Ballet is an academic dance form and technique that is taught in ballet schools according to specific methods. Early portions of ballet were presented in large chambers with most of the audience on tiers or galleries on three sides of the dancing floor.
Ballet has since become a highly technical form of dance even including its own vocabulary. There are many ballet schools around the world that specialize in various styles of ballet and offer different techniques. Works of dance choreographed using this technique are called ballets, and usually include dance, mime, acting, and music (usually orchestral but occasionally vocal).
Ballet is best known for its unique features and techniques, such as pointe work, turn-out of the legs; its graceful, flowing, precise movements; and its ethereal qualities.
The word ballet comes from the French, in turn having its origins in Italian balletto, a dinimutive of ballo (dance).
There are several different and distinct styles of ballet that have developed over time. Ballet is a style of dance that is very hard to achieve and takes much practice to master.
Ballet preoccupies itself with the female dancer to the exclusion of almost all else, focusing on pointe work, flowing, precise acrobatic movements, and often presenting the dancers in the conventional short white French tutu. Later developments include expressionist ballet, Neoclassical ballet, and elements of Modern dance.
Classical ballet is the most methodical of the ballet styles and adheres to traditional ballet technique. Variations relate to area of origin, such as Russian ballet and French Ballet.
The most well-known styles of ballet are the Russian Method, the Italian Method, the Danish Method, the Balanchine Method or New York City Ballet Method, and the Royal Academy of Dance and Royal Ballet School methods, derived from the Cecchetti method, created in England.
The first pointe shoes were actually regular ballet slippers that were heavily darned at the tip. It would allow the girl to briefly stand on her toes to appear weightless. It was later converted to the hard box that is used today.
Classical ballet adheres to three rules:
i. Everything is turned-out.
ii. When the feet are not on the floor, they’re pointed.
iii. When the leg is not bent, it’s stretched completely.
This ballet style uses the traditional ballet vocabulary but is less rigid than classical ballet. Neoclassical ballet dancers dance at extreme tempos and perform more technical feats.
Spacing in neoclassical ballet is usually more modern or complex compared to classical ballet. There is a great focus on structure though it can be more varied.
Tim Scholl, author of From Petipa to Balanchine, considers George Balanchine’s Apollo in 1928 to be the first neoclassical ballet. Apollo represented a return to form in response to Serge Diaghilev’s abstract ballets.
Contemporary ballet is a form of dance influenced by both classical ballet and modern dance. It takes its technique and use of pointe work from classical ballet, although it permits a greater range of movement that may not adhere to the strict body lines set forth by schools of ballet technique. Many of its concepts come from the ideas and innovations of 20th century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs.
George Balanchine is often considered to have been the first pioneer of contemporary ballet through the development of neoclassical ballet.
Today there are many contemporary ballet companies and choreographers. These include Alonzo King and his company, Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet; Complexions Contemporary Ballet, under the direction of Dwight Rhoden; William Forsythe, who has worked extensively with the Frankfurt Ballet and today runs The Forsythe Company; and Jiri Kylian, currently the artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theatre. Traditionally “classical” companies, such as the Kirov Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet, also regularly perform contemporary works.