Classical Ballet

Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake, Sadlers Wells Ballet company, black and white photograph, about 1945

       The Classical Era of ballet came about due to two major changes in the world of dance. First, there was the evolution of the pointe shoe, the advanced version allowed ballerinas to obtain a higher level of skill and quicker movements. Secondly, choreographers were so inspired by the new, complex, narrative music at that time that they  began to revolutionize the dances to go along with it. Ballet became a much more technical and skilled form of dance. During this era of ballet, there was more collaboration between the musicians and the choreographers. The choreographers created the libretto which is the story or narrative idea and they choreographed the dance to go along with it. They then shared this with the musicians who wrote the score to go along with the story. A lot of classical dances were composed of four main parts: the adage, the female variation, the male variation and the grand allegro. Each part gave everyone involved in the production a chance to really show off their talent and skills.

    There were stylistic variations between the different schools of ballet. The five main ballet schools were located in France, Russia, England, Denmark, and Italy. There are standard classical training systems across all schools, however the different methods that were applied varied from school to school and could vary between choreographers.  Although the methods varied, the overall performance and movement vocabulary of classical ballet are common throughout all schools. Classical Ballet really took off in Russia and more information about Russia’s influence on classical ballet can be found in the next section called “Russian Imperial Ballet”.

     When Romantic ballet essentially evolved into Classical ballet, the woman ballerina still obtained her powerful position at the forefront of the stage. Classical ballets typically focus on the female dancer to the exclusion of almost all else, and focuses on pointe work, and the flowing, precise acrobatic movements. Ballerinas became more and more respected as the skill, flexibility, and technique required increased dramatically during the era of Classical ballet.

Marius Petipa

       Marius Petipa, “the father of classical ballet”, is arguably the most influential ballet teacher in history. He came about during the Classical Ballet era in St. Petersburg, Russia and he was known for his ability to turn Russian folklore into ballet productions. He created a realistic performance that had an enchanting story line, captivating audiences for the entire evening. The ballerinas always danced on pointe, no matter what the story line, and Petipa gave very specific instructions to both the dancers and the composers.  Petipa incorporated complicated sequences that showed off demanding steps, leaps and turns into his story lines.  His most famous works were “Swan Lake”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “The Nutcracker” in which he worked closely with famous composer Tchaikovsky. He was a major part of the Russian Imperial Ballet movement that was a form of classical ballet  that is discussed more in the next section.


The Classic Tutu

      Due to the higher skill level of classical ballet and the precision of the classical technique, the tutu was shortened. The legs moved higher and  faster and the crowd wanted to see more of this footwork in the dances. The evolved classical ballet required a long, slender ballerina who was extremely flexibly and could keep up the the fast footwork required. So, the longer, Romantic tutu was dramatically shortened into what is sometimes called the “pancake” shaped classic tutu in order to accommodate these new movements and to showcase the precision and skill involved in dancing classical ballets.

Famous Classical Ballets:
Swan Lake
Don Quixote
Dance Preview: Don Quixote
The 2012 Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" plays Dec. 21-23  at Folsom Lake College.
Sleeping Beauty

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