Twentieth Century Ballet

Background Information

In order to better understand ballet’s progression and transformation into more modern elements, it is important to first look at its origin. Contrary to popular misconceptions, ballet is actually French, not Russian. All of the ballet moves are French words with an English translation that is equivalent to the movement that takes place. For example, one of the most basic moves is the plié, translated as “to bend” in which the dancer bends his or her knees. Ballet originated in the French courts of King Louis XIV, and it was a dance invented merely for the sake of pleasing royals. There were some Italian influences as well (Anderson 29).

Ballet’s popularity increased during the eighteenth century but did not become really popular in Russia until the nineteenth century although the first professional dance school did open in St. Petersburg in 1738; directors of companies of state-supported theaters were appointed by the tsar as Imperial servants (Leach and Borovsky 182). When introduced to Russia, ballet was very foreign, a new form of theater combining dance and dramatic mime to form a story. The essential techniques were French, but because Russia already had its traditional dances, a Russian “spin” was put on the French techniques, combined with Italian tricks, making ballet that was distinctly Russian. There were many foreign ballet masters, both French and Italian, in Russia, and it was not until the twentieth century that Russian choreographers rose to success. During this time, foreign dancers typically made more than native Russians, despite their talent, similar to the prominence of foreign ballet masters (Leach and Borovsky 184).