Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ballet :The origins of En Pointe

As ballet entered the nineteenth century it was in a state of transition, known as the pre-romantic phase. During this time male dancers reached their peak and ballerinas first started dancing on the very tips of their toes, or en pointe.

The earliest record of dancing en pointe is a lithograph of Fanny Bias en pointe (1821) by Jean-Frédéric Maximilien de Waldeck (1766 – 1875). It is possible, Genevieve Gosselin was en pointe in 1815 but there is no photographic evidence to support this.

The danseuse traditionally credited with being the first dancer to dance en pointe was the Italian, Marie Taglioni, (1804-1884), and records support she was en pointe when she was eighteen years old. In 1832 her father choreographed La Sylphide, for her to perform. Her bell shaped dress with a fitted and boned bodice became the forerunner on which the Romantic tutu was based fifty years later.

In the Romantic Era of the nineteenth century, ballet stories told of fairies, sylphs, and other unreal creatures that tempted humans from their real lives into fantasies of other-worldly happiness. Subsequently emphasis on vertical posture and airborne movement became critical as ballerinas expressed their ethereal characters by dancing on the tips of their toes. Although they wore shoes, the danseuse would imagine they were barefoot and perform as if they themselves could fly. Dancers appeared to move with elongated legs and feet with only the most tenuous connection to the ground. With the reasonably new skill of dancing en pointe improving, the ballerinas ruled the Romantic era and became the objects of public adulation. From then Romantic Period onwards pointe dancing became a tradition of ballet which was considered essential to storytelling. In the telling of supernatural stories, the danseuse's dancing had to convey supernatural weightlessness, to make the character more convincing. As a fairy or a sylph, the ballerina used her pointes to flit as if by magic about the stage.

The Romanic Age was transfixed with beauty, passion, with natural and supernatural things and the power of love. The great ballets of the time were always passionate but tragic encounters between a mortal, terrestrial man and supernatural female. The female characters were usually inhabitant of the supernatural world and always depicted, as a woman not bound to the earth, so dainty she could balance on a flower petal. In their less ornate costumes the feminine purity and virtue could be seen. The effectiveness of rising on points underlined the ethereal lightness and other worldly grace. Pointe dancing was not another virtuosic feat like entrechat quatre. Instead it was a deliberate means of enhancing the female role.

Lincoln Kirstein referred to pointe dancing as "the speech of the inexpressible." The dominance of women was partly due to changes in social attitude towards women and partly to a technical invention, the pointe shoe. The heeled shoe was slowly replaced by heelless directoire slippers and the device of the invisible supporting wires enabled dancers to seem to float across the stage.

In the 1770s, Anne Heinel was described as 'on stilts like tip toe' She would stuff the toe of her slipper with cotton wool. The now stiffened toe box allowed the ballerina to appear to be airborne and when combined with her leaps and poses completed the mirage.

By the middle of the century the fires of romantic ballet had begun to pass in London and Paris. What started as an expressive art form began to turn into a variety of vaudeville, a convenient and agreeable excuse for the display of feminine charm. According to Bland (1968) shows became mass voyeurism full of sensuality and girlie show sensibility. Till the turn of the next century Russia became the dance centre of the western world.

Reviewed 15/01/2016

1 comment:

Ballet said...

When purchasing Ballet shoes keep in mind that leather last longer than canvas, if you do purchase the shoes in canvas you will need to replace them more often. Another decision that must be made for ballet flat shoes is the type of closure on them. When taking ballet classes the teacher or instructor might have color, type and brand requirements, so check before purchasing.