Alius Chiloe Alius Cathy Black Dance 460 December 6, 2011 Male Influences in the Development of Ballet (16th

– 20th Century)


In modern times, ballet is often thought of as a female art form; however, researching the roots of ballet, one may be surprised to learn that this beautiful art form was first developed, practiced, and performed by men only. Throughout the years, many men have played vital roles in establishing, reforming, and creating the ballet that is popular today. Without these influential men in the history of ballet, this admired art form may not have reached its prestigious level of current times. Among these influential men were King Louis XIV, Jean Georges Noverre, George Balanchine, along with several other significant men that will be briefly discussed. Ballet first evolved in Italian courts, but France was the primary country in which the art form flourished (Shearman 1). Catherine de‟ Medici, a daughter of a powerful Italian family, married the heir to the French throne in 1559, and brought with her, her love of ballets, as well as her male dancing master, Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx. Beaujoyeulx worked tirelessly to create and perform ballets for the nobles in the French court, and helped transform an art academy established earlier by King Charles IX, into the famous Ballet Comique de la Reine. It was in the rooms of this school where the first true ballet genre began, ballet de cour. Dance historian and critic, Jennifer Homans, referred to ballet before this time as, “more like stylish walking” (8). However, under the direction of Beaujoyeulx and others in the Ballet Comique de la Reine, there began to be formal discipline and order in the study of ballet. These ideas and practices cast their shadow on the development of ballet, and proved to be a foundation for others to build upon in the future.



Even after the passing of Beaujoyeulx, France remained an ambassador and predominant leader for ballet. It had now become a form of entertainment loved by not only the nobles in the court, but ballet was a passion of the kings. King Louis XIII, thoroughly enjoyed not only producing ballets, but performing in them as well. His talent even extended beyond the dance, as he would compose music for the ballets that were performed. After he had performed in the courts for his noble peers, he would perform again for those of lesser status in their homes, and yet again on a platform in front of Paris‟ city hall for the commoners. Following these somewhat formal performances, he and the other performers who accompanied him would continue to dance in the streets (Kassing 97). King Louis‟ passion for ballet was obvious, thus was passed on to his son King Louis XIV who would also add an invaluable measure of support and reform to the emerging art form. King Louis XIV devoted himself to dancing and started his career at the young age of 12. He continued to train daily for over twenty years with his dancing master, Pierre Beauchamp (Homans 12). The younger Louis followed suit in his father‟s footsteps quite literally, in that he too performed in many court ballets, and often reserved the grand ballet, or final dance, for himself and his courtiers. One of his most famous performance was in 1653, the Ballet de la Nuit, where he played the role of the sun, from which he inherited the nickname of the „Sun King‟ (Steingrad 1). Because King Louis is considered one of the most influential monarch‟s in history, one can imagine the heavy influence his support would bring to dance and how it would help the advancement of the ballet causing the court ballets to reach their peak through the years 1643-1715 (Yiannis 1). Homans noted his legendary influence when she said, “He made it integral to life at court, a symbol and requirement of aristocratic identity so deeply ingrained and internalized that the art of ballet would be forever linked to his reign” (12).

Alius Not only did King Louis XIV make ballet integral to life at the court, he made it the central feature of court life through his establishment of the Royal Academy of Dance in 1661. This institution‟s primary focus was ballet and ultimate purpose was to, using King Louis‟ own words, “restore the art of dancing to its first perfection” (Homans 15). Being a member of the


Academy was a special privilege. Homans noted that, “Those who were members were awarded exclusive access to the king and were also exempt from paying taxes” (16). Dancers would spend countless hours trying to improve their skill in order to impress the king; thus, ballet masters became more predominant during King Louis‟ reign. In response to this increase in demand for skilled ballet master, Homans also explained that ballet dancers and ballet masters soon became professional positions (17). Because of King Louis‟ tremendous value he placed on those in this art form and his lasting influence dancing remains to be a profession in our day. During King Louis‟s time as monarch, ballet de cour shifted into a new style known as comedie ballet. One of the key contributors to this art form was a fellow contemporary of King Louis, Jean-Baptiste Lully. Lully was a talented composer and musician, as well as dancer. Therefore, this new genre of ballet took on more of a theatrical performance, and he played a key role in the development of the Royal Academy of Muisc and Dance, later to be known as the Paris Opera. It was under Lully‟s direction that ballets mixed with drama and music and followed a specific plot, as opposed to the ballet de cour which was more of just dance for entertainment without any real meaning being portrayed (Homans 35). Once again, this tradition of following a particular theme or plot is a common characteristic of ballet today, and was first started by men in the early 17th century. Pierre Beauchamp also played a dominant role in the development of ballet under King Louis‟ reign. As stated previously, he was King Louis‟ dancing master and trained with him

Alius daily for over twenty years (Homans 12). Beauchamp continued with his dancing career and


became the superintendent of ballets in the king‟s courts. Later on, he was appointed by Lully, as the first ballet master of the Royal Academy of Music and Dance in 1671. Beauchamp‟s most notable contribution, however, was his clarification of the five major positions of the feet that still exists universally today (Kassing 98). Noting the numerous years of Beauchamp‟s instruction to several ballet dancers, one can imagine the extraordinary influence he had on several dancers of that time. One of his most remarkable students was Claude Jean Balon. Balon is a noteworthy name in the history of ballet because of his outstanding talent. He raised the level of skill through his extraordinary jumps and leaps in which he seemed to effortlessly suspend in the air. Dance historian, Gayle Kassing, believes that the ballet term ballon was in honor to this dancer‟s name because this word describes the light, hanging quality one achieves in an air moment. Even without this great compliment of having a ballet word named after him, Balon‟s name has been known for many centuries in the history of dance (99). By 1715, King Louis XIV had passed away, but France continued to thrive in developing ballet. Another dominant contributor was Jean Georges Noverre. Deryck Lynham, author of Noverre‟s biography, stated that from a young age, Noverre was in the presence of many great dancers. One in particular was Louis Dupre, who invited Noverre to perform with him on stage in Opera Comique, when Noverre was just 16 years of age (15). From that time on, Noverre continued to perform and became a well known dancer, teacher, and composer throughout Europe and served as the ballet master in many different theaters (“Jean Georges Noverre” 1). He created over 120 ballets during his lifetime, and many of these were revived in later years because of their beauty and virtuosity (Lynham 166).

Alius Among his many contributions, most memorable is the book Lettres sur la danse et sur


les ballets Noverre wrote in 1760. Lynham regards it as “one of the most remarkable treatises on dancing and ballet” in which Noverre wrote fifteen letters to an anonymous correspondent. In these letters, Noverre included his newfound ideas on every aspect of the ballet art form (53). Noverre believed that every part of a ballet production should contribute to make one unified performance. In addition to this idea, other philosophies noted in his book such as: using a plot with more dramatic motivation, costuming dances in a way that enhance the specific ballet, and using gestures and facial expressions extensively as an essential part of the plot, led to the new development of a new genre of ballet known as, ballet d’action. In the previous style of court ballets, dancers would perform in their everyday clothing or something in close resemblance to it and the plots would be more tragic in nature. Noverre believed ballets should take on greater depth, thus his evolutionary philosophies shared in his book were as follows: Balletic movement should not only be technically brilliant; it should move the audience emotionally through its dramatic expressiveness. The plots of ballets should be unified in design, with logical and understandable stories that contribute to a central theme. All solos and other dance sequences that do not relate to the plot should be eliminated. The scenery, music, and plot should all be unified; a reform of costumes was necessary so that they would be appropriate to the theme of the dance. Music should also be written so it is suitable for the dance. Pantomime needed to be simpler and more understandable. (Kassing 122)

Alius Noverre‟s new ideas helped increase the level of technique of ballet dancers and added greater depth to the evolving art form. As dance historian, Gayle Kassing recalls, because of his notable contributions, Noverre was referred to as the “Shakespeare of the Dance” (115).


By the turn of the centuries, from the 18th to 19th, female ballet dancers had become much more popular. However, this did not diminish men‟s influence on the art form because at this time, even though females were accepted as performers, they still were not credited as choreographers. Considered the greatest male dancer in the romantic era and among one of the well-known choreographers was Jules Perrot. Born in France, Perrot had the opportunity to study at the Paris Opera with the great ballet dancer, Auguste Vestris. His exceptional talent placed him as the soloist in the king‟s palace in 1830, when he was just 20 years old. He continued to perform, and in 1836, he started to choreograph ballets as well. The most famous one that continues to be staged today is Giselle. After his performance career, the great Perrot took the position as ballet master in the London Theatre, and seven years later moved to Russia and also served as a ballet master in St. Petersburg, at the Imperial Theatre (Kassing 132-133). As ballet continued to increase in popularity in Russia, there was one man who pioneered into new realms of the ballet world and made his mark on ballet history not only for Russia, but the whole world. His name was Serge Diaghilev. Diaghilev, though a law student in St. Petersburg, always had a passion for the arts and co-founded an art magazine in 1899, at the age of 27. Six years later the magazine was discontinued, so he decided to focus his attention on exhibitions of Russian art in St. Petersburg and Paris. In 1909, Diaghilev organized an independent ballet company, the Ballets Russes, and brought them to Paris along with Feodor Chaliapin, a famous opera singer to perform. Before this time, independent ballet companies were nearly unheard of, and were usually part of an opera or subsidized by the ruling courts.

Alius Diaghilev‟s company was successful however, and continued to make appearances in Paris and throughout Europe until his death in 1929 (Denham 1). The Ballet Russes reformed ballet under Diaghilev‟s direction. He wanted ballet


productions to be a complete theatrical experience for those in the audience; therefore, Diaghilev went to great lengths to collaborate with extraordinary artists, composers, and choreographers in order to create a unified performance. His focus was primarily on the ballet, but believed the dance could be supported by complimentary scenery, costumes, and music. Diaghilev‟s vision for what ballet productions could and should become came to pass, and, as dance historian Gayle Kassing said, “created a tremendous, long-term influence on 20th century ballet, dancers, and choreographers” (180). One individual who continued to carry influence throughout the world from the legendary Ballet Russes was the famous George Balanchine. Born in Russia, Balanchine had the privilege of dancing on Diaghilev‟s renowned company. After dancing with this company and working with other European companies to create and stage his ballets, Balanchine was invited to come to the United States in 1933, to direct the School of American Ballet, a prestigious school that remains in operation today to train ballet dancers for companies in New York and throughout the world. After arriving in America, Balanchine‟s influence on ballet in this country was enormous, earning himself the title as the “Father of American Ballet.” His contributions so remarkable, ballet schools to this day, continue to revere his name and teach his principles. Don McDonagh, dance critic for the New York Times, boldly stated that, “George Balanchine is the single most powerful artistic force in twentieth-century ballet” (1). He „abstracted‟ ballet, which had never been done before. Balanchine believed the dancers should tell the story; therefore, the plot was left to the interpretation of the audience. His choreographic

Alius works proved that ballets could tell stories without the aid of thick librettos as in the early days of ballet history (McDonagh 13). In 1948, Balanchine worked with Lincoln Kirstein, the man who initially invited him to come to the United States, to form the “New York City Ballet.” It was with this company that


Balanchine spent the rest of his life with as artistic director. His amazing talent was showcased in over 465 ballets that he created throughout his lifetime. Truly Balanchine‟s influence on American ballet has been astounding as his legacy continues. His ideals are cherished among the New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet, and still practiced at these institutions. The words of the U.S. News and World Report are accurate when they observed, “[Balanchine] has made American dance the most advanced and richest in choreographic development in the world today" (NY Choreographic Institute School of American Ballet 1). Just as George Balanchine work lives on today, there are hints of those from the earliest days of ballet and traces of their traditions in latter days. Similar to the time of King Louis XIV, when he would perform the main role acquiring all attention from the audience, the premier danseur was established and continues today. Other practices from ballet in the past have continued to be a part of present ballet. For example, technique has risen to a higher level of virtuosity since the times of Claude Jean Balon and Pierre Beauchamp. Dancers continue to strive to jump higher while making it look effortless, complete more pirouettes, and find deep meaning within the dances. So much of what is practiced today can be traced back to the early days of ballet when males had complete dominance over this art form. Among the influential male contributors who have been mentioned, there are countless others who have helped pave the path for the growth of ballet. What seems to be very much of a female hobby and interest today, surely would not exist without the help of many key men in



art‟s history. One cannot deny the importance of male influence in the development of ballet. As time continues to progress, it is important to review the past and realize those shoulders upon which the arts enjoyed today are built upon. Without the strong support and passion for the ballet from many great male leaders and performers of the past, ballet would not have progressed to its present state of respect and tradition. May the passionate founders, leaders, and ambassadors of ballet in the past not be overlooked for their invaluable support and contribution to the art form that is now available for both men and women alike to enjoy today.

Alius Works Cited


Author Unknown. “Jean-Georges Noverre." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2011. Denham, Sergei. “Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929.” Russian Ballet History. Russian Ballet History Collection. 2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2011 Homans, Jennifer. “Apollo’s Angels.” New York: Random House, Inc. 2010. Print. Kassing, Gayle. “History of Dance: An Interactive Arts Approach.” Illinois: Human Kinetics. 2007. Print. Lynham, Deryck. “The Chevalier Noverre.” London: Sylvan Press Ltd. 1950. Print. McDonagh, Don. “George Balanchine.” Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers. 1983. Print. New York Choreographic Institute School of American Ballet. “George Balanchine.” New York City Ballet. New York City Ballet. 1998-2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2011 Shearman, John. “Catherine de' Medici's Patronage of the Arts.” Mannerism and Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation Inc. 14 Feb 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2011 Steingrad, Elena. “Biography.” The Sun King. N.p. 2000. Web. 23 Nov. 2011 Volpi, Anna. “A Tuscan Queen of France.” Caterina de’ Medici. Anna Maria Volpi. 2003. Web. 23 Nov. 2011 Yiannis. “History of Ballet.” Dancing Online. n.p. n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2011

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