Ballet's History

"The word 'ballet' comes from the Italian word 'ballare,' meaning 'to dance,'" according to Boston Ballet's Web site . First developed as a form of entertainment for Italian royalty during the 1400s, ballet was originally danced solely by men. Ballets were also performed at aristocratic weddings, which were always considered lavish celebrations. The first female dancer was named Mademoiselle de Lafontaine, who performed in an early ballet named Le Triompe de l'Amour.

Although ballet originated in Italy, its vocabulary is rooted in the French language. To this day, the basic ballet steps and positions have French names. This is because formal ballet training started in France when King Louis XIV formed the Royal Academy of Dance in 1661. The five basic ballet positions also originated in France; they were created in the 1600s by a French ballet teacher named Beauchamps. The first ballerinas, however, did not look like ballerinas do today because they wore heavy, ankle-length dresses.

During the Italian Renaissance, ballet developed its own style as it spread to France, Russia and several other European countries. Ballet became recognized as a serious, dramatic art form on par with the opera during the 18th century. Often, ballerinas would dance during operas. In the 19th century, ballerinas such as Geneviève Gosselin, Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler experimented with many new techniques, such as dancing on pointe. Ballet did not become a significant part of American culture until the Russian George Balanchine established the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet in the 20th century.

Famous Ballets

The Nutcracker Ballet is based on a book called "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" written by E.T.A. Hoffman. Music was written for the ballet when Marius Petipa, a legendary choreographer, commissioned Tchaikovsky to do so in 1891. The first showing of The Nutcracker Ballet took place in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre of Russia. The Nutcracker was then introduced to Western Europe and to America by the Ballet Russe. It has since become an annual holiday tradition, according to Nutcrackerballet.net.

Swan Lake was also composed by Tchaikovsky, but as a commission by Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, the intendant of the Russian Imperial Theatres in Moscow. Swan Lake was unsuccessful after its first year of performance because audiences believed its choreography, by German ballet master Julius Reisinger, was unoriginal and uninspiring. The Swan Lake known and loved by many today is a revision by the famous choreographers, Petipa and Ivanov. Swan Lake is considered one of the most difficult ballets to perform because of its demanding technical and emotional skills. According to About.com: Classical Music .

Don Quixote was first performed in Moscow at the Bolshoi Theater on December 14, 1869. The music was composed by Ludwig Minkus, and the original choreography was also by Marius Petipa. The Don Quixote Ballet is a story about two young lovers, Kitri and Basilio, an old knight in search of adventure, and his comic squire, Sancho Panza. This ballet is praised for its richness and its variety of dance steps, according to Galleryballet.com.