Sunday, September 01, 2013

A brief history of ballet shoes (Part One)

Where did ballet come from?
The word ballet appeared to originate in 1416 Domenico di Piacenza wrote "On the Art of Dancing and Conducting Dances" (De Arte Saltandi ed Choreas Ducendi). He described the components of various dances and divided them into 12 movements i.e. nine natural and three artificial.

Domenico di Piacenza (circa 1400 – 1470)
He named four types of dance in accelerating tempi. These were the stately Basse danse; the Quadrilena; the Saltarello; and the vigorous bagpipe dance called the Piva. The Basse danse was the basis for many variations known as Balli. His use of the Italian word 'ballo' instead of 'danza' to describe the choreographyand hence his dances subsequently became known as baletti or balli, (singular: balletto). Ballet was used initially to describe theatrical dance.

Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro (William the Jew) (c. 1420 - c. 1484 ) was a fifteenth century dancing master who wrote a treatise on dancing called De pratica seu arte tripudii (On the Practice or Art of Dancing) around 1463, this is sometime called Trattato dell' Arte del Ballare and is not only is this one of the earliest written references to dancing choreography it was also written for professionals and amateurs to perform balletti at festive balls. When dancing became popular in theatre it was called intermezzos and performed between the acts of classical comedies, tragedies, or operas.

Renaissance Pageants
During the Renaissance (14th -17th c) there were huge pageants where dancers including members of the aristocracy and hired performers. These occasions were often used to impress the nobility of neighbouring states. During this era dancers wore "contemporary" court fashions. This meant full wigs and bloomers for men, with hard shoes and heavy long-skirted gowns for the women. Court spectacles had casts of hundreds and audiences numbering in the thousands. Today the language of ballet is French but originally it was Italian.

The Entrée
Some people consider the first ballet took place in 1489 at a banquet in Italy directed by Bergonzio di Botta. Each course of the meal was heralded with a dance called an "entree".

In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) designed an extravaganza to entertain the Duke of Milan. In keeping with his genius, the presentation was based on astronomy. The ancient Greek concept of the cosmic dance was incorporated into the Renaissance worldview. The motions of the dancers were understood to mirror the harmony and order to the celestial bodies. Dance was thought to establish order out of chaos and bring peace and harmony to those involved in the event, either as participants or spectators.

Ballet de court
When Catherine de Medici married the King of France (Henri II) in 1553 she introduced ballet de court to the Court of France. In Ballet de court the starring roles were performed by the highest figures of the land. At first these were usually masked extravaganzas with costumed courtiers, dancing. Initially the dances were complex, with elaborate floor patterns and step sequences.

Suitable attire
Although the technique required excellent balance and control, dress limited the possibilities of the movement. Shoes worn for early ballet were often specifically designed but usually followed current court fashion. This was both true for men and women. Men's fashion for long toed shoes hampered their ability to move freely, as did the fashion for long wide sleeved gowns. Hence arm and foot position became important. Women wearing heavy dresses were unable to develop their footwork. Flexible soles allowed for small springing steps, but the raised heels restricted the possibility of jumping. Eventually a codified vocabulary of steps emerged.

Ballet Comique de la Royne
Most historians believe the performance of the Ballet Comique de la Royne at the Palais du Petit Bourbon in Paris was the birth of ballet (1581). Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx staged the ballet in front of an audience of ten thousand people for Queen Louise of France. The drama (comique) contained a mixture of theatrical elements and lasted five hours.

Il Ballarino (1589)
Fabritio Caroso published Il Ballarino in 1581 after which time Italy became the world centre for ballet.

Orchesoraphie (1589)
In 1589 Thoinot Arbeau published 'Orchesoraphie' that set forth the dance steps and rhythms that became the ballet postures and movements in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Sun King (1638 – 1715)
Louis XIII appeared in La Douairiere de Billebahaut (1626) but his successor King Louis XIV loved dancing and starred in many court productions. He appeared in Ballet de la Nuit (1653) dressed as the sun. He wore high-heeled shoes with massive guilt sun buckles complete with rays. When Louis XIV became too old to participate he continued to patronize ballet and founded the Academie Royal de Danse (1661). Later this became the Paris Opera Ballet.

The foundation of ballet
Up until 1681 all female roles were danced by young men and many historians believe the reluctance to include female dancers was related to their heavy clothing. Feet were elegantly pointed outwards to show off buckles and coupled with arm gestures careful to avoid brushing the full sleeve became the foundation of classical ballet. Arm and foot position became important as codified vocabulary of steps emerged.

Pierre Beachamps (1636 - 1705)
He became the ballet master for Louis and is credited with the establishment of classical ballet's basic five positions. Beachamps stressed technical steps and movements as opposed to the sino-geometrical movements then in fashion. In 1681 he appeared as Louis XIV’s female partner in Lully’s ballet Le Triomphe de l’amour. He also devised a system of dance notation that, though never published, was used by his pupils, one of whom was Raoul Feuillet, author of one of the earliest published systems of dance notation. The 17th century court ballets were danced by males and only until 1681 and incorporated dance and drama.

Mind your ps and qs
The origins of 'minding your p & qs' is thought to originate when dance masters cautioned their pupils to mind their pieds (feet) and queues (tails of their wigs) when they took to the floor. As was the convention dancers greeted each other with a bow. To bow too low resulted in the embarrassment of losing your wig.

Start of professional dancing
Professional dancers started to appear in 1630 and by 1659 were well established. In 1672, Jean Baptiste Lully formed a dance academy within the Academie Royale de Musique. An ironic tragedy was Lully died in 1687, as a result of a self inflicted injury he received by accidentally stabbing his foot with his time marking stick during a performance of Te Deum (a Latin hymn of thanksgiving to God). The wound festered and the foot became gangrenous and Lully died from blood poisoning.

Opera Ballet
During the seventeenth century ballet was normally performed in the same productions as opera and was known as opera-ballet. Lully set the standard in the opera-ballet, and his audiences came to see the dancing as much as the music. After André Campra (1660 –1744) composed L'Europe Galante, (1697) and suggested making the dance sequences longer as well as shortening the skirts of the female dancers, ballet became increasingly popular.

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 –1764)
By 1735 when Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 –1764) put on an opera-ballet called, Les Indes Galantes, the dancers were definitely doing ballet, as the ballroom and ballet dance forms were now recognised as separate entities. The turning out the legs which had been originally to display the buckles of shoes become much more important in ballet, although it was still desirable in ballroom dancing. Now, ballet requires almost flat turnout and in ballroom turnout is not really necessary at all.

The importance of professional dancers
Professional dancing masters became an integral part of court life. Courtiers were trained in correct deportment and dancing from an early age. Dancing was used to political effect i.e. establishing the dominance of the French Court. The fashion for court entertainment in the French style spread across Europe. With the emergence of professional dancers, they influenced technique, and moved dance towards an expressive art form that was more accessible to a broad audience.

Choreographie (1700)
Raoul Auger Feuillet (1653–1709) published ‘Choreographie, ou l'art de decrire la danse’ in 1700. He recorded both conventions of stage and ballroom dancing and attempted to create a dance notation similar to music. Although his notation was never finalised and standardized, it remains the system still in use today. In 1713 the Paris Opera established its own dance school, which taught a technique based on Feuillet's writings. The word choreographie translated became choreography and is derived from the Greek khorea, (to dance), and graphein, (to write). By 1700 many of the words and movements common in today's ballet were already in use, including jete, sissone, chasse, entrechat, pirouette, and cabriole.

The rise of the merchant class
The developing mercantile class with capital to be spent on leisure pursuits enabled the art form to advance. More dance and less speech it made it more attractive to paying audiences. Choreographers adapted their works to the new theatres. Movement was now viewed in the frontal plane, which replaced floor pattern as the most visible spatial effect. Technically, the use of soft, flat shoes by professional dancers allowed them to explore a range of movement different from that used in court dances. Jumps replaced the small springing steps and elevation became more and more important.

Jean G Noverre ( 1727 – 1810)
Ballet master, Jean G Noverre is considered the creator of ballet d'action. His general dislike of the dress of dancers and belief they should not wear masks reinforced his commitment to write choreography based on character and situation rather than personal display. In 1727, he introduced ballet d'action which told a story through movement and facial expression. The first ballet without words was written by English dance master, John Weaver (1673-1760) in 1717. Maximillien Gardel (1741 - 1787) was the first to appear without his mask and wig but the Corps de ballet continued to use masks in grotesque roles until the end of the eighteenth century. At first the audiences were ill at ease at the change but gradually came accept them and in doing so emergence of the star dancer, which was usually a danseuse.

The soloist
As the centre of dance moved from Italy to France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries women becomes more accepted. By this time steps were introduced by choreographers to express gesture as dancing became more creative and personal. Performers added steps and gestures of their own as soloist began to emerge. Mademoiselle de Lafontaine (1665-1738) was the first recorded lady dancer at the Paris Opera (1681). Although very little was written about her, she was hailed as the "Queen of Dance" and very much admired for her elegance and style. When she retired she became a nun.

Marie Camargo (1710-70)
Italian influence brought elevated and less horizontal movement. At first ladies dancers wore heavy floor length costumes and heeled shoes. Marie Camargo (1710-70) was the first to cut her skirts wear ballet tights and also take the heel off of her ballet slippers. This combination allowed her greater freedom of movement. She was the first woman to execute the entrechat quatre.

Marie Sallé (1707 – 1756)
Her rival, Marie Sallé (the first female choreographer), wore a liberating, Grecian-style costume.

Fierce Rivalry
When danse haute superseded danse basse in 1730 dancers begin to leap, hop and jump. Clothing and costume were required to give the female dancer more freedom. Fierce rivalry existed and when Marie Salle appeared wearing more loosely fitting clothing and danced with her hair down, her rival Marie Ann Cupis de Camargo took the heel from her shoes and shortened the hem on her skirts to better perform entrechat quatre and cabriole. As a precaution ballerinas had to wear calcons de precaution, so the audience would not see anything inappropriate.

Step innovations
As the popularity of ballet grew more women took part with new moves. .Mademoiselle Lyonnais introduced gargouillades (double rond de jambe ) and Fräulein Heinel dazzled Europe with her multiple pirouettes on demi pointe.

French Revolution
With the French Revolution came a fashion revolution in ballet. Costumes were much lighter and women dancers wore light flowing dresses with a cut similar to the French Empire line. Both male and female dancers wore soft flexible heel less footwear. After the French Revolution (1787 - 1799), Italian dancer Salvatore Viganò (1769 – 1821) and his wife , Maria Medina, wore much lighter costumes with soft flexible ballet shoes. His wife wore light flowing dresses cut similar to the French Empire line. Salvatore Viganò is considered the father of a new kind of performance called "coreodramma" where the pantomime served the dance and the ensembles where very significant.

Carlo Blasis
Carlo Blasis (1797 – 1878) was an Italian dancer, choreographer and dance theoretician. He is well known for his very rigorous dance classes and insisted his students learn theories and definitions of dance steps. He trained all of Enrico Cecchetti's teachers and was influential in creating the Cecchetti method of ballet. Carlo Blasis published the technical manual Trait Elementaire et Pratique de la Danse, in 1820, which included drawings of dancers in nothing but shorts and ballet shoes.

Ballet Russes
The Empress Catherine of Russia (1762-1796) took the French ballet to St Petersburg and the Russian Monarchy established the St. Petersburg school in 1738. In Russia, opera houses were under the direct control of the Tsar and hence productions were paid from the Imperial purse. During this time dancers became part of the Imperial household. In 1909 the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev brought his Ballets Russes to Paris. A new dance company Ballet Russes was formed in 1909 by Sergei, (or Serge), Diaghilev, (1872-1929) and when Diaghilev brought Russian Ballet to western Europe decor costume and music were as important as the dance itself. To commemorate the opening of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris (1913), a performance of the Rite of Spring was interrupted by a riot. The agitated audience complained loudly about the barbarism of the music and erotic nature of the dancing. Followers of Russian born composer Igor Stravinsky retaliated and a full blown fight ensued. Impresario Sergei Diaghilev brought together some of the foremost artists of his time.

Marius Petipa (1855-1881)
A renaissance in romantic ballet arose in 1875 in Russia. Marius Petipa (1855-1881) developed and defined romantic ballet and created the core repertoire of the Russian ballet. Pepita perfected the full-length, evening-long story ballet that combined set dances with mimed scenes. His best-known works were The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and Swan Lake both set to commissioned scores by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky.

Stronger shoes
The significance of pointe dancing became inseparable with the depiction of the supernatural characters being depicted. Ballet shoemakers started to make harder shoes which Petipa made good use of. His complex 'pouncing' routines required the dancer to complete everything on pointes. This meant ballet shoes needed to be stronger. Harder shanks were introduced with reinforced toe boxes to make the platform bigger. New shoes allowed dancers to extend their repertoire to do more on pointe. As the new century began, people tired of Petipa's ideas and principles of ballet and looked for fresh ideas.

The Pre‐Romantic period
By the beginning of the 1800s dance vocabulary (codified steps and positions) were already in place. The Pre ‐ Romantic period is particularly noted for the introduction of point work.

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