About ballet

What is ballet?

Ballet (from the French language and based on the Italian word balletto, meaning ‘little dance’). It is a type of dance or dance theatre with fixed rules for the position of the body and how it should move. Ballet is conceived by a choreographer and often conveys a story without words set to specially composed music. The limits of ballet are fluid and border on other forms of theatre. 

Ballet originated as a court dance at the royal courts of Italy and France in the 15th and 16th centuries, where the nobility would dance on festive occasions under the leadership of a ballet master. The Ballet Comique de la Reine is considered the first real full-length ballet – it lasted 5 hours! - and was arranged by the French Queen in Paris in 1581. 

Ballet 17th and 18th centuries

King Louis XIV of France was himself a good ballet dancer, and it was at the king’s court that the detailed rules were devised for the movements and positions of the body that are still the foundation for all ballet moves today. The king contributed to transforming the dance into a professional art form by establishing the very first ballet academy, and thus French became the lingua franca of ballet.

Women did not begin to perform in public until the end of the 17th century, but by the 18th century – with high leaps and other new elements making dance more technically demanding – female dancers were enjoying equal status with male dancers. Ballet now began to spread throughout Europe, with travelling troupes and the establishment of royal ballet companies. 

Jean-Georges Noverre transformed French ballet into a dramatic art form in line with opera in the 18th century. Together with well-known composers of the day, Noverre created full-length ballets with an unfolding storyline involving dramatic movement. This placed greater demands on the ballet dancers’ characterisation and expressiveness, and costumes were simplified in order to better emphasise the movements.

1800 tallet

På begynnelsen av 1800-tallet ble dans på tåspiss (fransk: en pointe) introdusert gjennom danserinnen Maria Taglioni. Ved hjelp av hard trening og spesiallagde dansesko ga hun inntrykk av å sveve over scenen. Kvinnelige dansere dominerte deretter balletten gjennom resten av århundret. 

I Frankrike var ballett et fast innslag i operaforestillinger, men komponister som Adolphe Adam (Giselle) og Léo Delibes (Coppélia) skapte også helaftens balletter som siden er blitt klassikere. På midten av 1800-tallet ble likevel ballettens tyngdepunkt flyttet fra Frankrike til Russland.

Marius Petipa regnes som den viktigste koreografen innen klassisk ballett. Som ballettmester og koreograf ved de keiserlige teatrene i St. Petersburg, la han grunnlaget for en sterk russisk ballettradisjon sammen med komponister som Ludwig Minkus (Don Quixote) og Peter Tsjaikovskij (Svanesjøen, Nøtteknekkeren, Tornerose).

19th century

In the early 19th century, dancing en pointe was introduced by the celebrated ballet dancer Maria Taglioni. Through hard training and specially designed pointe shoes, she could give the impression that she was gliding over the stage. From then on, female dancers dominated ballet for the rest of the century. 

In France, ballet was a regular feature of opera performances, although composers such as Adolphe Adam (Giselle) and Léo Delibes (Coppélia) also created full-length ballets which have since become classics. By the mid-19th century the focal point of ballet was shifting from France to Russia.

Marius Petipa is considered to be the most influential choreographer ever in classical ballet. As ballet master and choreographer with the imperial theatres of St. Petersburg, he laid the foundation for a strong Russian ballet tradition in cooperation with composers such as Ludwig Minkus (Don Quixote) and Peter Tchaikovsky.