The Modern Ballet Renaissance

Russian Ballet

The renaissance in romantic ballet began in Russia after 1875. The Russian Imperial School of Ballet had been founded in 1738. During the early 19th cent. the Imperial Theatre housed more than 40 ballet productions staged by the celebrated Swedish master Charles Didelot. Marius Petipa, who created a powerful sense of unity by rigorously training his corps de ballet as had not been done before, indicated in his choreography the direction of intensified romantic drama that the newly revived art was to take. Petipa contributed many of the classic ballets still considered to be the greatest expressions of the form, including Don Quixote, La Bayadère, The Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, Harlequinade, and restagings of Giselle, Coppélia, La Sylphide, and, with Lev Ivanov, Swan Lake.

In 1909 the celebrated impresario Sergei Diaghilev took his Russian company to Paris, and for 20 years it dominated the world of dance, displaying the creative talents of such choreographers and dancers as Michel Fokine, Léonide Massine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Bronislava Nijinska, Anna Pavlova, and George Balanchine. The brilliant performances by Nijinsky also helped to reemphasize the importance of the male dancer. After Diaghilev's death in 1929, offshoots were formed by René Blum and Col. W. de Basil, which kept the Diaghilev tradition alive during the 1930s. The company merged with Blum and de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which nurtured the talents of Alexandra Danilova, André Eglevsky, and Igor Youskevitch.

Russian dancing has been maintained at the highest level of excellence to the present day. Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, which brought fame to Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, and V. M. Gordeyev, and the Kirov Ballet (since 1991 the St. Petersburg Maryinsky Ballet), whose dancers have included Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, are the two foremost Russian companies and are ranked among the finest in the world.

British Ballet

In England around 1918, Enrico Cecchetti, who had taught many great dancers including Pavlova, Nijinsky, Massine, and Danilova, set down his method of training (which is still in practice) in collaboration with Cyril Beaumont, proprietor of "Under the Sign of the Harlequin," a world-famous bookstore specializing in the dance. The Cecchetti Society was founded in 1922 to preserve and protect that system.

In 1930 Marie Rambert founded the Ballet Club, the first permanent ballet school and company in England. A year later Ninette de Valois established what became the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet). This company has drawn international attention to the work of Alicia Markova, Anton Dolin, Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Rudolf Nureyev, Antoinette Sibley, Svetlana Beriosova, and Anthony Dowell. Nureyev, both a choreographer and a dancer, was instrumental in moving beyond the changes wrought by Nijinsky and altering the traditional supportive role of the male dancer to a far more significant, dynamic, and athletic place in the ballet; many other contemporary choreographers have similarly given their male dancers a more flamboyant showcase.

American Ballet

In the United States, Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg founded the American Ballet company in 1934. Under the direction of George Balanchine, its chief choreographer, the company established the first major school of ballet in the country, developed the talents of many notable American dancers (including Maria Tallchief, Todd Bolender, Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Jacques d'Amboise, Arthur Mitchell, and Edward Villella), and influenced enormously the evolution of an American ballet style as parent company to the New York City Ballet (founded 1948), one of the world's outstanding companies. Other celebrated choreographers who created ballets for the New York City Ballet are Eugene Loring, Jerome Robbins, and Peter Martins.

The other major American company, the American Ballet Theatre (formerly the Ballet Theatre), was founded in 1939 as an offshoot of the smaller Mordkin Ballet. The company's principal dancers have included Lucia Chase, Anton Dolin, Nora Kaye, Alicia Alonso, Michael Kidd, Scott Douglas, Royes Fernandez, Sallie Wilson, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, performing in works designed for them by Michel Fokine, Léonide Massine, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd, Agnes de Mille, Herbert Ross, Eugene Loring, Glen Tetley, Twyla Tharp, and many others. Through numerous tours both the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre have earned international reputations of a high order. Other American companies of note include the Joffrey Ballet (founded 1956) and the Dance Theatre of Harlem (founded 1970). In addition to these, there are many active regional ballet companies throughout the United States.

Using traditional formal training and movement, American choreographers have designed a new sort of pure, abstract ballet, far less dependent on literary plot, often using modern rock and electronic music, and have developed greatly simplified decor and costuming (e.g., Balanchine's Agon, Robert Joffrey's Astarte, and Glen Tetley's Chronochromie ). Many modern choreographers have also designed dances for stage and film musicals (e.g., Jerome Robbins's West Side Story and Agnes de Mille's Oklahoma! ). In the late 20th cent. ballet was increasingly receptive to techniques and music from many dance forms. It grew in popularity, international touring expanded, and, particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union, international exchange was encouraged.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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