Ballet as a performance dance has evolved throughout centuries and is still widely appreciated for its technical qualities and its choreographically beautiful form. Born from the lavish Italian and French courts of the Renaissance period, it has serve to be an integral social skill for nobilities, a political tool, and ultimately to entertain. This professional art form in its infancy was very different from the modern perception of ballet. During the 16th and 17th century, ballet was the language of elegance, a display of the absolute brilliance and divine right of monarchs, and a creation from the lavish entertainments of the European courts.
An example of such display was Le Ballet Des Polonais in 1573. The event marked the end of curtailed courts functions that lasted for months following the massacre of St Bartholomew, caused by the feud between Protestants and Catholics. The French Queen consort, Catherine de Medici celebrated the inauguration of her son Henri de Anjou being the King of Poland with the dance performance of Le Ballet Des Polonais. The performance used allegories that praise the Queen mother, Catherine. Court dancing was an important social skill for dignitaries and nobilities in that period (Kirstein 50). One could see that ballet was used for grand celebrations, aimed at entertaining the royalties and not seen as an autonomous art.
Ballet has also been used politically to legitimize several French monarchs on their divine right to rule and conquest. King Louis XIV was such a monarch, putting on the personage as Roi Soliel, Sun King; he became identified with the Olympians (Kirstein 74). Assuming the central role in Le Ballet Royal de la Nuit of 1653, King Louis XIV displayed his magnificence in dancing. Being the Roi Soliel, he identified himself with Caesar and Pharaoh of past glories, whom the formal has been previously associated with the sun and the latter often being titled as Ra, Re, or Roi; thus politically asserting firmly his majesty through ballet. King Louis XIV also held several court festivities at Versailles that spread the elegance of French ballet throughout Europe.
Ballet being developed during the 16th century, it is no marvel that the plots in most of the court performances are dominated by Greek Mythology and heroes. Set in the Renaissance period, Europe experienced a revival of Greek culture, which caused patrons to have the taste for such myths.
In contrast with 16th and 17th century ballets, modern dance may not need a narrative for its production, for example Frederick Ashton's Enigma Variations of 1968 (Kirstein 242). This ballet performance was choreographed with recognition of the composer Sir Edward Elgar's musical scores. The ballet was void of the fantastic myths that dominated for three centuries; however it was a display of fourteen variations of the theme, enigma. With the rise on Agonism in the late 1950s, modern viewers seek more on the craft of the performer. Viewers appreciate more on conceptual ideas behind the expressive gestures of ballet. In the constant search for novelty resulted from the modern cult of contest cause by globalization, choreographers had experimented much on ballet. In contemporary ballet pioneered by George Balanchine, ballerinas are more impersonal, compulsive and idiosyncratic than melodic and natural as in the past. It stresses on bare strength and the execution of beautiful yet extreme movements that violates anatomy.
Ballet has ceased to be a political tool in displaying the splendour and might of ruling powers. Long beyond are the days where ballet was an integral skill for socializing in the lavish courts of feudal Lords. In modern culture, hip hop dancing rule the high society clubs. However Ballet continues to entertain patrons and has evolved into a serious and autonomous art form.
- Kirstein, Lincoln. Four Centuries of Ballet Fifty Masterworks. Canada: General Publishing Company, Ltd, 1970. Print.