Monday, September 17, 2007

Ballet pumps are the groove: the sexy shoes

The Italian word, ballareto, meaning to dance gave English the word ballet. The dance form describes classic, formalised solo or ensemble dancing, of a disciplined, dramatic nature performed to music. Foreshadowed in mummeries and masquerades, it emerged as a distinct form in Italy before the 16th cent. The first ballet was a combination of dance, decor, and special effects and performed in 1581 at the French court of Catherine de'Medici. Until 1681 court ballets were danced by males only and incorporated opera and drama. In 1708 the first ballet for public performance marked the appearance of a separate art form. Choreographic notation came into being and mythological themes were explored. Italian influence brought elevated and less horizontal movement, and Pierre Beauchamps established the five basic foot positions. Marie Camargo introduced a shortened skirt, tights, and the first ballet slippers, allowing great freedom of movement. Her rival, Marie Sallé (the first female choreographer), wore a liberating, Grecian-style costume. The ballet d'action, was developed circa 1760 by Jean Georges Noverre and told a story through movement and facial expression. Modern ballet technique, stressing the turned-out leg and resulting variety of movement, was set down in 1820 by Carlo Blasis. With La Sylphide (1832) the romantic period began. Brilliant choreography emphasised the beauty and virtuosity of the prima ballerina wheras the male dancer functioned only as her partner until the 20th century, when virtuoso male dancing was revived. Conflicts of reality and illusion, flesh and spirit were revealed in romantic love stories and fairy tales. Under the pressure of naturalism in the theatre, ballet declined through the mid 19th century but after 1875 a renaissance in romantic ballet began in Russia, where Marius Petipa and other European masters created many of the great standard ballets, like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. In 1909 the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev brought his Ballets Russes to Paris. In the following 20 years the Russian style, with the revolutionary music of composers like Stravinsky and modified by the modern dance influences of Isadora Duncan and others, brought the ballet renaissance to Europe and America. Paris, London, and New York City became major centres. Today Russian and English ballet continues to exemplify storytelling and lavish production. American ballet, under the influence of George Balanchine, displays an opposing tendency toward abstraction in theme and simplicity in design. Foot binding was known to take place in both the French and Italian Courts, practised by courtesans keen to attract the attention of the regent. Ballet shoes are thought, by some, to be an historic remnant of this practice. The plain seamless pump started life as a heel-less shoe which was a slip on. Originally the shoe was held onto the foot without a fastening, although later a wrap around strap was used. In the UK the ballet pump was known as a court shoe, with reference to court dancing. By the nineteenth century the slip on pump had become a sophisticated form of footwear, worn by both men and women. Low fronted pumps were worn deliberately to tantalise all by exposing suggestive toe cleavage. When dandy Count D'Orsay introduced a pump style which was low cut on the sides to expose the curve of the long arch and the sinuous movements of the foot the shoe took on extra sensual components.

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