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Home > Classical Ballet

The Evolution of Stylized Ballet

Ballet is a meandering stream that continues to extend. Historians provide us with each new course it develops. Each new course represents a “style”. Some styles thrived, while others died away. Those that made it into ballet history are the ones that had a certain standard of unique flair or creative concept. Each distinctive style demonstrates ballet at its finest. And each is free to twist or turn with any other style they’d like – or even add something new to it entirely. This creative process assures ballet remains a creative art as well as an art performance. These styles of ballet: Romantic, Classical, Neo Classical, Contemporary; they all provided us (the evolution of) ballet as we know it today.

The Romantic ballet is just that. It portrays love, romance and drama; but within a certain structure. The Romantic Ballet (as does Classical Ballet) uses a structure we call a “coda”: Intro, the adagio pas de deux, the solo female allegro combination, the solo male allegro combination, the allegro pas de deux into the finale, or “final coda”. Some examples of well-known Romantic ballets are; Coppelia, Romeo and Juliet, La Sylphide, Giselle… This style of ballet originated in Russia, France and Denmark. The Romantic style ballet involved more pantomime and expression. The expressive movement displayed emotion, longing, excitement and love. It was very popular with high society; many came to the ballet to be emotionally moved, brought to tears as dramatic love scenes played out. This was because Romantic ballet love stories usually ended in tragedy.

There are “styles” of ballet, and there are “methods” of ballet or rather, a type of training. One particular dance trainer developed his method in the throws of Romantic ballet: The Bournonville Ballet Method. A method is a “school of ballet”. This brings The Flower Festival at Genzano (choreographed by August Bournonville) to mind. This one-act ballet is a portrayal of young love through soft, expressive, whimsical movements, as well as cheery, animated movements. This ballet was originally danced in Copenhagen (1858) by the Royal Danish Ballet. The pas de deux came from Bournonville’s ballet Napoli and later was developed into its own full-length ballet. Today we see ballet companies bringing the pas de deux from Flower Festival, to the stage again. This dance epitomizes the Bournonville style and is a pure Romantic piece. The tutu in a Romantic ballet is knee length tulle.

Classical Ballet represents very structured ballet movement, always showing the Prima Ballerina at her most flamboyant. It is about technique…not dramatizations. The Imperial Russian Ballet method is an example of a school that usually used Classical ballet (it originated in France as well). Classical Ballet is very structured also using a “coda”. This very technically challenging movement usually would show National character, or superiority of character (i.e. a queen, prince or country mascot). It wasn’t exactly about the music (as Balanchine would abhor), it was about athletic and technically challenging movement. It was a show of brute strength. Many believe that this form of ballet robbed the ballet of its original essence. Though that may be true, it brought ballet to a new level. Today dancers are expected to be very technically developed whereas in the earlier days of ballet, physical expression came first. Ballet started out as pantomime, so expression was crucial while technique took a back seat. The Classical Ballet style also developed costuming; it made the tutu into what we think of today when someone says the word (it goes straight out from the hips - as in Swan Lake).

A great example of a Classical Ballet that displays the Imperial method is Don Quixote, choreographed by Marius Petipa. This ballet shows athleticism, exuberance, and National character. This ballet is a show of lifts, grandiose movement, superior technique and virtuosity. The technique speaks for itself while the “extras” are stripped away (i.e. the set and ornamental dancers). This Bolshoi Ballet originally presented this piece at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1966 though this piece was a very old piece of choreography from the mid-eighteen century stemming from a novel written by Miguel Cervantes.

Neo Classical ballets are mainly a ballet with an untraditional element. These ballets still use classical ballet movement, but will use movement from modern dance as well. The ballet still tells a story and uses scenery and costuming. Neo Classical dances were the first “ballets” that took a new direction. Some elements of a Neo-Classical work would be untraditional arrangements, roles, concept and style. Some say that Balanchine’s Apollo (1928) was the first Neo Classical ballet, but others argue that it started much earlier than that.

Two particular earlier ballets stand out as Neo Classical, the first one being Le Spectre de la Rose (1911), by choreographer by Michael Fokine. This ballet was not only Neo Classical, but a Ballet Russe work. Some classify Ballet Russe as a specific style of ballet movement (as they do Neo Classical Ballet); others use it to describe specific twentieth century works in France (as well as Diaglev works from Russia where it all started). Le Spectre de la Rose had an unconventional pas de deux as well as an imaginative and unusual concept. The Pas de Deux in Le Spectre de la Rose concentrated on the male. The female was only an ornament to his dancing. The female doesn’t have a huge dance role, she merely romanticizes the ballet. This Neo Classical ballet has a Romantic spin on it being that some basic principles of Romantic Ballet concept and movement are employed.

Another example of the Neo Classical Ballet is L’Apres Midi D’un Faun, by choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. L’Apres was a very controversial ballet since the subject matter was based on sex and masturbation. The ballet is about a Faun who falls in love for the first time with a Goddess-Nymph. This ballet is Neo Classical with an Avant Garde twist which also concentrated on the male character. It is considered “Avant Garde due to the anarchic and contentious concept and the unconventional style of movement. Nijinsky presented this ballet in a very one dimensional way. He made it look like a moving painting which was flat and robotic. This ballet was a requiem for the death of the Czar Diaghilev, who commissioned and enslaved Nijinsky to dance and choreograph works for his amusement. The ballet wasn’t accepted at the time though later Nureyev danced it and made it not only famous, but well liked. Audiences now had an evolved social awareness and a demand for original works. So they were able to embrace it rather than reject it.

A more recent ballet style emerged in the last few decades called Contemporary Ballet, or Modern Ballet. Contemporary Ballet is a twist of classical ballet and modern dance. Unconventional movements and asymmetry is used. The dancers usually wear just a leotard and tights. These ballets are still on pointe usually and classically trained dancers fill the parts. The choreography is very abstract and portrays an idea or concept rather than a story. It is filled with image, design and metaphors. Contemporary dance is about patterns and images. The movement “becomes the music”. This is when the dancer becomes an actual instrument that animates the music bringing the music itself to center stage.

A great example of a Contemporary Ballet piece is Black and White, choreographed by Jiri Kylan. This piece uses lighting as a set displaying four light squares on a dark set. Each light-square, is filled by a male and female dancer, who move through interesting shapes and patterns. This piece uses the apple as a prop. The apple is used as an interesting contrast to the ever-changing de





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