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(băl`ā, bălā`) [Ital. ballare=to dance], classic, formalized solo or ensemble dancing of a highly controlled, dramatic nature performed to music.

See also dancedance
[Old High Ger. danson=to drag, stretch], the art of precise, expressive, and graceful human movement, traditionally, but not necessarily, performed in accord with musical accompaniment. Dancing developed as a natural expression of united feeling and action.
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; modern dancemodern dance,
serious theatrical dance forms that are distinct from both ballet and the show dancing of the musical comedy or variety stage. The Beginnings of Modern Dance

Developed in the 20th cent.
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The Development of Ballet in Western Europe

Foreshadowed in earlier mummeries and lavish masquerades, ballet emerged as a distinctive form in Italy before the 16th cent. The first ballet that combined movement, music, decor, and special effects was presented in France at the court of Catherine de' MediciCatherine de' Medici
, 1519–89, queen of France, daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici, duke of Urbino. She was married (1533) to the duc d'Orléans, later King Henry II.
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 in 1581. Organized by the violinist Balthasar de Beaujoyeux, it had a classical theme, lasted six hours, was performed among the guests (there were no elevated stages), and was entitled Le Ballet comique de la Reine. This production was the first ballet de cour, the ancestor of the modern ballet, which influenced the English court masque, a 16th-century entertainment with dance interludes. The first treatise on ballet dancing was the Orchésographie of Thoinot Arbeau (1588).

The 17th cent. saw the major development of ballet in France. At first a court entertainment, the simple entrées were extended c.1610 and joined together to form scenes, called divertissements, which culminated in a grand ballet. Ballet also became a court pastime and a royal obsession. Louis XIV himself studied with ballet master Pierre Beauchamps for 20 years. The "Sun King" founded the Royal Ballet Academy (1661), the Royal Music Academy (1669), which became the Paris Opéra, and the first National Ballet School (1672). All parts were performed by male dancers; boys in wigs and masks took the female roles.

The first ballet using trained women was The Triumph of Love (1681) with music by LullyLully, Jean Baptiste
, 1632–87, French operatic composer, b. Florence, Italy. His name originally was Giovanni Battista Lulli. A self-taught violinist, he went to France in 1646 and in 1652 entered the service of Louis XIV.
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. Ballet remained a court spectacle and included opera or drama until about 1708, when the first ballet was commissioned for public performance. Thereafter the form, infused with new ideas, developed as a separate art (although the court ballet continued its historic traditions). Choreographic notation came into being, and mythological themes were explored.

With the increased influence of the Italian school of ballet, movement became elevated and less horizontal, and the five classic positions of the feet, which form the base for the dancer's stance and movement, were established by Pierre Beauchamps. The costumes, which had been cumbersome with decoration, long skirts, and high heels (for both men and women) were newly designed to allow greater freedom of movement. The virtuosa dancer Marie Camargo, who introduced the entrechat (elevation) for women, shortened her skirt to the middle of the calf and wore tights and what were to be the first ballet slippers (heelless shoes). Her rival, Marie Sallé (who was also the first female choreographer), was the first dancer to wear a filmy, liberating Grecian-style costume, made popular two centuries later by Isadora DuncanDuncan, Isadora
, 1878–1927, American dancer, b. San Francisco. She had little success in the United States when she first created dances based on Greek classical art. But in Budapest (1903), Berlin (1904), and later in London and New York City (1908), she triumphed.
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Jean Georges Noverre, a revolutionary 18th-century maître de ballet, established the determining principles of the ballet d'action, which he described in his Lettres sur la danse et les ballets (1760). He wanted the ballet to tell a story, aided by the music, decor, and dance; he wanted the performer to interpret his role through the dance and through his own body and facial expression. In stressing naturalism, Noverre simplified the costume and c.1773 abolished the mask. Other important innovations came from the great artists of the period, Gaetan and Auguste VestrisVestris, Gaetan
, 1729–1808, Italian-French classical dancer, b. Florence. Vestris was one of the greatest dancers of the 18th cent. Born of an Italian theatrical family, he studied dance with Louis Dupré at the Royal Academy in Paris, then joined the Paris
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, Salvatore Vigano, and Charles Didelot. Technical innovation in dance movement was increased after further modification of the ballet costume.

The Romantic Period and Ballet's Eclipse

In Milan in 1820 Carlo Blasis first set down the technique of ballet as we know it today—with its stress on the turned-out leg, which permits great variety of movement. With the production of La Sylphide (1832) the romantic period formally began, ushering in a new era of brilliant choreography that emphasized the beauty and virtuosity of the prima ballerina. In this production Maria TaglioniTaglioni, Maria,
1804–84, Italian ballerina, b. Stockholm. Taglioni is considered the first and foremost ballerina of the romantic period. She made her debut in Vienna in 1822 in a ballet created for her by her father, the Italian choreographer Filippo Taglioni.
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 first wore the filmy, calf-length costume that was to become standard for classical ballet. The great ballerinas of the era included Taglioni, Fanny ElsslerElssler, Fanny
, 1810–84, Austrian dancer. The youngest daughter of Johann Elssler, copyist and valet of Haydn, she made her debut (1833) in London. She danced at the Paris Opéra (1834–39) and in London (1838–40).
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, Carlotta Grisi, and Fanny Cerrito. In keeping with the literature and art of the romantic movement, the new ballet concerned the conflicts of reality and illusion, flesh and spirit. Love stories and fairy tales replaced mythological subjects.

At the same time dancing sur les pointes [on the toes] had come into favor. By the end of the century the blocked toe had appeared, and the tutu, a very short, buoyant skirt that completely freed the legs, had come into use. The male dancer functioned as partner to support the ballerina, the central focus of the dance and drama. Ballet declined progressively after 1850 with the ballet d'action giving way entirely to divertissements; finally the great stars had retired, and the sets, costumes, and choreography had become stereotyped and uninteresting. The naturalistic trend in the theater had all but destroyed the imaginative touch necessary to ballet.

The Modern Ballet Renaissance

Russian Ballet

The renaissance in romantic ballet began in Russia after 1875. The Russian Imperial School of Ballet had been founded in 1738. During the early 19th cent. the Imperial Theatre housed more than 40 ballet productions staged by the celebrated Swedish master Charles Didelot. Marius PetipaPetipa, Marius
, 1818–1910, French dancer and choreographer, b. Marseilles. Petipa rose to prominence at the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg. He was the principal creator of the modern classical ballet.
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, who created a powerful sense of unity by rigorously training his corps de ballet as had not been done before, indicated in his choreography the direction of intensified romantic drama that the newly revived art was to take. Petipa contributed many of the classic ballets still considered to be the greatest expressions of the form, including Don Quixote, La Bayadère, The Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, Harlequinade, and restagings of Giselle, Coppélia, La Sylphide, and, with Lev IvanovIvanov, Lev
, 1834–1901, Russian dancer, teacher, choreographer, and ballet-master. Ivanov was assistant to chief ballet-master Marius Petipa at the Imperial St. Petersburg Theatres and was instrumental in the development of the classic romantic ballet in Russia.
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, Swan Lake.

In 1909 the celebrated impresario Sergei DiaghilevDiaghilev, Sergei Pavlovich
, 1872–1929, Russian ballet impresario and art critic, grad. St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, 1892. In 1898 he founded an influential journal, Mir Iskusstva [The World of Art].
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 took his Russian company to Paris, and for 20 years it dominated the world of dance, displaying the creative talents of such choreographers and dancers as Michel FokineFokine, Michel
, 1880–1942, Russian-American choreographer and ballet dancer, b. Russia. He studied at the Imperial Ballet School (1889–98) and danced at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg.
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, Léonide MassineMassine, Léonide
, 1896–1979, Russian choreographer and ballet dancer, b. Leonid Fyodorovich Miassin. Massine attended the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg, and became principal dancer and choreographer for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (1914–20) and for
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, Vaslav NijinskyNijinsky, Vaslav
, 1890–1950, Russian ballet dancer and choreographer; brother of Bronislava Nijinska. Nijinsky is widely considered the greatest dancer of the 20th cent. and was ballet's first modernist choreographer. He entered the Imperial Ballet School, St.
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, Bronislava NijinskaNijinska, Bronislava
, 1891–1972, Russian ballet dancer and choreographer; sister of Vaslav Nijinsky. She studied at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and then joined the Mariinsky Theatre.
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, Anna PavlovaPavlova, Anna Matveyevna
, 1881–1931, Russian ballerina. In 1892 she entered the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg. She made her debut in 1899 at the Mariinsky Theatre, but it was only after tours to Scandinavia (1907) and to Berlin and Vienna (1908) that she gained
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, and George BalanchineBalanchine, George
, 1904–83, American choreographer and ballet dancer, b. St. Petersburg, Russia, as Georgi Balanchivadze. The son of a Georgian composer and a Russian mother, Balanchine attended (1913–21) the Imperial Ballet School, St.
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. The brilliant performances by Nijinsky also helped to reemphasize the importance of the male dancer. After Diaghilev's death in 1929, offshoots were formed by René Blum and Col. W. de Basil, which kept the Diaghilev tradition alive during the 1930s. The company merged with Blum and de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which nurtured the talents of Alexandra DanilovaDanilova, Alexandra
, 1904?–97, Russian-American ballerina. She entered (1923) the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg, was a member (1924–29) of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and prima ballerina (1938-58) of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
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, André EglevskyEglevsky, André
, 1917–77, Russian–American dancer; b. Moscow. He trained in France and made his debut (1931) in London. Eglevsky danced (1939–42) with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was (1951–58) premier danseur with the New York City Ballet.
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, and Igor YouskevitchYouskevitch, Igor
, 1912–94, Russian-American ballet dancer. He joined (1938) the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and became premier danseur. Youskevitch danced with the Ballet Theatre in New York from 1946 to 1955, thereafter returning to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as
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Russian dancing has been maintained at the highest level of excellence to the present day. Moscow's Bolshoi BalletBolshoi Ballet
, one of the principal ballet companies of Russia; part of the Bolshoi Theatre, which also includes Russia's premier opera company. The Bolshoi Ballet began as a dancing school for the Moscow Orphanage in 1773.
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, which brought fame to Galina UlanovaUlanova, Galina
, 1910–98, Russian ballerina, b. St. Petersburg. Ulanova made her debut at the Kirov Ballet (1928), where she danced until 1944. That year she became prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, with which she first appeared in 1935, and she received
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, Maya PlisetskayaPlisetskaya, Maya
, 1925–2015, Russian dancer. Pliesetskaya became a soloist with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on graduating from its school in 1943. She soon gained recognition as one of the world's foremost ballerinas, combining flawless technique with a sensitivity to
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, and V. M. Gordeyev, and the Kirov BalletKirov Ballet,
one of the two major ballet companies of Russia, the other being the Bolshoi Ballet. In 1991 it was officially renamed the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Ballet; however, on its frequent tours abroad it is still called the Kirov Ballet.
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 (since 1991 the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Ballet), whose dancers have included Rudolf NureyevNureyev, Rudolf
, 1938–93, Russian ballet dancer, b. near Irkutsk, Siberian USSR (now Russia). Nureyev studied in Ufa and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and in 1958 he became a soloist with the Kirov Ballet. In 1961 he defected from the Soviet Union while on tour in Paris.
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, Natalia MakarovaMakarova, Natalia,
1940–, Russian ballet dancer, b. Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). She studied at the Choreographic School in her native city, graduating in 1959, and joined the Kirov Ballet.
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, and Mikhail BaryshnikovBaryshnikov, Mikhail
, 1948–, Russian-American dancer and choreographer, b. Riga, Latvia (then in the USSR). He studied in Riga and performed with the Kirov Ballet (1966–74).
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, are the two foremost Russian companies and are ranked among the finest in the world.

British Ballet

In England around 1918, Enrico Cecchetti, who had taught many great dancers including Pavlova, Nijinsky, Massine, and Danilova, set down his method of training (which is still in practice) in collaboration with Cyril Beaumont, proprietor of "Under the Sign of the Harlequin," a world-famous bookstore specializing in the dance. The Cecchetti Society was founded in 1922 to preserve and protect that system.

In 1930 Marie RambertRambert, Dame Marie,
1888–1982, a founder of the English ballet, b. Warsaw as Miriam Rambam. Trained by Jacques Dalcroze in eurythmics, Rambert joined the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as an instructor in 1913.
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 founded the Ballet Club, the first permanent ballet school and company in England. A year later Ninette de ValoisValois, Dame Ninette de
, 1898–2001, English ballet director, b. County Wicklow, Ireland. She was originally named Edris Stannus. After attaining distinction as a dancer, most notably in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (1923–26), she became choreographic director of both
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 established what became the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now the Royal BalletRoyal Ballet,
the principal British ballet company, based at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. It is noted for lavish dramatic productions, a superbly disciplined corps de ballet, and brilliant performances from its principals.
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). This company has drawn international attention to the work of Alicia MarkovaMarkova, Dame Alicia
, 1910–2004, English ballerina. Her original name was Lilian Alicia Marks. Markova joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1924 and, in 1931, the Vic-Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet), becoming its first prima ballerina in 1933.
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, Anton DolinDolin, Sir Anton
, 1904–83, English ballet dancer and choreographer, originally named Patrick Healey-Kay. Dolin joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1921, becoming a principal danseur in 1924. Leaving the company in 1925, he formed his own company with Vera Nemchinova.
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, Frederick AshtonAshton, Sir Frederick,
1904–88, British choreographer and dancer, b. Guayaquil, Ecuador. He grew up in Peru and was drawn to dance after seeing (1917) a performance by Anna Pavlova there.
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, Margot FonteynFonteyn, Dame Margot
, 1919–91, English ballerina. Fonteyn was for many years prima ballerina assoluta of the Royal Ballet. Her original name was Margaret Hookham.
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, Robert HelpmannHelpmann, Sir Robert,
1909–1986, Australian dancer and choreographer. He danced as a principal (1933–50) with Sadler's Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet), often partnering with Margot Fonteyn.
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, Rudolf Nureyev, Antoinette Sibley, Svetlana Beriosova, and Anthony Dowell. Nureyev, both a choreographer and a dancer, was instrumental in moving beyond the changes wrought by Nijinsky and altering the traditional supportive role of the male dancer to a far more significant, dynamic, and athletic place in the ballet; many other contemporary choreographers have similarly given their male dancers a more flamboyant showcase.

American Ballet

In the United States, Lincoln KirsteinKirstein, Lincoln
, 1907–96, American dance and theater executive and writer, b. Rochester, N.Y. One of the most significant figures in 20th cent. American ballet, Kirstein was cofounder of the American Ballet and the School of the American Ballet in 1934 and of Ballet
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 and Edward Warburg founded the American Ballet company in 1934. Under the direction of George Balanchine, its chief choreographer, the company established the first major school of ballet in the country, developed the talents of many notable American dancers (including Maria TallchiefTallchief, Maria,
1925–2013, American ballerina, b. Fairfax, Okla., as Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief. Tallchief, of Osage descent, was trained both as a pianist and a dancer.
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, Todd Bolender, Suzanne FarrellFarrell, Suzanne
, 1945–, American ballet dancer, b. Cincinnati, Ohio, as Roberta Sue Ficker. After studying in her hometown and at the School of American Ballet, she joined the New York City Ballet.
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, Patricia McBride, Jacques d'Amboised'Amboise, Jacques
, 1934–, American dancer and choreographer, b. Dedham, Mass. One of the finest male dancers of his era, d'Amboise became a soloist with the New York City Ballet in 1953 and did not leave the company until 1984.
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, Arthur MitchellMitchell, Arthur,
1934–2018, American dancer and choreographer, b. New York City. Mitchell studied in New York City at the School of American Ballet and appeared on Broadway and with various companies at home and abroad.
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, and Edward VillellaVillella, Edward,
1936–, American ballet dancer, b. Long Island, N.Y. Villella studied at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet, joining the New York City Ballet in 1957.
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), and influenced enormously the evolution of an American ballet style as parent company to the New York City BalletNew York City Ballet
(NYCB), one of the foremost American dance companies of the 20th and 21st cents. It was founded by Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine as the Ballet Society in 1946.
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 (founded 1948), one of the world's outstanding companies. Other celebrated choreographers who created ballets for the New York City Ballet are Eugene Loring, Jerome RobbinsRobbins, Jerome,
1918–98, American choreographer and dancer, b. New York City as Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz. Robbins began his career dancing in musicals (1937). In 1940 he joined the Ballet Theatre and in 1948 became associate artistic director of the New York City Ballet.
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, and Peter MartinsMartins, Peter,
1946–, Danish ballet dancer and choreographer. He studied at the School of the Royal Danish Ballet and performed with its company (1965–69). In 1969 he joined the New York City Ballet, where he danced in numerous ballets, including Chaconne
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The other major American company, the American Ballet TheatreAmerican Ballet Theatre
(ABT), one of the foremost international dance companies of the 20th and 21st cents. It was founded in 1937 as the Mordkin Ballet and reorganized as the Ballet Theatre in 1940 under the direction (1940–80) of Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith.
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 (formerly the Ballet Theatre), was founded in 1939 as an offshoot of the smaller Mordkin Ballet. The company's principal dancers have included Lucia Chase, Anton Dolin, Nora KayeKaye, Nora
(Nora Koreff), 1920–87, American ballerina, b. New York City. Kaye studied with Michel Fokine and Antony Tudor. She joined the Ballet Theatre in 1940 and scored a major triumph in 1942 in Pillar of Fire.
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, Alicia AlonsoAlonso, Alicia
, 1921–2019, Cuban ballerina and choreographer, b. Havana as Alicia Ernestina de la Caridad del Cobre Martínez y del Hoyo. Alonso danced in Broadway musicals before becoming a soloist with several leading companies, including the American Ballet
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, Michael Kidd, Scott Douglas, Royes Fernandez, Sallie Wilson, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, performing in works designed for them by Michel Fokine, Léonide Massine, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, Agnes de Millede Mille, Agnes
(Agnes George de Mille) , 1905–93, American choreographer and dancer, b. New York City; granddaughter of Henry George, daughter of playwright director W. C. de Mille, and niece of Cecil B. De Mille.
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, Herbert Ross, Eugene Loring, Glen Tetley, Twyla TharpTharp, Twyla
, 1941–, American dancer and choreographer, b. Portland, Ind. An eclectic, innovative choreographer and dancer, she danced (1963–65) with Paul Taylor.
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, and many others. Through numerous tours both the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre have earned international reputations of a high order. Other American companies of note include the Joffrey Ballet (founded 1956) and the Dance Theatre of HarlemDance Theatre of Harlem,
the first black classical ballet company. The group was founded in Harlem, New York City, by Arthur Mitchell, then of the New York City Ballet, the first African-American principal dancer of a classical company of international standing, and the ballet
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 (founded 1970). In addition to these, there are many active regional ballet companies throughout the United States.

Using traditional formal training and movement, American choreographers have designed a new sort of pure, abstract ballet, far less dependent on literary plot, often using modern rock and electronic music, and have developed greatly simplified decor and costuming (e.g., Balanchine's Agon, Robert Joffrey's Astarte, and Glen Tetley's Chronochromie). Many modern choreographers have also designed dances for stage and film musicals (e.g., Jerome Robbins's West Side Story and Agnes de Mille's Oklahoma!). In the late 20th cent. ballet was increasingly receptive to techniques and music from many dance forms. It grew in popularity, international touring expanded, and, particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union, international exchange was encouraged.


See S. Lifar, A History of Russian Ballet (tr. 1955); F. Reyna, A Concise History of Ballet (tr. 1965); A. L. Haskell, Ballet Retrospect (1965); A. Chujoy and P. W. Manchester, The Dance Encyclopedia (rev. and enl. ed. 1967); W. Terry, The Ballet Companion (1968); L. Kirstein, Movement and Metaphor (1972); M. Clarke and C. Crisp, Ballet: An Illustrated History (1973); E. Binney, Glories of Romantic Ballet (1985); J. Anderson, Ballet and Modern Dance (1986); H. Koegler, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (2d ed. 1987); R. Greskovic, Ballet 101 (1998); N. Reynolds and M. McCormick, No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (2003); J. Homans, Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a form of stage art whose subject matter is expressed through dance and music. The term “ballet” is primarily used to denote European ballet, which took shape during the 16th through 19th centuries. In the 20th century, however, the term has been more widely interpreted and has been applied to Eastern dance performances as well.

European ballet arose during the Renaissance. A distinction between social dance and theatrical dance was made at the end of the 14th century. The process of devising theatrical dance, started in Italy and picked up in other countries, led in the 15th-16th centuries to the birth of ballet. In the 16th century stage dances, which had formerly been presented as interludes, were integrated into the total performance and thus acquired dramatic shape. The first performances that were unified by one theme appeared in France in the second half of the 16th century (for example, the Ballet comique de la reine of Baldassarino de Belgiojoso, 1581). At that time, dancing was not yet separated from the spoken word and song. Courtiers participated in performances given at court. After the appearance of professional dancers, the technique of dance began to develop. By the end of the 17th century, principles governing the themes and forms of ballet had been developed, and different types of theatrical dance had been devised.

In the 18th century ballet developed fully as an independent art in England, Austria, and later in France. J. Weaver and M. Sallé created ballets on ancient classical themes in London. In Vienna ballet masters F. Hilferding and G. An-giolini turned to classical tragedies. The French choreographer J. G. Noverre generalized and consolidated the theory and practice of the new ballet. His ballets— Medea and Jason by J. J. Rodolphe (1763) and The Horatii and the Curiatii by J. Starzer (1775)—were marked by unity and logical thematic development. Their plots are revealed through music and pantomime. Noverre’s successors— among them the ballet master J. Dauberval, choreographer of La filie mal gardée (1789)—attempted to develop the action of the dance itself while maintaining Noverre’s basic principles. The ballet master V. Galeotti worked in Denmark. The principles of ballet d’action were developed in the works of the Italian choreographer S. Viganó— The Creations of Prometheus by Beethoven (1801 and 1813) and Othello (1818).

In Russia regular ballet performances were staged from the mid-1730’s. Classic pantomime ballet was cultivated by ballet masters Hilferding and Angiolini. At the turn of the 19th century, I. I. Val’berkh was staging ballets similar in style to sentimentalism— New Werther by A. N. Titov (1799) and Paul and Virginia (1810). National themes and folklore were used in dance interludes and divertissements, especially during the Patriotic War of 1812.

The achievements of ballet in both France and Russia paved the way for the rise of romantic ballet, some features of which could already be detected in the 1820’s in the ballets of C. Didelot, such as Flore and Zéphire (1818) and The Prisoner of the Caucasus, or The Bride’s Ghost by C. Cavos (1823), and in the ballets of his successor A. P. Glushkov-skii—for example, in Ruslan and Liudmila, or The Overthrow of Chernomor, the Evil Magician by F. Sholz (1812). Romantic ballet, which reached its final form in France in the 1830’s, became one of the high points of the development of 19th-century choreographic art. The romantic characters reflected a generalized and idealized representation of man. A new dance style appeared in the ballets of choreographer F. Taglioni, staged for the ballerina M. Taglioni—La Sylphide by J. Schneitzhoffer (1832) and Danube Maiden by A. Adam (1836). Jumping technique developed and female toe dancing appeared. The best work of this trend was Adam’s ballet Giselle, staged by J. Perrot in 1841. F. Elssler was an eminent ballerina of the romantic ballet. The ballets of Perrot, among them C. Pugni’s La Esmeralda (1844) and Adam’s Le Corsaire (1858), were close to the romantic poets’ ideas of national liberation and exerted an influence through their pathos and emotional force. The lyrical dance dramas of the Danish choreographer A. Bournonville were one of the offshoots of the romantic ballet; they included Napoli by H. Paulli, E. Helsted, N. Gade, and H. C. Lumbye (1842) and Wedding Procession in Hardanger by Paulli (1853).

With the crisis in romanticism, ballet in Europe in the second half of the 19th century began to lose its profound human content and verged on fairy tales and revues. These features appeared in the works of A. Saint-Léon, among them Paquerette by P. Benois and C. Pugni (1851) and The Humpbacked Horse by Pugni (1864). Although the Russian theater paid tribute to this style, the decline of the romantic spectacle did not lead to the degeneration of the ballet in Russia. The early ballets of M. I. Petipa partially preserved the thematic unity that marked the preceding period. Subsequently, a new aesthetic of full-scale ballet performance took shape, in which the stage plot was expressed in pantomime scenes and the work’s basic idea gave rise to generalized forms in large dance ensembles. The dance achieved a high level of expression and technical perfection in the ballets of Petipa, who used the music as his source. For this reason, the entrance of symphonic composers into the ballet theater was a significant event.

The dance ensembles of P. I. Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and A. K. Glazunov’s Raymonda (1898), staged by Petipa, and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Swan Lake (1892 and 1895), staged by L. I. Ivanov and Petipa, were comparable to symphonic music in their ability to crystallize thoughts and feelings.

In the 20th century, M. M. Fokine began a reform. He led ballet toward ideas and forms that were in keeping with the art of his time, leaning especially toward the aesthetic principles of Mir isskustva (World of Art). His ballets The Pavil-lion of Armide by N. Cherepnin (1907), Chopiniana, based on the music of F. Chopin (1908), Carnival, based on the music of R. Schumann (1910), and The Firebird and Petrouchka by I. F. Stravinsky (1910 and 1911) were stylistically and thematically close to the artists of Mir isskustva with whom Fokine collaborated. They had much in common with contemporary poetry and the search for new ideas pursued by theatrical producers. Fokine’s one-act ballets, dramatically complete and unified, introduced new choreography in place of the usual prescribed compositions (such as pas de deux and grand pas). This innovation was the dynamic dance pantomime imbued with expressive mime. At the beginning of the 20th century, A. A. Gorskii also attempted to reform ballet, striving for realistic motivation— Gudule’s Daughter by A. Iu. Simon (1902) and Salammbo by A. F. Arends (1910).

The struggle between academic ballet and the new trend was reflected in the art of performing. The academic style attracted M. F. Kshesinskaia, O. I. Preobrazhenskaia, and E. V. Gel’tser, while T. P. Karsavina and V. F. Nijinsky participated in Fokine’s experiments. Nijinsky also showed his merit as a choreographer by introducing expressionist motifs into his ballets The Afternoon of a Faun, based on music by C. Debussy (1912), and The Rite of Spring by I. F. Stravinsky (1913). The outstanding Russian ballerina A. P. Pavlova expressed the ideas of the age in classical ballet style.

By the turn of the 20th century, ballet had become one of the best-developed areas of Russian national culture. At that time ballet as an independent and creatively developing art form existed only in Russia. For this reason the achievements of the Russian masters affected choreographic developments internationally. Under the direct influence of Russian ballet, ballet in Western Europe and the United States experienced a revival. It also spread to countries where it had not been formerly known. The unparalleled popularity of dance in the 20th century is based primarily on the achievements of Russian ballet.

In the first quarter of the 20th century, especially after the organization of the “Russian seasons” abroad, which ran in Paris and London beginning in 1909, interest in ballet grew even greater. Various schools of “free” dance (or modern dance, eurhythmic dance) appeared, based on the prototype of I. Duncan. Increasing attention was also given to folk dances. By the mid-20th century, almost every country had formed its own national school of ballet based on the combination of these influences and the country’s national tradition.

The dance company Diaghilev Ballets Russes, which was based on the earlier “Russian seasons” troupe and included the choreographers L. F. Massine, G. Balanchine, and B. F. Nijinska, worked in France until 1929. This troupe further developed the Fokine tradition, which was modified by the influences of contemporary French painting (P. Picasso, F. Léger, and others) and music. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the ballet troupe of the Paris Grand Opéra Theater became more active (choreographer S. Lifar and others). New dance troupes have been created since the late 1940’s by R. Petit, M. Béjart, and J. Charrat, who are actively striving to bring ballet closer to contemporary themes and images.

English ballet adopted the principles of the Russian ballet, at the same time maintaining the English theatrical tradition of pantomime. This trend was expressed in the early productions of choreographer N. de Valois (Job by R. Vaughan Williams, 1931), in the tragic pantomime stagings of R. Helpmann (Hamlet, based on the music of Tchaikovsky, 1942), and in the parodistic and farcical presentations often connected with English humorous literature and satirical painting—for example, Facade by W. Walton with choreog-graphy by F. Ashton (1931) and The Rake’s Progress by G. Gordon with choreography by N. de Valois (1935).

In the USA choreographer G. Balanchine creates plotless ballets which develop the principles once advanced by Petipa; the dance movements here are perceived as the visual analogy of music. American ballet makes wide use of “free” dance (M. Graham, D. Humphrey, and others). In the productions of choreographers A. Tudor (Pillar of Fire, based on the music of A. Schönberg, 1942) and Agnes de Mille, modern dance is combined with classical. A special group of ballets are those based on folk culture or everyday life—for example, de Mille’s Rodeo by A. Copland (1942). In the 1930’s there was a revival of Danish ballet based on the preserved century-old tradition of Bour-nonville. Ballet revivals began in Italy, Austria, and Sweden. After World War II ballet spread to Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Ballet developed in Poland and Hungary, and ballet theaters were organized in Czechoslovakia, the Democratic Republic of Germany, Rumania, and Bulgaria. Ballet appeared in countries which formerly had no ballet art—such as Turkey, the United Arab Republic, Japan, and Australia. In Spain the Spanish classical dance was revived and spread (dancers Argentina and Antonio). In Latin America choreographers combine national and modern dance (Mexico) and modern and classical dance (Chile and Cuba).

In Asia (for example, in India, Indonesia, Ceylon, the Chinese People’s Republic) there is a revival of the national tradition of folk and staged dance, which serves as a basis for modern performances as well. Dance folklore is also being studied in Africa, where folk dance companies were founded in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Soviet ballet began to take shape immediately after the October Revolution. Incorporating the achievements of the past—the traditions of academic ballet and the Fokine trend—Soviet ballet transformed and enriched them. The multinational Soviet ballet is uniform in its artistic and aesthetic principles and its art is accessible to the masses; it affirms the principles of socialist humanism. Realism prevails among all Soviet masters of ballet, but the unity of ideological and methodological principles does not exclude diversity of style.

Soviet ballet has passed through several stages. The 1920’s were marked by an intense search for new, revolutionary, and contemporary content and corresponding new forms. Choreographer F. V. Lopukhov established the dance allegory and the dance poster (The Red Whirlwind by V. M. Deshevov, 1924), the dance symphony (The Greatness of the Universe, based on the music of Beethoven, 1923), and the forms of the active, satirical folk theater (Pulcinella by I. Stravinsky, 1926). K. Ia. Goleizovskii attempted to convey a contemporary feeling in emotionally charged action using the music of Scriabin, Debussy, and Prokofiev; the theme of spiritual freedom is reflected in his production of S. N. Vasilenko’s Joseph the Handsome (1925). At the same time the best ballets of the past were also preserved. These two basic trends—the preservation of traditions and innovation—united by the end of the decade. The ballet Ice Maiden, based on the music of E. Grieg and choreographed by Lopukhov (1927), featured large dance ensembles based on classical dance with acrobatic elements. In R. M. Gliére’s The Red Poppy, with choreography by L. A. Lashchilin and V. D. Tikhomirov (1927), a search for psychological truth manifested itself in the character sketch of the heroine, while the mass dance lablochko (Little Apple) anticipated the appearance of the heroic dance, which would become one of the achievements of the next decade. This trend emerged even more noticeably in the ballets of choreographers V. I. Vainonen (Flames of Paris by B. V. Asafiev, 1932) and V. M. Chabu-kiani (The Heart of the Hills by A. M. Balanchivadze, 1938, and Laurencia by A. A. Krein, 1939). In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s a new type of “heroic” ballet artist also appeared who energetically and actively welcomed life. These included M. T. Semenova, A. N. Ermolaev, and V. M. Chabukiani.

From the mid-1930’s to the mid-1950’s, the major genre of Soviet ballet was the multiact dance drama which drew its plot from classical literature. In those years new principles of dramatic composition—including scenario, music, and choreography—were worked out. Choreographers strove for an uninterrupted development of action and authenticity of characters. The most successful of such choreographers were R. V. Zakharov (B. V. Asafiev’s The Fountain of Bakhchisarai,1934), L. M. Lavrovskii (Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet,1940), and V. P. Burmeister (S. N. Vasilenko’s Lola,1943). The tendencies of dramatic ballet were clearly expressed in the art of G. S. Ulanova. Other dancers who achieved fame at this time include K. M. Sergeev, T. M. Vecheslova, N. M. Dudinskaia, O. V. Lepeshinskaia, A. M. Messerer, and M. M. Gabovich.

In the 1930’s ballet theaters were established in many republics, even in those where ballet was previously unknown and the people did not even have native dances.

Ballets that became famous in the Ukraine include Lileia by K. F. Dan’kevich with choreography by S. N. Sergeev (1946) and Forest Song by M. A. Skorul’skii with choreography by V. I. Vronskii (1958); in Byelorussia, The Nightingale by M. E. Kroshner with choreography by A. N. Ermolaev (1939); in Uzbekistan, Semurg by B. V. Brovtsyn with choreography by I. Iusupov (1964); in Kazakhstan, Kambar and Nazym by V. V. Velikanov with choreography by M. F. Moiseev (1938) and D. Abirov (1959); in Georgia, the many productions of V. M. Chabukiani, which include Sinatle by G. V. Kiladze (1947), Gorda by D. A. Toradze (1949), and Othello by A. D. Machavariani (1957); in Azerbaijan, The Maiden’s Tower by A. Budalbeili with choreography by S. N. Kevorkov and V. I. Vronskii (1940) and Seven Beauties by K. Karaev with choreography by P. A. Gusev (1952); in Lithuania, Egle—Queen of the Grass Snakes by E. K. Balsȳs with choreography by V. Grivichas (1960); in Moldavia, The Broken Sword by E. L. Lazarev with choreography by N. V. Danilov (1960); in Latvia, Sakta of Freedom by A. P. Skulte with choreography by J. J. Canga (1950); in Kirghizia, Cholpon by M. R. Raukhverger with choreography by L. M. Kramarevskii (1944) and N. S. Tugelov (1958); in Tadzhikistan, Leili and Medzhnun by S. A. Balasanian with choreography by G. Balamat-zade (1947); in Armenia, Marmar by E. S. Oganesian with choreography by 1.1. Arbatov and A. M. Muradian (1957); in Turkmenia, Aldarkose by K. A. Korchmarev with choreography by N. S. Kholfin (1942) and K. Dzhaparov (1952); in Estonia, Kalevipoeg by E. A. Kapp with choreography by H. J. Tohvelman (1948) and I. A. Urbel (1953); in Bashkiria, The Crane’s Song by L. B. Stepanov with choreography by N. A. Anisimova (1944); in Buriatia, Angara the Beauty by L. K. Knipper with choreography by M. S. Zaslavskii (1959); and in Tataria, Shurale by F. Z. Iarullin with choreography by L. V. Iakobson (1945). Many masters of ballet in the national republics have earned the title of People’s Artist of the USSR. Leading figures in the ballet of the Union Republics include G. Almas-zade, B. Beishenalieva, L. Vekilova, V. E. Viltsin’, P. P. Virskii, V. I. Vronskii, L. Zakhidova, G. Izmailova, V. F. Kalinov-skaia, A. Z. Nasretdinova, G. K. Sabaliauskaite, L. P. Sakh’ianova, M. Turgunbaeva, and V. M. Chabukiani.

In the mid-1950’s a new chapter began in the development of Soviet ballet. The ballets created in the 1950’s and 1960’s demonstrate their creator’s increasing interest in man’s inner world in all its complexity and in man’s relation to his time. Soviet choreographers revived the traditions of 19th-century symphonized dance, turned to Fokine’s experience, and further developed the achievements of the innovative Soviet choreographers of the 1920’s and their successors, the producers of choreographic drama. The natural process of growth and development in Soviet ballet continues with its active and creative explorations.

Soviet choreographers revived genres that had not been seen on the stage for many years. L. V. Iakobson staged publicistic poster ballets such as The Bedbug by F. Otkazov and G. I. Firtich (1962) and The Twelve by B. I. Tishchenko (1964). I. D. Bel’skii staged the ballet symphony Leningrad Symphony, based on the music of D. D. Shostakovich (1961). The ballets of Iu. N. Grigorovich are psychological dramas in which each character is carried to the point of generalization— The Stone Flower by S. S. Prokofiev (1957), Legend of Love by A. D. Melikov (1961), and Spartacus by A. I. Khachaturian (1968). Ballets on modern themes were staged by O. M. Vinogradov (AseV by V. A. Vlasov, 1967) and N. D. Kasatkina and V. Iu. Vasilev (Heroic Poem by N. N. Karetnikov, 1964). The leading dancers of the Moscow and Leningrad theaters during the 1940’s and 1950’s were A. Ia. Shelest, M. M. Plisetskaia, R. S. Struchkova, I. A. Kolpakova, and N. V. Timofeeva. The leading dancers of the 1960’s include V. V. Vasil’ev, N. I. Bess-mertnova, N. R. Makarova, M. L. Lavrovskii, and M. E. Liepa.

There has been an intensive development of ballet theater during the Soviet era. It is truly becoming a people’s theater. In Russia before the October Revolution there were two theaters of opera and ballet, which on the average gave 40 to 50 ballet performances a year (that is, a combined total of 100), attended by somewhat over 33,000 people. In the USSR (1970) there are 40 opera and ballet theaters. In addition, ballets are produced in music theaters (for example, in Tartu), in music and drama theaters in Syktyvkar, Yakutsk, and other cities, and in a number of operetta theaters in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Odessa, and so forth. The number of ballet performances totals in the thousands and the number of spectators in the millions. Each ballet company in these theaters includes from 40 or 50 to 200 or 225 (the Bolshoi) members.

In addition to professional ballet companies, there are also amateur groups. They are organized at industrial plants, clubs, palaces of culture, educational institutions, and military units. Amateur groups have a network of clubs and studios at their disposal; they perform at concerts or people’s theaters, which produce ballet shows. In the Russian Federation alone, some 20 people’s theaters have their own ballet repertoires.

Before the revolution there were two ballet schools in Russia. In the USSR in 1970 there were 16 state schools in addition to a large number of professional and amateur ballet studios in theaters and houses of culture. Dance teachers and choreographers are trained in such institutions of higher learning as the A. Lunacharskii State Institute of Theatrical Arts in Moscow, the N. Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in Leningrad, and the Institute of Culture in Moscow.

Soviet ballet is marked by its ideological content; it is an instrument for moral education. Subjects for ballet have broadened immeasurably; ballets depict the hero struggling for freedom, and the image of insurrectionary masses has been created. The performances staged by Soviet choreographers are imbued with humanitarianism; they affirm the final victory of justice and proclaim the dignity and freedom of the individual.

The masters of Soviet ballet reflect reality truthfully by generalizing it and revealing all that is typical; they express it in the unity of musical and choreographic images.

The expansion of cultural relations in the 1950’s and 1960’s has played an important role in the development of world ballet. Soviet ballet companies tour in all countries of the world, and Soviet choreographers and ballet teachers stage performances abroad and establish ballet schools; artists from many countries are visiting members of Soviet ballet theaters and schools.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a. a classical style of expressive dancing based on precise conventional steps with gestures and movements of grace and fluidity
b. (as modifier): ballet dancer
2. a theatrical representation of a story or theme performed to music by ballet dancers
3. a troupe of ballet dancers
4. a piece of music written for a ballet
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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