Thursday, December 25, 2008
Ballet: A brief history of the Ballet d'action and the ballet soloist
Ballet d'action was the name given to dance without masks. English dance master, John Weaver (1673-1760) was thought to have choreographed the first performance in 1717 i.e. a ballet with no spoken words.
Ballet d'action might well have died with Weaver had it not been for Italian, Gaspero Angiolili, (1731-1803), and the French-Swiss Jean Georges Noverre, (1727-1810). Both pursued with the ballet d'action and ballets were performed on stage with female dancers. At first the audiences were ill at ease but gradually came accept them and in doing so emerged the star dancer, which was usually a danseuse. By the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries women were becoming more accepted. By this time the centre of dance had moved from Italy to France. New steps were introduced by choreographers to express gesture as dancing became more creative and personal. Performers would add steps and gestures of their own as the 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.
Other favourites soon followed, Mademoiselle Subligny and Françoise Prévost became firm favourites, albeit their performances were severely limited by their costumes. By 1720 two further rivals had appeared Marie Salle , (1707-1756) & Marie Ann Cupis de Camargo (1710-1770).
Marie raised her hemline to show her footwork and she was considered so spectacular to be compared to male dancers. Marie Salle became famous for her ability to portray character and ability to interact dramatically with her partner.
de Carmargo, or La Carmargo as she was known, pursued pure dance. In the solo, she concentrated on the jumps and developed the "beating" steps, or batterie. According to Wilson, Madame Camargo had small feet and her small shoes became the vogue of court. Her shoemaker became incredibly popular. Both La Carmargo and Salle contributed to the modern ballerina's dress by performing in shorter skirts. These were just barely above the ankle. As a precaution the ballerinas had to wear calcons de precaution, so the audience would not see anything inappropriate.
About 1730, danse haute superseded danse basse and dancers begin to leap, hop and jump.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 the flashy new steps which previously had never been performed, (entrechat quatre and cabriole). As the eighteenth century progressed, more women dancers took part.
Subsequent introduction of new moves further increased the lexicon of ballet. Mademoiselle Lyonnais introduced gargoulliades and Fraulin Heinel dazzled Europe with her multiple pirouettes on demi pointe.