Although Your Majesty did establish the first formal ballet school, Académie Royale de Danse, in the early eighteenth century there were no independent ballet. Ballet existed only as a physical and visual part of operas and court dance, and was promoted mostly thanks to Your Majesty’s love for dancing. It could be performed also as divertimento, an entertaining dance scenes continuing the action of an opera. The second form of divertimento involving ballet was a sequence of dance scenes, linked either between themselves by a common plot, or to the main event, for example, when an opera included a ball or a wedding, ballet could be used to depict that event within the plot. Often ballet was chosen to stage interludes, dance scenes with independent plot, which had virtually nothing to do with the main plot. Sometimes ballet or pantomime briefly repeated the content of the recently displayed opera and thus served somewhat a synopsis for them; today we have this kind of scenes in TV series after commercial breaks. Only in the sixties of the eighteenth century ballet had finally grown into an independent genre and became a multiple-act performance.
The male and female dancers of that time, who are quite familiar to Your Majesty, would seem to us at least strange. In 2017 prima-ballerinas are required to have a high step, flawless turnout, high jump, perfect flexibility and stretching abilities, agility in the execution of pirouettes, tours and jeté. Meanwhile, the principal dancers of the Paris Opera during Your Majesty’s times were first and foremost expected to show unprecedented grace. They were valued for ability to perform graceful postures and expressive gestures, to do beautiful bows and curtsies. They had their own hopping techniques based on low jumps with a number of batteries – entrechat royale, entrechat trois, entrechat quatre. In eighteenth century almost every courtier could compete with professional dancers as children of noble families were being taught complex techniques of ballroom dancing and fencing from the very childhood; moreover, there was not much difference between the ballroom and theater dances. On the contrary, nowadays ballet is an elitist dance; it is even closer to gymnastics rather than to dancing. In 2017 ballet is an expensive and physically demanding art.
In the eighteenth century quick, complex and dynamic dance was impossible because of the costumes. They were bulky and clumsy, plus wigs, hats with feathers, and masks made the situation even worse. In addition to this, medicine and pharmacology were way, way behind those of twenty first century, so modern dancers can afford better nutrition and thus physical fitness, and are not afraid of injuries. In the eighteenth century even a minor sprain was capable of ending a promising career.
The reforms in ballet were first practiced at smaller theaters, where many young dancers and choreographers started their careers to become recognized masters later. This was the path taken by John Weaver in London, Franz Hilverding in Vienna, and Jean-Georges Noverre in Paris.
Weaver, who is now generally considered to be among the coryphaei of English ballet, was a proponent of ballet performances based on the effective pantomime, of plays requiring great passion, and of the division of stage dance from the ballroom dance. He, believing that dance should be built on the knowledge of the human body, published in 1721 his work “Anatomical and mechanical lectures upon dancing”, which was an attempt to apply scientific approach to choreography (“John Weaver | British Dancer”).
Eventually a new ballet costume emerged, as the pomp and splendor of the traditional one were at the cost of the quality and spectacularity of the dance. The ornamented masks that hid the expressions of the dancer’s face were removed, dancers got rid of the ridiculous bulky wigs and stopped portraying pastoral herders in helmets with plumes. Nonetheless, the masks lasted for a long time on the ballet stage, and are used even nowadays for particular spectacles.
These changes were the manifestations of ballet d’action, developed by Noverre, Hilferding, and other ballet masters of the time (Anderson 1-5). Ballet d’action was supposed to turn ballet into an independent art of conveying a theatrical message through integral mixture of music, natural movements (as compared to the classic ballet; they were not absolutely natural, obviously), facial expressions and compositions on the stage (Anderson 1-5).
The famous Marie Camargo was the first to shorten the skirt and abandon high heels (“Marie Camargo | French Ballerina”). Later the heelless shoes were introduced. This resulted in improved toe technique and the invention of pointe, a special ballet shoes with a rigid sock thanks to which the dance has acquired the character of flight. By the end of the eighteenth century ballet costume under the influence of fashion, inspired by imitation of antiquity, became much lighter and looser, which largely contributes to the rapid development of the art of dance.
Nowadays ballet has almost equal proportion of male and female dancers, light pointes and skin-tight costumes, dynamic dances, based on both traditional ballet movements and movements from gymnastics, martial arts, folklore movements and other dances. There are different types of stories in ballet, they can represent drama, comedy, improvisation, or even a simple synthesis of music and movement. There is no pannier, though tutus managed to survive. The subtlety of emotions is conveyed not through graceful little movements, but through combinations of statics and dynamics, light and darkness, solo or pair dance.
I am sure, Your Majesty, that You would like our ballet, the insane dedication of modern dancers and the proximity to perfection they reach on the stage. We would be honored by Your visit, therefore we are looking forward to Your interest, hoping that Your passion for dancing is still there,
The people of 2017