January 29, 2024

About the Author: Urpi

Urpi is the lead dance instructor at S&C Dance, where her passion for movement knows no bounds. Alongside her captivating dance classes, she also teach singing!

Formerly in History of Dance Part 3: The Ground Ready for the Birth of Ballet, we saw how the appearance of Ballet as we know it today was a process that was carried out progressively starting in the Renaissance but having its first antecedent as a dance style in the Baroque as the first dance school in France was founded and the elegant and refined steps of Ballet began to be codified.

Then, in Romanticism, ballet was consolidated as a dance technique with specific dance vocabulary taught internationally in French. Ballerinas started to wear “Tutus” and dance on pointe, and music was purely composed for Ballet, resulting in beautiful, intense and passionate Ballet plays.

Now let’s continue looking at Ballet’s evolution with its inevitable order symmetry and incredible virtuosity. Let’s keep travelling in time, but first, let’s get situated in the first Wave of Ballet Superstars who had in common the greatest Ballet Master.

Anna Pavlova

The Greatest Ballet Master and The First Wave of Ballet Superstars

One of the greatest figures of Ballet who had a lot of recognition by the end of Romanticism was Marius Petipa, a French-Russian Ballet dancer, pedagogue and choreographer who also was the principal choreographer of the Mariinsky Ballet, previously known as Imperial Ballet.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Petipa is described today as the greatest of all Ballet masters as the creation of more than fifty complete ballet choreographies such as “La Bayadere”, “Don Quixote”, “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” and many others attributed to him as well as the creation of the “Pas de Deux” structure, the dance duet between a female and male dancer with virtuous lifting.

Certainly, Petipa’s legacy in the history of dance is inestimable not only for his pedagogy and choreography but also for his disciples, who became brilliant dancers.

Such is the case of Anna Pavlova, a Russian prima ballerina who is most recognised for creating the role of “The Dying Swan” and being the first ballerina to tour around the world with her own company.

Another famous student from Petipa was the Russian ballerina Agrippina Vaganova, who later developed her own ballet methodology, resulting in one of the most taught methodologies of today.

Nijinsky dancing

Modern and Neoclassical Ballet and the Second Wave of Ballet Superstars

Then, when the early twentieth century arrived, the name of Sergei Diaghilev, a Russian theatre producer, started to become very popular as he brought together some of Russia’s most talented dancers, choreographers, composers, singers and designers to form a group called “The Ballet Russes”.

Diaghilev discovered one of the legends of dance, the Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, with whom he began to present more modern ballet choreographies.

In 1912, Nijinsky began to experiment with classical ballet and take a step forward, resulting in the creation of “L’après-midi d’un faune” to music by Claude Debussy, “Le Sacre du Printemps” (1913) to music by Igor Stravinsky, “Jeux” (1913) and “Till Eulenspiegel” (1916).

Those were considered the first modern ballets which caused controversy, especially “L’après-midi d’un faune” because of its sexually suggestive final scene. Moreover, at the premiere of “Le Sacre du Printemps”, fights broke out in the audience between those who loved and hated this starling new style of ballet and music.

Thus, The Ballet Russes toured Europe and America, presenting various ballets. The popularity of Ballet started to grow a lot in America during the 1930s when several of Diaghilev’s dancers left his company to work with and settle in the U.S.

Of these, George Balanchine, an American Ballet choreographer of Russian-Georgian origin, is one of the best-known artists who firmly established Ballet in America by founding the New York City Ballet.

With Balanchine, Ballet would find its way to Neoclassical, which is usually an abstract choreography with no clear plot, costumes or scenery, and the music choice can be diverse and will often include music that is also neoclassical. “Apollo”, created by Balanchine in 1928, is considered the first Neoclassical Ballet, which represented a return to form in response to Sergei Diaghilev’s modern ballets.

What’s more, the transition from Classical to Modern and then to Neoclassical Ballet also favoured a greater athleticism that departed from the initial delicacy of Ballet. The physicality was more daring, with mood, subject matter and music more intense.

Photos of Rudolf Nureyev

The Soviet Revolution and Its Two Legendary Ballet Dancers

Years later, with the Soviet Revolution, Russian Ballet became an instrument of political propaganda, losing much of its creativity, although two other legendary dancers emerged. The first one was the great Rudolf Nureyev, a Soviet-born Ballet dancer and choreographer who was the first artist to defect from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

After leaving the Kirov Ballet, Nureyev went on to dance with the Royal Ballet in London and then served as director of the Paris Opera Ballet from 1983 to 1989, gaining more recognition not only as a dancer but as a choreographer due to his own interpretations of numerous classical works including “Swan Lake”, “Giselle” and “La Bayadère”.

Besides that, while at the Paris Opera, Nureyev mentored other great dancers, such as the wonderful Sylvie Guillem, Isabelle Guerin, Manuel Legris and many others.

The second legendary dancer was the amazing Mikhail Baryshnikov, a Russian and American dancer, choreographer and actor who, as well as Nureyev, defected from the Soviet Union during his time at the Kirov Ballet due to his rebel character and moved to the U.S and who has been considered as the best living Ballet dancer in the world due to his perfect technique and interpretation.

Baryshnikov was the principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, and from 1980 to 2002, he worked as the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, doing an incredible job which made him win the National Medal of Arts. Moreover, Baryshnikov is also seen as the link between the Classical Ballet era and the Post Modern-Contemporary, the next era of dance that is about to begin. So, we invite you to read part 5 of History of Dance as the enchanting history of Dance still continues and in S&C Dance, we will gladly tell you more about this mesmerising art.

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