The earliest known origins of ballets were lavish entertainments given in the courts of Renaissance Italy. The Italian court ballets were further developed in France. Le Ballet Comique de la Reine (The Queen's Ballet Comedy), the first ballet for which a complete score survived, was performed in Paris in 1581. Most French court ballets consisted of dance scenes linked by a minimum of plot. Because they were designed principally for the entertainment of the aristocracy, rich costumes, scenery, and elaborate stage effects were emphasized. In 1661 Louis XIV established the Acad‚mie Royale de Danse, a professional organization for dancing masters. He himself stopped dancing in 1670, and his courtiers followed his example. By then the court was already giving way to professional dancing. At first all the dancers were men, and men in masks danced women's roles. The first female dancers to perform professionally in a theater production appeared (1681) in Le Triomphe de l'Amour (The Triumph of Love).Eighteenth-century dancers were encumbered by masks, wigs or large headdresses, and heeled shoes. Women wore panniers, hoopskirts draped at the sides for fullness. Men often wore the tonnelet, a knee-length hoopskirt. Despite the brilliance of the French dancers, choreographers working outside Paris achieved more dramatic expression. In London the English choreographer John Weaver eliminated words and tried to convey dramatic action through dance and pantomime. In Vienna the Austrian choreographer Franz Hilverding and his Italian pupil Gasparo Angiolini experimented with dramatic themes and gestures. La Sylphide, first performed in Paris in 1832, introduced the period of the romantic ballet.Women dominated this period. Although good male dancers such as the Frenchmen Jules Perrot and Arthur Saint-L‚on were performing, they were eclipsed by ballerinas such as Taglioni, Elssler, the Italians Carlotta Grisi and Fanny Cerrito, and others.In the 1920s and 1930s, modern dance began to be developed in the United States and Germany. Two great American companies were founded in New York City in the 1940s, American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. The latter drew many of its dancers from the School of American Ballet established by Balanchine and Kirstein in 1934. Since the mid-20th century, companies have been founded in many cities throughout the United States and in Canada, among them: the National Ballet of Canada, in Toronto (1951); Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, in Montreal (1952); the Pennsylvania Ballet, in Philadelphia (1963); and the Houston Ballet (1963).Beginning in 1956, Russian companies such as the Bolshoi and Kirov performed in the West for the first time. The intense dramatic feeling and technical virtuosity of the Russians made a great impact. Russian influence continues today, both through visits from Russian companies and the activities of defecting Soviet dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev, artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet from 1983 to 1989; Natalia Makarova; and Mikhail Baryshnikov, director of the American Ballet Theatre, New York City, from 1980 to 1989.
Dance in general underwent an enormous upsurge in popularity beginning in the mid-1960s. It began to show the influence of a younger audience, in both themes and style. The athleticism of dancing was enjoyed in much the same way as sports, and virtuosic steps were admired for their challenge and daring. Popular music such as rock and roll and jazz was used to accompany many ballets.
Today's ballet repertoire offers great variety. New repertoire and reconstructions and restagings of older ballets coexist with new works created by modern-dance choreographers for companies. Choreographers experiment with both new and traditional forms and styles, and dancers constantly seek to extend their technical and dramatic range. The frequent tours of companies allow audiences throughout the world to experience the full spectrum of today's ballet activity.
Swan Lake...Romeo and Juliet...Giselle...