06 May What is so great about ballet?
When we think about ballet, our minds usually conjure up images of ballerinas in their beautiful costumes making graceful jumps on stage. It is certainly a beautiful dance form that is available for us to enjoy in this day and age.
Nonetheless, while observing ballet performances either on a live stage or on television, have we ever stopped to think about the history and the impact that this dance form has had on our world?
Since its debut in Renaissance Italy, ballet has captivated the minds of its audience. What started as court pageantry (court entertainment during festivals) quickly turned into an art form that beguiled nations. The early form of ballet spread out from Italy and into France and subsequently to other parts of Europe, Russia, the United States and other parts of the world. Ballet gradually took the world by storm and developed into the iconic dance form we know today.
Inspired cultural movements
In 17th century France, King Louis XIV established the very first professional Ballet Academy in Paris. The academy used to perform dances based on Greek and Roman mythology to the Parisian upper class.
As ballet continued to spread out to regions such as Russia, productions started to explore narratives that depicted stories of the ordinary lives of the community. Ballet became a form expression exploring the experiences and emotions of daily life in the 18th century.
An icon that emerged from the world of ballet is the Ballerina. The Romantic Movement during the 19th century was a protest against the rise of industrialisation. This was when ballet productions started to delve into fairy tales which depicted the ballerina as an ethereal character and cementing them as an icon of ballet. Audiences embraced this new icon and the productions that came with it as a form of escapism.
Productions such as the ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Swan Lake’ came about when ballet gained popularity in Russia. These productions have since transcended time and have now become household names. ‘The Nutcracker’ is now a fan favourite during Christmas season and has been adapted into movies and television shows. The same can be said for ‘Swan Lake’ which was adapted into a movie titled ‘Black Swan’ in 2010 that starred Natalie Portman who portrays the role of the ‘Swan Queen’ in the movie.
Throughout the centuries, ballet has firmly established its place in history and presently as a cultural movement that continues to adapt, develop and improve with time.
Since its inception, notable figures have made their name in the world of ballet. Those individuals include dancers such as:
Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) was a Russian Prima Ballerina from the Russian Imperial Ballet and the Ballet Russes in Paris. Eventually, Pavlova established her own ballet company and performed throughout the world.
Her world tour gave exposure to western ballet to a worldwide audience. Her travels also exposed her to dances from other cultures which she took upon herself to learn and perform throughout her tours. Her determination also rubbed off on other dancers that she met on her tour.
She was known to have inspired Uday Shankar who was a friend to revive the dance movement in his native India. Other than that, American Ballerina Ruth Page was given the chance to tour with Pavlova in South America in 1918. Page eventually went on to have a successful ballet career.
Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov
Mikhail Baryshnikov (born 1948) is an American Ballet Dancer of Russian descent. He is regarded as one of the greatest male dancers in the world of dance.
He started ballet lessons at the tender age of 11 in Russia. His love for dance was inspired by his mother who exposed him to the world of dance and theatre. His talent in ballet did not go unnoticed and soon enough he was approached by choreographers in Russia to perform in their productions and go on tours.
Subsequently, Mikhail defected to Canada in a bid to improve his dance career prospects. This was a risky move at the time. Eventually, he settled down in America and found his way to the American Ballet Theatre where he became a principal dancer. He was also a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet.
Later, he helmed the position of artistic director at both the American Ballet Theatre and subsequently, the White Oak Dance Project (a company he co-founded to create
productions for older dancers), he personally performed a few productions under this company at 60 years of age.
As of now, Mikhail is still going strong and has appeared in performances up till the year 2012. He continues to contribute to the ballet and arts industries through the Baryshnikov Arts Centre and various other projects.
Misty Copeland (born 1982) had a rough start in life due to an unstable family life. Nonetheless, that did not stop her from taking up ballet at 13 years of age, which is considered to be a late age to start ballet.
Despite the late start, Copeland quickly picked up ballet and was dancing en pointe after only three months of classes and started dancing professionally a year later. Copeland went on to take the ballet world by storm and is currently a role model for young dancers all around the world.
She has been described as a prodigy for her amazing achievements. She is also an icon of empowerment for the African American community as she was the first female African American dancer to be admitted as a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.
Each of these dancers broke down barriers for the love of ballet. They have become icons of their respective time. As such, they have also managed to inspire and awe the communities of their time.
The greatness of ballet comes from various aspects that have unfolded over time. That includes its historical origins, the cultural movements that the dance form is continuing to bring about and the individuals that ballet has inspired to reach for the stars.