Ballet in Western Europe.

Essay by Cassie14University, Bachelor'sA, May 2003

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Foreshadowed in earlier mummeries and lavish masquerades, ballet emerged as a distinctive form in Italy before the 16th cent. The first ballet that combined movement, music, decor, and special effects was presented in France at the court of Catherine de' Medici in 1581. Organized by the violinist Balthasar de Beaujoyeux, it was entitled Le Ballet comique de la Reine. This production was the first ballet de cour, the ancestor of the modern ballet, which influenced the English court masque, a 16th-century entertainment with dance interludes. The first treatise on ballet dancing was the Orchésographie of Thoinot Arbeau (1588).

The 17th cent. saw the major development of ballet in France. At first a court entertainment, the simple entrées were extended c.1610 and joined together to form scenes, called divertissements, which culminated in a grand ballet. Louis XIV founded the Royal Ballet Academy (1661), the Royal Music Academy (1669), which became the Paris Opéra, and the first National Ballet School (1672).

All parts were performed by male dancers; boys in wigs and masks took the female roles.

The first ballet using trained women was The Triumph of Love (1681), with music by Lully. Ballet remained a court spectacle and included opera or drama until about 1708, when the first ballet was commissioned for public performance. Thereafter the form, infused with new ideas, developed as a separate art (although the court ballet continued its historic traditions). Choreographic notation came into being, and for the first time mythological themes were explored.

With the increased influence of the Italian school of ballet, movement became elevated and less horizontal, and the five classic positions of the feet, which form the base for the dancer's stance and movement, were established by Pierre Beauchamps. The costumes, which had been cumbersome with decoration, long skirts, and high heels (for...