to be in accord with the action. It is perhaps notable that in the few works where the spectacular nature of the ballet demanded a grand finale, he left the arrangement of such divertissements to others, usually his assistant, the first soloist August.

Nevertheless he did not starve his ballet of dance as De Hesse and Noverre seem to have done in some of their tragic works. Didelot used mass dance to paint the background and create atmosphere in the same way as Dauberval had done, but, because of his wider experience and perhaps greater appreciation of style, he was not afraid to design dances more strongly characteristic of their setting. These dances were not seen in isolation. The soloists and corps de ballet were expected to maintain their characteristic movement through¬out. For this reason he sometimes broke the rigid formulas of corps de ballet dance where every member performed identical steps as they wove through the set figures. Instead he allowed a certain amount of individual movement which helped the action to unfold more realistically, an important element in those ballets based on contemporary themes.

This individual freedom of movement was very important for the purely pictorial element of Didelot’s work. It allowed the dancers to fall into more picturesque groupings and something of their value can be seen in the sketches by his pupil, Feodor Tolstoy, for two of his own projects, The Golden Harp and Echo, which he based on his master’s principles. These are of great importance in showing how lyrically flowing a line Didelot had achieved before he retired in 1831.


His FIRST STAY IN RUSSIA (1801 – 11)

Didelot’s main work in developing the expressiveness of dance lay in Russia where he went as principal dancer and ballet-master in 1801. The Imperial St. Petersburg School was just emerging from a period of utmost frustration and in order to understand his importance in the development of Russian ballet, a brief summary of its history seems necessary.

The school was founded by the decree of the Empress Anne in 1738 by Jean Baptiste Lande, who had originally been commanded to Russia to teach the cadets at the Shliak-hetny College “the delicate art of the French court dance.” He had, however, been so inspired (according to the story) by the dancing of some peasants on the quay as he arrived that he ultimately persuaded the Empress to allow him to train a selected number of children of the court serfs to dance in ballets presented at the palace. His place was taken by other Italian, Austrian, French and German dancing-masters. Amongst those who made important contributions to the development of the school were the Italian Fassano, the Austrian Hilferding and the Italian Kanziani. The last named was the first systematically to work out a syllabus of training necessary to develop an artist in all aspects of the dance as well as to ensure the student’s general educa¬tion. Unfortunately before his plan could demonstrate its worth, the mad Tsar Paul I came to the throne and his lack of interest in the Russian theatre, together with the Imperial Treasury’s lack of money caused Prince Youssopoff, director of the Imperial Theatres, to economize. He approved a plan for the reorganization of the school presented by one of its inspectors, an Italian Kazzacci, which so drastically curtailed Kanziani’s activities that he resigned.


After the death of Paul I, a new Director of the Imperial Theatres was appointed, who immediately invited Didelot to Russia and the St. Petersburg ballet-master, Valberg, who had tried to carry on his master, Kanziani’s work, was sent abroad to study.

One of Didelot’s most important acts on arrival was to fight for the right of any dancer, having been so trained, to a place in the ballet. He also lengthened the period of study (it had hitherto been only two or three years). He then began to teach mime as well as dance, and insisted on a study of music.

Throughout his first stay often years he made few attempts to experiment. The audience’s taste for virtuosity meant that visiting stars preferred divertissements in which they could display their own particular feats. Didelot was no exception and staged the fashionable anacreontic ballets in which he could show his ability to turn and beat, but by including his new type of pas de deux with its simple lifts, he was able to introduce some of his Russian pupils such as Istomina, with whom hehimself danced, and Danilova, who danced Zephyr et Flore with the great dancer Louis Duport (1808).

Didelot was the forerunner of Fokine, who believed that everything began in the class¬room, therefore his main work at this period lay in the school, and he had so prepared the ground, that when he was forced to leave Russia because of the Napoleonic invasion his pupils, led by his favourite Kolossova, developed his teaching in the school and, because of the difficulty of obtaining stars from abroad, began to play leading roles in all the ballets presented.


“When Didelot returned to Russia after the defeat of Napoleon the taste of the Imperial audiences had changed. Their interest lay in “dancing tragedies” which had gradually been introduced into the repertoire, following the work of Angiolini, by Valberg, the St. Petersburg ballet-master, who produced the first ballet on Romeo and Juliet (2nd Novem¬ber, 1809). Didelot now worked to stage those ballets he had already shown in London dealing with more heroic subjects and utilizing themes with plenty of action which would give him an opportunity of presenting strong conflicts of characters and differing styles of dance. Some of these had already been staged by Hilferding, Angiolini, Noverre. Dauberval and others because in those days no theme was exclusive to one choregrapher. In addition, he devised others of a strong dramatic, even contemporary basis, or having a contemporary interest. For example two of his most successful works were The Hungarian Hut (1817) and Pushkin’s The Prisoner in the Caucasus (1823).

The success of such ballets lay not only in their topicality but also in the expressive dancing of the Russian cast led by such artists as Kolossova of whom Lermontov, the poet, wrote: “Every movement of her face was so natural and clear that it was absolute speech for the audience.”

Expressive dance is part of the Russian ethos and comes from the native folk dance which has never been entirely absent from the repertoire of the Russian State theatres. Didelot seized upon the natural expressiveness of the Russian dancers, as Angiolini had done before him, and utilized it to develop their technique so that he helped them to create their own national school of classical dance, whereby they always spoke through their movements no matter in what style they were dancing. It was the continued existence of national dance, music and costume in the Russian court ballet that undoubtedly helped to preserve their classical dancing from the absolute stylization found elsewhere when the Romantic ballet got under way.

Needless to say the Russian expressiveness was seen at its best in The Prisoner in the Caucasus, where Didelot exploited both the Russian form of western court dance and the more fluid exotic style of the Caucasian folk dance. The theme was heavily censored by the Tsar himself in order to eliminate any element of Pushkin’s poem which might be considered revolutionary (the poet had been exiled to the Caucasus). Nevertheless, enough of the poem’s lyricism and dramatic conflict remained for contemporary critics to realize that Didelot was establishing a new type of mimetic drama in ballet. He had assimilated the necessary technical elements of dance, drama and music, imparted these to his dancers, and then designed his choregraphy so that it displayed their own native talent for expressing emotion, mood and action through danced-mime or mimed-dance.


Didelot did not confine his activities to the dancing side of his work, he took a personal interest in every detail of the production and was particularly attentive to the musical side.

It seems he always worked in the closest collaboration with the composer, defining the phrasing, tempos and other details so that the score was illustrative of the action. The score usually conformed to the same principles as Gluck’s Don Juan, that is each scene was broken up into numbers and was not written as a continuous movement. In Don Juan, however, Gluck had not entirely dispensed with the formulas of the court dance, the last item was written in the form of a chaconne, even though it was not suitable for the court dance, nor yet for the stage version performed by some virtuosos because it had expression and was descriptive of the Furies. Gluck broke away from the formal dance patterns in the dances for Orpheus and it was this type of music that Didelot wished to obtain from his composers, whilst insisting that it maintained a dance rhythm throughout.


The last important aspect of Didelot’s work was the use he made of the technical resources of the theatre to create the necessary illusion and fantasy. But like all the other items men¬tioned, he only used these when justified by the action and not merely to add spectacular glory. His use of the flying machine has already been cited. Another interesting effect was the storm in the shipwreck scene oiL’heureux Naufrage, which was apparently brilliantly worked out by his English machinists to whom he paid tribute.

In other words everything Didelot needed to create a ballet was a means to an end and not an end in itself.

The Romantic Ballet

THE ghosts, wilis, sylphs and fairies who drove the gods and goddesses, the noble heroes and heroines of classical ballet from the stage at the beginning of the nineteenth century were all manifestations of the imaginative use made by certain choregraphers of earlier material. This had been collected by learned men in their efforts to preserve and interpret something of the rich heritage of the medieval period when the acts and deeds of the noble knights and squires who went to the Crusades and who rescued ladies in distress gave rise to legends, myths, ballads and folk-lore traditions. The Romantic movement had started in England as a reaction to too much classicism and had inspired the mysteriously fantastic, or Gothic novels, the poems of chivalry, the strange adventure tales and poems written by Sir Walter Scott, Mrs. Ratcliffe, Lord Byron and others. Such imaginative works, which often described the unrequited love of knights for an unapproachable lady and upheld the sanctity of marriage, influenced most of the art forms on the continent, particularly that of ballet, where choregraphers and dancers began to enlarge the scope of their activities in two different ways. Eventually the cult of the individual danseuse led to the development of technique through the careful analysis made by certain ballet-masters of the movements of the body in relation to dance-steps. They applied this study to the training of danseuses able to fulfil the demands of choregraphers who were unable to work in the purely Romantic style, but who wished to exploit a talent which while it lacked the gift of expression was yet equipped to display virtuosity in a spectacle of dance, costumes, scenery and brilliant effects.
OF THE DANCER (1797 – 1878)

The development of the classical technique of dance during the nineteenth century was primarily due to the work of Carlo Blasis (1797 – 1878), an Italian pupil of Dauberval and Pierre Gardel; who stated: “I work with pantomime and dance, all honour of the success of my ballets, I wish to attribute and give to these two arts.” Yet nothing remains of his ballets, which were not so important to posterity as his teaching, which, when he became Director of the Imperial Academy in Milan in 1837, revolutionized the technique of the Italian dancers. By this time his methods had become firmly fixed for he had first stated them in writing in his Treatise on the Dance in 1820, a book that had very great influence on most European dancing-masters. This book recapitulates the methods of the great masters with whom Blasis had studied and danced in many Western European theatres, the most valuable aspects of Noverre’s Letters, as he felt they should be applied to the contemporary scene, and his own intensive study of anatomy and music as well as other subjects which appertain to ballet.

Blasis concentrated on the technique of movement, paying particular attention to the principles of balance, or equilibrium. This undoubtedly helped his pupils to perform more difficult feats of balance sur les pointes and the danseur to spin multiple pirouettes whilst in attitude, arabesque or similar pose.

Yet despite his concentration on technique Blasis made a valuable contribution to the textbooks on the art of ballet. In certain passages of his book he sometimes seems to be looking forwards to innovations which were made later by Fokine. This occurs particu¬larly when he makes an analysis of the spectacle, describing its essential features and how they all play a part in the making of a whole. That is, he helps a reader to understand how to build characters through the art of mime and a special dance style appropriate to each theme, and points out how important it is to compose the right type of step.

He makes interesting comments on the part to be played by the ballet-master in linking dance and mime to the action with the help of illustrative music. For this he recommends a study of the works of famous composers, especially if the libretto has a serious subject. He is equally emphatic that such a ballet must point a moral. This idea arose from his study of classical drama, and shows how the broadly-based education Blasis had received coloured his work in the theatre.

Although Marie Taglioni was a contemporary of Blasis, the Romantic movement seems to have influenced him in only one way. He was, however, aware of the important part played in the ballets of his day by the star dancer and he gives a list of the qualities that he expected from her.

They were the following –
1. Steadiness and equilibrium.
2. Natural ease and facility. Like Weaver and Noverre he analyses the various types
of dancer and their physique.
3. Keen observation and an analytical mind.
4. Worship of beauty and no deviation from classical principles.

This precept, Blasis himself practised in his teaching and handed to his pupil Lepri, who passed it on to Cecchetti, who by his maintenance of the classical standards prevented the technique of the Diaghilev company from deteriorating even though no classical ballet remained in their repertoire, and who achieved this at a time when ballerinas elsewhere tended to perform steps and poses in any way that they thought suited them best.
5. A knowledge of how to discriminate between the various types of dancer and a knowledge of one’s own limitations.
6. An interest in dance composition in order always to make it seem that the perform¬ance was a spontaneous interpretation.

This he learned from Gardel and Dauberval.
7. A study of drawing and music.
He had thoroughly studied both these arts as can be seen by referring to the drawings with which he illustrated his Treatise and which give a wonderful idea of the line and placing of the movements performed in his time and today in ballets where a certain type of classical or demi-caractere dance is demanded.


Bournonville planned both his Romantic and demi-caractere ballets along the same lines as those of Dauberval or Taglioni. But he made some interesting comments on the actual structure of a dramatic ballet when visiting St. Petersburg to see his pupil Johannson and some of Petipa’s ballets.

But Boumonville hints that he feels Petipa did not understand how to construct a dramatic ballet. He himself believed that a two-act ballet was better than a three-act ballet if a tragic tale is to be clearly told and brought to its proper denouement. He takes for his examples the two Romantic ballets La Sylphide and Giselle and analyses them thus—
Act 1 states the facts, establishes the characters and their relationship to each other. This sets the action going to the inevitable conflict, which will lead ultimately to the climax, but brings a logical curtain to a first act.
Act 2 reaches onwards to the proper denouement because it deals with the result of the conflict and thus brings the climax needed to close the action.
Act 3 can, therefore, only be a divertissement denoting a happy end, which is not needed in a dramatic, tragic work if it is to make its proper effect.

Bournonville however considered it was legitimate to stage three-act ballets when they had a happy conclusion, as his list of works clearly shows.

Bournonville’s findings are interesting because Didelot had noted that the London public of the late eighteenth century did not like long ballets. They preferred a ballet, if it had a strongly dramatic theme, to be short and replete with action, which had to unfold without sub-plots and extra episodes.

English Ballet

THE success of John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus and later ballets d’action did not lead to the founding of an English school of ballet. There are two possible reasons: firstly the harlequinades or pantomimes, which had developed from the masques and burlesques of Weaver’s work became too popular; secondly, there was plenty of ballet. After the Restoration, and particularly from 1717 onwards, when Marie Salle made her first appearance, London was entertained by such dancers as Mesdames Rose, Theodore, Taglioni, Grahn, Elssler, Grisi, Cerrito, Genee, Kyasht, Pavlova and Messieurs Dupre, Vestris, Didelot, Perrot, Mordkin and finally the Diaghilev company. But after Diaghilev’s death English ballet came into its own. In the brief space of thirty years it has become as famous as other longer-lived companies in Paris, Leningrad, Copenhagen, Milan and Moscow.

The date upon which English ballet was born is unknown. It could be when Phyllis Bedells took over the leading role from the Russian, Lydia Kyasht, at the Empire Theatre in 1914, or when the “Haines English Ballet” set out from Manchester (1915). Another date is 1920 when P. J. S. Richardson, O.B.E., and Edouard Espinosa laid the foundation of what was later the Royal Academy of Dancing whose aim was to raise the technical standards and qualifications of both teachers and dancers. Seen in retrospect, Diaghilev’s production of The Sleeping Beauty (1921) might also mark the birth of English ballet, instead of being another milestone in the history of ballet in England, because it proved that some English dancers were capable of meeting that impresario’s demands for technique and artistry. But it was not until 1930 that a distinctive form of English balletic art began to emerge from two London schools, who sometimes joined forces to present evenings of ballet under the auspices of the Camargo Society. This body was founded by P. J. S. Richardson, Edwin Evans (the music critic) and Arnold L. Haskell (later Director of the Royal Ballet School), to further the art of ballet and the careers of English dancers when, after Diaghilev’s death, there seemed to be no outlet for their services save in pantomime, revue, the music halls or other musical shows.

The present success of English ballet is however primarily due to the work of Dame Marie Rambert and Dame Ninette de Valois, neither of whom were English born, the former being Polish, the latter Irish, but both of whom established their own companies in England and helped to originate most of the valuable traditions to which all present English ballets owe their being.


History shows that choregraphers can be divided roughly into two types. To the first belong such artists as Didelot, Fokine and Massine who create ballets because they love the art itself and believe certain subjects give them the necessary outlet through which to make innovations and develop the art more fully as a medium of expression. Such chore¬graphers usually begin by establishing their new ideas in the classroom. Then, when they create a ballet, they plot all the fine details of movement, its characterization, relationship to music and other elements, and insist that each dancer maintain exactly the design laid down. To the second category belong such choregraphers as Taglioni, Saint-Le”on and Lifar, who see the potentialities of certain artists and build ballets to suit their particular abilities and personalities.

Both types of choregrapher are of the utmost value. The former will develop the potentialities of their dancers by broadening their experience of physical movement and by the mental exercise of expressing themselves only through the medium laid down. The latter give their artists confidence by building upon and finding new ways of presenting the movements best suited to the personality and qualities of a particular individual. Thus the former will create a company disciplined to conform to the idea of ballet as a whole. The latter will develop the individual talents within that company and bring them to the leading roles.

Since 1935, the Royal Ballet (as it is now known) has had two main choregraphers, Dame Ninette de Valois and Sir Frederick Ashton, the former belonging to the first and the latter to the second category mentioned above. The result of their joint effort is clearly evident, as Soviet critics were quick to note during the company’s very successful visit to Leningrad and Moscow.


The realism of the first American ballets presented by Catherine Littlefield, and after the war by Ballet Theatre, was quite different from the French. Roland Petit usually dealt with the squalor of poverty in tragic circumstances and ended in death, or with more artificially comic episodes reminiscent of music hall. The American choregraphers were oblivious of class, status, or race, and dealt with life as experienced by themselves or their grandparents. They presented completely extrovert works of laughter or deeply intro¬verted themes of narrow-minded sects. They usually relied on a dance medium which paid some lip-service to classical dance, or something of the many styles used by their compatriots at home or in musicals and films.

Catherine Littlefield’s Bam Dance (1937) was no more than its title suggests. It captured its London audience by the sheer exuberance and rhythmic vitality of the dancers. These qualities were more evident when Ballet Theatre presented Fancy Free (London, 1946) and Rodeo (London, 1949). Such works were reconstructions in dance of American folklore. Barn Dance and Rodeo pictured life in the outback with its bucolic humour, hearty health and sheer fun; Fancy Free gave an urban view of life and owed its popularity to its topicality. Even after the cease-fire, Londoners were still subject to the fortunes of war which brought similar American sailors to the city pubs, and the portrayal of three of them in their New York bar, impressing their own girl friends with the magnitude of their exploits during the last engagement, was a slice of life no other ballet-master had yet attempted. At that time the ballet came close to what Londoners felt was the real thing, brought to the theatre by a mere matter of translating a lively anecdote into dance.

The translation of slices of life into dance was not the only contribution of American choregraphers to the art of ballet. Another important aspect of their work, and one which has not yet been used fully, was their employment of film techniques which gave some works a swift, flowing continuity and broke the unities of time, place and action, which had held choregraphers within bounds for so long.


The traditions of acting out the character in dance established by Bournonville is that element in which the Royal Danish Ballet still excels. Its repertoire today largely consists of internationally important works by Fokine, Ashton, Petit, Balanchme and others. To such ballets the dancers bring their artistry, stagecraft and technical facility, and frequently give a more closely integrated performance than that staged by the com¬panies originally producing such works. These dancers are willing to sink their own identities into the role played with the result that the life they live in each ballet becomes a reality for their audience. But they have still found no native choregrapher to follow Bournonville.

It seemed at one point that Harald Lander would provide original ballets stemming from Danish traditions. His Qarrtsiluni (1952) evoked a ritual of those ancient Eskimos, who wait longingly for the sun to burst through the silence of the long winter and as its rays pour over the horizon, break into an ecstasy of dance. Lander’s choregraphy was starkly primitive and, in the manner of a deeply felt ritual repetitive and slow, until the final frenzy of joyous movement. The score by Riisager provided its vital rhythmic urge and the dancers captured the drama of living through the excitement of the dawn of spring.

Lander’s Etudes (1948) was in absolute contrast to this primitive outburst, and was an essay in classical dance. It was moulded from the Bournonville technique to which Lander added elements from his studies of important modern Russian choregraphers, so that the gentleness and grace of the girls, and the brilliant elevation and beats of the men, became athletic, stronger and straighter in line. It was exhilarating, as the dancers had to prove themselves only as dancers, and give themselves freely to the task. Unfortunately Lander had to leave Copenhagen before furthering this new style in a narrative ballet. But his work on Etudes prepared the dancers for the modern choregraphy of Balanchine and the others.

The Royal Swedish Ballet was founded in 1773, but has not yet produced any notable choregrapher of its own. Its history is closely tied to that of Western European ballet-masters and stars of the nineteenth century. Since the development of the Central European School of Dance however, several Swedish choregraphers have produced ballets utilizing its theories, particularly those of Kurt Jooss. It is to one of his dancers, Birgit Cullberg, that the company now owes two original works. Her Miss Julie (1950) was originally produced for another company and owed its success to the libretto devised by Allen Fredericia from Strindberg’s play, and the interpretation of the leading role by the Swedish dancer-actress Elsa Marianne von Rosen. It is a literal translation of the play into dance in which the strong narrative qualities of modern movement are reinforced by elements from the classical idiom. This merging of conflicting styles has resulted in a design of strong, almost vicious force, which fully delineates the main characters. The work is a tour deforce which has not yet been developed further in ballets of equal dramatic content.

Moon Reindeer (1957) was created by Birgit Cullberg for Royal Danish Ballet and was inspired, like Lander’s Qarrtsiluni, by ancient traditions: a legend of a girl from Lapland who became a reindeer. The score was also composed by Riisager and had the necessary rhythmic vitality. The ballet’s most notable feature is not so much the expressiveness of the movements, which characterize the girl-reindeer and her companions, but the extra¬ordinarily spacious effect of such a tale being danced out on an almost empty stage. Lighting alone seems to paint the scene and lend that air of fantasy to the snowy waste pictured. Birgit Cullberg again shows here that she is another choregrapher to have seen the value of amalgamating the theories of the modern dancer with the principles of classical ballet. Perhaps when she has more fully studied the latter she will produce works with the same realistic content as those of the Americans who have delved deeply into the motivation of movement and have produced works of greater actuality.


The developments taking place in Soviet Ballet since the 1917 Revolution have been quite different from those of the West. Although the reforms initiated by Fokine made headway in Leningrad and served to give a greater flow of line and expressive musicality to the movements of the dancers, it was the dramatic qualities of acting through dance introduced by Gorsky, first in Moscow and then in Leningrad, that had a greater influence over the work of the choregraphers. His insistence upon the need for the entire action to be unfolded by means of dramatic movement, coupled with the authorities’ need to provide their vast audiences with ballets which could be understood and appreci¬ated, led to the production of works based on such well-known themes as Pushkin’s The Prisoner in the Caucasus (1938) and The Fountains of Bakhshisarai (1934) and Gogol’s Taras Bulba (1940); or on themes in which the political aims of the new regime or revolutionary topics and social conflicts were portrayed. Among these were The Red Poppy (1937, now The Red Flower) dealing with the adventures of some Soviet Sailors in China, The Golden Age (1931) which contrasted Soviet achievements with those of the Fascists, and The Flames of Paris (1932), a story of the French Revolution.
These and many other ballets with an epic theme quickly ousted the early revolutionary works using constructivist and other modern ideas of stage production, which had been driven from the stage before Diaghilev staged his first ballets on these lines. The concern of Soviet choregraphers to present their vast audiences with ballets of social and dramatic content, at first led them to produce works in which the purely dancing elements tended to be forgotten, so much attention had to be focused on the need to communicate the social implications of the theme. The methods and theories of Stanis¬lavsky had been assimilated by the dancers of the Soviet companies, and it was not difficult to convey through their vivid interpretations both the characters and action of the drama. But the audiences’ demand for dance soon led such important choregraphers as Lopokov, Zakharov, Vainoonen and Chaboukiani to select themes of important social content that would also give opportunities for staging abundant dance divertissements. Thus in construc¬tion their ballets resembled those of Petipa, although their dances were freer in conception and frequently incorporated ideas based on the rich sources of folk dance. These were gradually disclosed as each republic opened its own Theatre of Dance and Ballet, founded its own school and, by researching into its traditions, founded professional folk-dance groups for stage work. The growth of these groups and the founding of schools and ballet companies have developed greatly since 1945. There are now thirty-three companies resident in thirty-one towns (Leningrad and Moscow each have two). Originally these were fed from the two older schools, but already some twenty others are attached either to the Theatres of Opera and Ballet, or to the Conservatoires of the leading towns.

The next problems facing the Soviet authorities were those of repertoire and the train¬ing of choregraphers. The former depended upon the availability of libretti with firmly outlined scores by some practised composer. Such a work is produced in many towns, sometimes by the same choregrapher or his assistant (e.g. Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet), but more frequently a local or visiting choregrapher will produce his own version.

This dispersal of the same ballets throughout the U.S.S.R. allows a visitor to see that the various choregraphers set about their task in much the same way because they are bound by the score. Moreover conferences have taken place between choregraphers, dancers, teachers, musicians, critics and delegates from the audience. At these the problems of ballet production are discussed and the findings reflected in the work of the chore¬graphers and the Moscow Institute of Theatrical Art, where the two leading Soviet ballet-masters, Zakharov and Shattin, head the faculty of choregraphic art. One reason for the founding of this Institute was to give aspiring choregraphers an understanding of their problems and help supply the demand for such artists from all over the U.S.S.R.


It was not until Leonide Lavrovsky staged Romeo and Juliet (Kirov Theatre, Leningrad, 1940) that a break was made with the formulas of Petipa. This work has been discussed elsewhere, but it is valuable to read Lavrovsky’s own comments.

Lavrovsky aimed to preserve the specific features of Shakespeare’s play and kept its formal structure so that he captured both the harshness of the quarrels between Montague and Capulet, and the tragic story of the two lovers. He stated (Soviet Culture, March, 1942) that he used a form of film technique to achieve a continuous flow of action. In this he was helped by the Soviet artist, Peter Williams, whose settings were devised somewhat as the stage in Shakespeare’s day. That is, he used curtains and transparencies by which sections of the stage could be isolated or opened up as scene succeeded scene. Thus the lovers’ passionate meetings were seen to be broken by violent action, which in its turn gave way to touches of humour, or solemn prayer.

Prokofiev’s score supported this continuous flow of action. Its various leitmotives under¬lined each episode with appropriate rhythmic energy and melody, whose sentiment, solemnity or violence, deepened the moods as they changed. But what brought Shake¬speare’s tragedy fully to life were the outstanding interpretations of their roles, played by the Kirov dancers led by People’s Artist, Galina Ulanova. Her performance as Juliet, more than that of any other Soviet dancer, serves to illustrate the difference between the Soviet choregraphers’ approach to reality and the contemporary theme from that of their Western colleagues.

Thus the Soviet choregrapher, unlike his Western colleague, does not necessarily seek to create a contemporary style of dance, or choose a contemporary subject in order to present realism on the stage. Rather he chooses a theme of theatrical value, usually with contemporary or social implications and—no matter how he couches his dance—expects his dancers to bring reality to this theme by their ability to live their roles and make their audience believe in the truth and reality of their performance.

The Western choregrapher, on the other hand, in his search to be contemporary, often seeks only to find new ways of using movement, and may achieve realism within the framework of his ballet, no matter what his theme, if his dancers are artists and have learnt to live their roles. If they are unable to do this, then their modern realism in move¬ment can only be accepted as a novelty to whet the appetites of a jaded audience.

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(Photo Anthony Crickmay)


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