Ballet – A Dance of Power and Influence

The word “ballet” comes from the French language and is based on the Italian word “Balletto” which means “little dance”. The earliest roots of ballet can be traced back to Italy in the late 1400s but it was developed into the form we know today in France; a development which took place under the rule of Louis XIV.

Louis XIV ruled France for seventy-two years and learned to dance as a young child. He worked very hard and practiced ballet daily. As he grew older, Louis XIV developed ballet into a dance form which reflected his great power and influence. The many rules and highly detailed movements became a way of expressing the power and social relations of the individual performing. Ballet became a requirement of the people of the King’s court, and the King also established the Royal Academy of Dance for important people of the time to learn the art of ballet. The objective of this style of dance was self-control, order and above all, perfection.

When Louis XIV died in 1715, ballet had spread throughout Europe and was beginning to evolve. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Ballets often included other theatrical performances such as opera, unlike the stand-alone Ballets we’re familiar with in the twenty-first century. Costumes were also very different, as women wore long dresses that covered their legs right down to the ankle which both inhibited their movement and also made it difficult for the audience to see what movements they were making.

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that female ballerinas became the stars of ballet. One of the most influential of these ballerinas was Marie Taglioni, a highly committed and strong dancer who developed a unique method of walking on her toes which made her appear to float around the stage. When she wore a white dress made from a very light fabric for her performance in “La Sylphide” in 1832, her clothing marked the beginning of the traditional modern ballet costume and made her internationally famous.

By the mid nineteenth century, Denmakr and Russia had become highly influential to the development of ballet. August Bournonville, a Danish dance director, developed a style of Danish ballet which took influences from French traditions. In Russia, ballet developed into an art form with a military-like precision, which still continues today.

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