History of the Ballet and Modern Dance

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Essential Classical Music | Art | Theater

A brief History of Modern Dance

Early Ballet:
  • During the Renaissance, Italian nobility stages lavish court dances
  • A dance expresses etiquette
  • Ballet a close relative of military maneuvers and fencing
  • Ballet does not develop in Italy because opera does
  • Ballet is only an intermezzo during the acts of an opera (often totally unrelated to the plot of the opera)
  • Greek-inspired Academie de Poesie and Musique (1570)
  • Caterina de Medici organizes the first "ballet de cour" in Paris (1581)
  • A six-hour "Ballet Comique de la Reine" (1581) for a royal wedding
  • Louis XIV (1661 - 1715) "le Roi-Soleil": also a ballerino who dances in many of the palace ballets
  • "Le Ballet de la Nuit" (1653) features Louis XIV wearing sun rays (le roi soleil)
  • Royal Academy of Dance (1661): dance is an art separate from music (traditionally dancers accompanied themselves with a fiddle)
  • Dance becomes a symbol of aristocratic identity
  • Even the Jesuits adopt it and teach it
  • Courtesan etiquette instead of martial arts
  • Public theaters to perform music and ballet that were previously only performed at the court
  • Carlo Vigarani's Les Tuileries (1662) for 6,000 spectators and full of machines
  • The comedie-ballet: Jean-Baptiste Moliere (libretto) + Jean-Baptiste Lully (music) + Pierre Beauchamp (choreography) + Carlo Vigarani (scenography)
  • "Le bourgeois gentilhomme" (1670)
  • Royal Academy of Music (1669) eight years after the one for dance (aka "Paris Opera")
  • The ballet is lightweight counterpoint to the opera, which is serious
  • Ballets frequently employ machines to create grand spectacles
  • Raoul Feuillet's "Chor‚graphie" (1700) codifies the notation for ballet choreographies so that ballets can be replicated around Europe
  • Social and professional dance begin to separate (first formal school for professional dancers in 1713)
  • Jean-Philippe Rameau: "Maitre a Danser" (1725) defines the five basic positions of dancing
  • Jean-Philippe Rameau (composer) "Les Indes Galantes" (1735)
  • Marie Salle: first female star of the ballet - "Pygmalion" (1734)
  • Russian ballet:
  • Empress Anna founds the Imperial St Petersburg School of Dance (1738)
  • Jean-Georges Noverre: (choreographer) dance has to tell a story (the dancer must be a mime)
  • Jean-Joseph Rodolphe (composer): "Medee et Jason" (1763)
  • Gaetano Vestris (dancer) mimes with no mask
  • Opera and ballet part ways
  • Christoph Gluck (composer) + Gasparo Angiolini (choreographer) + Ranieri de Calzabigi (libretto): "Orfeo ed Euridice" (1762)
  • Maximilien Gardel (choreographer) the heroic ballet mostly performed by women "Telemaque" (1790) and "Psyche" (1790)
  • Jean-Georges Noverre: "Les Fetes Chinoises" (1754) introduces expressive movement
  • Charles Didelot: "Zephyre and Flore" (1796) makes dancers dance on the tips of the toes
  • Schism of artistic and popular dancing
  • Auguste Vestris (dancer) school of virtuosistic and athletic dance (mainly men) whereas ballerine are more pantomime actresses than dancers
  • 1795-1799: 600 dancehalls in Paris, mainly for a new erotic dance, the waltz

  • Romantic Age:
  • 1831: the Paris Opera is privatized (to entrepreneur Louis Veron)
  • Giacomo Meyerbeer (composer) + Eugene Scribe (libretto) + Filippo Taglioni (choreographer) + Pierre Ciceri (scenographer) + Marie Taglioni (dancer) + Adolphe Nourrit (tenor): "Robert le Diable" (1831) four-hour extravaganza with orchestra, choir and stage effects (including gas lighting, a novelty) inaugurates the romantic era
  • The star, Marie Taglioni, is a dancer, not an actress
  • Nourrit (this time as the choreographer) +Ciceri +Marie Taglioni on a story by Nodier: "La Sylphide" (1832)
  • Jean Coralli (choreographer), Jules Perrot (ballet master) + Th‚ophile Gautier (libretto) + Adolphe Adam (composer) + Ciceri (scenography) inspired by a poem by Heinrich Heine: "Giselle" (1841) peak of romantic ballet
  • Carlotta Grisi, the new star, is a virtuoso dancer
  • Salvatore Vigano's lavish ballets at Milano's La Scala (1811-21) with music by Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, etc and lighting effects whose dancers were mimes (gestural dance)
  • Carlo Blasis' "Trait‚ ‚l‚mentaire th‚orique et pratique de l'art de la danse" (1820) defines the virtuoso technique of ballet
  • Opera has a score so it can be replicated throughout the world and becomes big business, whereas ballet cannot be exported
  • The success of Rossini, Doninzetti, Bellini, etc virtually kills ballet in Italy
  • Russian ballet: Czar Pyotr's westernizing reforms import ballet to teach etiquette to the nobility
  • Landowners operate their own "serf theaters" until 1812
  • 1766: Ekaterina II opens three state theaters in St Petersburg (all ballet masters are foreigners
  • Charles Didelot creates the grand spectacle of the St Petersburg ballet (1801)
  • "Psyche et L'Amour" (1809), emblematic of the new Russian nationalism
  • Russian ballet: music (composed by foreigners like Riccardo Drigo, Cesare Pugni, Ludwig Minkus) follows, not leads, the dances
  • August Bournonville directs the Royal Danish Ballet (1830-77) and imports French ballet to Denmark: "Valdemar" (1835) on medieval legends, still romantic; other ballets focus on ordinary life of ordinary folks: realism

  • Victorian Age:
  • Luigi Manzotti's extravagant ballets at Milano's La Scala resurrect ballet in Italy: "Excelsior" (1881) with Indian, Arab, Chinese and Turkish dances for a cast of 500 dancers, 12 horses, two cows and an elephant
  • Italian ballet masters document Manzotti's ballets and export them throughout Europe and the USA
  • Poor artistic value and virtually no virtuoso skills required from dancers
  • Italian ballet masters write and stage their own ballets, unlike the French who use professional writers, and unlike Italian opera composers who used professional librettos
  • Italian ballet is rapidly obliterated by the competition
  • Marinetti's "variety theater" (1913)
  • Jules Perrot's five-hour "Eoline" (1858) and Marius Petipa`s five-hour"The Pharaoh's daughter" (1862) at a time when ballet in Paris and Milan shares the program with opera
  • 1882: Aleksandr II abolishes the monopoly of the imperial theaters, thereby causing a boom of popular musical theaters and an "Italian invasion" of Manzotti's dancers staging sensational extravaganzas (ballets-feeries)
  • The ballet of the imperial theaters continues but represents the ossified aristocratic world
  • Marius Petipa + Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky + Perrault (story) + Carlotta Brianza (dancer) + Enrico Cecchetti (dancer): "The Sleeping Beauty" (1890), basically an elegant high-brow feerie with virtuoso Italian-style dancers AND pop music
  • Tchaikovsky is the first composer to conceive of ballet as a major art with symphonic scores that stand on their own
  • Lev Ivanov (Russian choreographer) + Tchaikovsky + Hoffmann (story): "The Nutcracker" (1892)
  • Ivanov-Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" (1895)
  • Petipa-Glazunov's "Raymonda" (1898)
  • Isadora Duncan (USA) promotes "free dance" based on physiology (the "solar plexus") in Paris (1900)
  • The exotic Mata Hari (Holland) debuts in Paris (1905)
  • Oriental shows by Ruth St Denis (USA) in Paris (1906)
  • Valentine de Saint-Pont's multimedia ballet (1913)
  • Sergei Diaghilev: homosexual patron of the Russian arts founds the magazine "Mir Isskustva" (1898)
  • Influenced by Duncan, Mikhail Fokine choreographs "The Dying Swan" (1905), a solo improvisatory dance for Anna Pavlova in Russia
  • Savva Marmontov and Maria Tenisheva sponsor the Russian arts and crafts movement in their country estates that become artists' colonies: original art inspired by Russian folk art
  • Franco-Russian alliance (1894), Triple Entente (1907)
  • Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
  • Exhibition of Russian arts and crafts in Paris (1900)
  • Sergei Diaghilev's exhibition of Russian art in Paris (1906)
  • The salons and rich patron sponsor Diaghilev's company
  • Sergei Diaghilev's "Le Ballets Russes" open in Paris (1909): Mikhail Fokine (choreographer and dancer), Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky (dancers), Leon Bakst (Lev Rozenberg), Aleksandr Golovin and Aleksandr Benois (scenographers)
  • Mikhail Fokine choreographs Igor Stravinsky's exotic "Firebird" for Karsavina (1910)
  • Mikhail Fokine choreographs Rimsky-Korsakov's sensual and exotic "Scheherazade" (1910) for Karsavina and Nijinsky
  • Mikhail Fokine choreographs the sensual "Le Spectre de la Rose" (1911) for Nijinsky
  • Igor Stravinsky's Russian-folkish "Petrouchka" for Nijisky (1911)
  • Sergei Diaghilev shocks Paris with an erotic production of Debussy's "L'Apres-midi d'un Faune" (1912) choreographed by Nijisky (who dances a scene in which he masturbates on stage) and Stravinsky's Russian-folkish and dissonant "Le Sacre du Printemps" (1913) choreographed by Nijisky
  • The scandal and World War I (1914) kill the Ballets Russes
  • The "Ballets Russes" never once perform in Russia
  • Marie Wiegmann's solo ballet "Witch Dance" (1914)
  • Sergei Diaghilev's "The Three-Cornered Hat" (1917)

  • Between the World Wars
  • George Balanchine (Georgi Balanchivadze) resurrects Russian ballet in France with the baroque and neoclassical production of Stravinsky's "Apollon Musagete" (1928)
  • Ninette de Valois (Edris Stannus) founds the Vic-Wells Ballet (1931) to import Diaghilevs style to Britain
  • Kurt Jooss: The Green Table (1932)
  • Leonid Massine: "Les Presages" (1933)
  • Uday Shankar: "Labour and Machinery"
  • Fortunato Depero's Balli Plastici (1918) with robots
  • Fedele Azaris manifesto "Il Teatro Aereo Futurista" (1919), which equates theater and dance
  • Franco Casavola: Macchina del 3000 (1924), designed by Depero
  • Nikolai Foregger (Soviet Union, 1939): Mechanical Dance (1923)
  • Oskar Schlemmer (Germany): The Triadic Ballet (1922) with robotic puppets
  • Oskar Schlemmer: Metal Dance (1929)
  • John Martin becomes the first dance critic in New York (1927), explaining that modern dance is about expression and not spectacle (as opposed to Diaghilevs extravagant productions)
  • Martha Grahams "Heretic" debuts (1929) and launches a percussive style based on the rhythm of breathing
  • Antony Tudor + Arnold Schoenberg: the Freudian but Noverre-style narrative Pillar of Fire (1942)
  • George Balanchine founds in New York the School of American Ballet (1934), promoting free-form dance styles borrowed from gymnastics
  • Balanchine + Tchaikovsky: Serenade (1935)
  • Lucia Chases and Richard Pleasants American Ballet Theater (1939)
  • Leonid Lavrovsky (choreographer) + Prokofiev (composer) + Galina Ulanova (dancer): Romeo and Juliet (1940)

  • Postwar:
  • Frederick Ashton (choreographer) + Margot Fonteyn (dancer): the abstract ballet Symphonic Variations (1946)
  • Alwin Nikolais' "Kaleidoscope" (1956) pioneers abstract and total dance theatre
  • Rudolf Nureyev defects to Britain (1961) and becomes its second star after Margot Fonteyn
  • Leonid Yakobson (choreographer) + Aram Khachaturian (composer): the sexy and grandiose Spartacus (1956) in a Duncan-like free-form style
  • Maurice Bejart (France) creates "Ninth Symphony" (1964) for 80 dancers and 250 musicians/singers
  • Kenneth MacMilan (Britain) creates brutal realistic ballets that feature suicide, drugs, prostitution, incest, gang rape, soft porn (e.g. "Mayerling", 1978), almost a return to pantomime but with a punk attitude
  • Balanchine's and Lincoln Kirstein's New York City Ballet (1948)
  • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (1962)
  • Ballet becomes the most radically experimental art
  • Merce Cunningham (1953): chance operations to choreograph ballets and set designs by painter Robert Rauschenberg
  • Jerome Robbins (choreographer) + Leonard Bernstein (composer) + Stephen Sondheim (lyrics): "West Side Story" (1957) about juvenile delinquents
  • George Balanchine + Igor Stravinsky: the abstract dissonant "Agon" (1957) with mystical and humanist overtones
  • George Balanchine "The Nutcracker" (1954)
  • Maurice Bejart "Symphonie pour un Homme Seul" (1955)
  • Alwin Nikolais "Kaleidoscope" (1956)
  • Roberts Blossom (1924, USA) dance and film (1961)
  • Robert Joffrey's hippy multimedia "Astarte" (1967)
  • Billy Kluver's Nine Evenings in New York (1966): dance and tech
  • Simone Forti's "Dance Constructions" at Yoko Ono's loft (May 1961)
  • July 1962: Robert Ellis Dunn's Judson Dance Theater
  • Yvonne Rainer: "Three Seascapes" (1962)
  • Carolee Schneemann: "Chromelodeon" (1963)
  • Trisha Brown: "Lightfall" (1963)
  • Deborah Hay: "Victory 14" (1964)
  • Freddie Herko: "Dervish" (1964)
  • Anna Halprin: "Parades and Changes" (1965) "task performance" (improvisation based on everyday gestures)
  • Trisha Brown: "Walking on the Wall" (1971)
  • Steve Paxton: "Magnesium" (1972) - birth of "contact improvisation"
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov defects to the USA (1974)
  • Kazuo Ohno's butoh dance "La Argentina Sho" (1977)
  • Simone Forti (1935, USA): holographic dance piece "Striding/Crawling" (1977)
  • Pina Bausch (Germany): "Orpheus and Eurydice" (1978)
  • Samuel Beckett (France): "Quad I + II" (1982)
  • Twyla Tharp (USA): "In The Upper Room" (1986)
  • Mark Morris (1956, USA): "L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato" (1988)
  • Dumb Type (Japan): "pH" (1990)
  • Paul Taylor (1930, USA): "Company B" (1991)
  • Dumb Type (Japan): "Lovers" (1994)
  • Deborah Colker "Volcano" (1994)
  • Diane Gromala, Yacov Sharir, and Marcos Novak: "Dancing with the Virtual Dervish" (1994) - virtual reality
  • Merce Cunningham uses software to capture and project the movements of dancers during "Biped" (1999)
  • Kunstwerk-blend (Sophia Lycouris): "Trans/forms" (1999)
  • Electronic Dance Theatre (Julie Wilson & Mark Bokowiec): "Cyborg Dreaming" (2000)
  • Paulo Henrique (Portugal): "Contract with the Skin" (2000)
  • Igloo (Bruno Martelli and Ruth Gibson, Britain): "Winter Space" (2001)
  • Random Dance Company (Wayne McGregor, Britain): "Nemesis" (2002)
  • Troika Ranch (Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello, USA): "The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz" (2000)
  • Half/Angel (Jools Gilson-Ellis & Richard Povall, Britain): "Spinstren" (2002)
  • Palindrome (Robert Wechsler, Germany): "Touching" (2003)
  • Pam Tanowitz "Four Quartets" (2018)
  • Will Rawls (1978): "Cursor" (2018)

  • Multimedia Theater:
  • Ping Chong (1946, Canada): "Nosferatu" (1985)
  • George Coates (1952, USA): "Actual Sho" (1987)
  • Robert Lepage (1957, Canada): "Needles and Opium" (1991)
  • George Coates (1952, USA): "20/20 Blake" (1996)
  • Mika Tuomola (1971, Finland): "Daisy's Amazing Discoveries" (1996)
  • ieVR (USA): "Machinal" (1999)
  • Uninvited Guest (Britain): "Film" (2000)
  • Builders Association (Marianne Weems): "Alladeen" (2003)
  • Blast Theory (Britain): "10 Backwards" (1999)
  • Chameleons Group (Steve Dixon, Britain): "The Doors of Serenity" (2002)

  • After the Cold War:
  • Paul Taylor (1930, USA): "Company B" (1991)
  • Dumb Type (Japan): "Lovers" (1994)
  • Deborah Colker "Volcano" (1994)
  • Merce Cunningham uses software to capture and project the movements of dancers during "Biped" (1999)
  • Kunstwerk-blend (Sophia Lycouris): "Trans/forms" (1999)
  • Electronic Dance Theatre (Julie Wilson & Mark Bokowiec): "Cyborg Dreaming" (2000)
  • Paulo Henrique (Portugal): "Contract with the Skin" (2000)
  • Igloo (Bruno Martelli and Ruth Gibson, Britain): "Winter Space" (2001)
  • Random Dance Company (Wayne McGregor, Britain): "Nemesis" (2002)
  • Troika Ranch (Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello, USA): "The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz" (2000)
  • Half/Angel (Jools Gilson-Ellis & Richard Povall, Britain): "Spinstren" (2002)
  • Palindrome (Robert Wechsler, Germany): "Touching" (2003)
  • Pam Tanowitz: "Four Quartets" (2018)
  • Personal Favorites (2014)

    1. Charlie Mingus: "The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady"
    2. Igor Stravinsky: "Le Sacre du Printemps"
    3. Claude Debussy: "Jeux"
    4. Igor Stravinsky: "Petrouchka"
    5. Pyotr Tchaikovsky: "Swan Lake"
    6. Sergei Prokofiev: "Romeo and Juliet"
    7. Maurice Ravel: "Daphnis et Chloe"
    8. Erik Satie: "Relache"
    9. Pierre Henry: "La Reine Verte"
    10. Morton Subotnick: "The Key To Songs"
    11. Pyotr Tchaikovsky: "The Nutcracker"
    12. Felix Mendelssohn: "A Midsummer Nights Dream"
    13. Igor Stravinsky: "Apollo Musagetes"
    14. Pyotr Tchaikovsky: "The Sleeping Beauty"
    15. Sergei Prokofiev: "Cinderella"
    16. Igor Stravinsky: "Les Noces"
    17. Francis Poulenc: "Les Biches"
    18. Nikolaj Rimsky-Korsakov: "Scheherazade"
    19. Leo Delibes: "Coppelia"
    20. Adolphe Adam: "Giselle"
    21. Erik Satie: "Parade"
    22. Ludwig Minkus: "La Bayader"
    23. Edward Elgar: "Peter Pan"

    Best dancers (2014)

    1. Vaslav Nijinsky (Ukraine, 1889)
    2. George Balanchine (Russia, 1904)
    3. Anna Pavlova (Russia, 1881)
    4. Mikhail Fokine (Russia, 1880)
    5. Galina Ulanova (Russia, 1910)
    6. Rudolf Nureyev (Russia, 1938)
    7. Carla Fracci (Italy, 1936)
    8. Mikhail Baryshnikov (Russia, 1948)
    9. Margot Fonteyn (Britain, 1919-1991)
    10. Sylvie Guillem (France, 1965)
    11. Natalia Makarova (Russia, 1940)
    12. Alina Cojocaru (Romania, 1981)
    13. Gelsey Kirkland (USA, 1952)
    14. Natalia Osipova (Russia, 1986)
    15. Miyako Yoshida (Japan, 1965)
    16. Alessandra Ferri (Italy, 1963)
    17. Alicia Markova (Britain, 1910)
    18. Anthony Dowell (1943)
    19. Gelsey Kirkland (1952)
    20. Alexei Ratmansky (Russia, 1968)

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