Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ballet: On pointe - from spotting to pouncing

The Italian school was known for athleticism and dancers developed powerful calves and thighs. These techniques were developed by Italian ballet master and pedagogue, Enrico Cecchetti, He pushed the dancers to the limit in order to achieve dazzling virtuosic works. They developed 'spotting' (a technique involving turning multiple pirouettes) and to achieve this dancers required more stable shoes. Female ballerinas adopted a shorter dancing skirt or tutu.

In 1738, the Russian Monarchy established the St. Petersburg school which is the world's second oldest ballet academy. The Empress Catherine of Russia (1762-1796) took the French ballet to St Petersburg but it was the Italian, Marius Petipa (1855-1881) who developed and defined romantic ballet and created the core repertoire of the Russian ballet.

The Russians emphasised refinement and preserved the integrity of the ballet during the late 19th century. 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.

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. Prior to the Revolution, Russian Ballet reverted to reflect the Tsar’s superiority and presentations symbolised grandeur. This changed, and post-revolution People's Commissar for Enlightenment, allowed ballet as long as it was light and uplifting. At first through necessity and lack of talented dancer’s local folk dancers were introduced. This meant dancing styles were more robust and incorporated athletic style, especially for male dancers. Dancers needed stronger shoes and shoemakers made harder shoes which Petipa made good use of. His complex 'pouncing' routines required the dancer to complete everything on pointes.

The significance of pointe dancing became inseparable with the depiction of the supernatural characters being depicted. 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. By now the Russian ballet had surpassed the French ballet and many Russian dancers had become international stars.

The most notable ballerina of this time was Anna Pavlova, (1881-1931). She maintained the ideal of balancing on the smallest, pointiest tip, and it is report had her photographs retouched to remove some of the platform tip.

In 1907 Mikhail Folkine, (1880-1942), put on a Greek style ballet entitled Eunice, and made the dancers look like they were in bare feet by having toes painted on the dancers' shoes. Until then it was against the rules of the imperial theatre for performers to dance with bare feet or legs.

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 featuring Nijinsky, 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.

Reviewed 16/01/2106

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