Ballet started out as a form of dance that was practiced in the French courts in the 16th and 17th century - a moment of entertainment led by both the king and queen. From its place of origin, we can tell what type of dance it must have been - dignified in steps, emphasis in grace and elegance, grand costumes and sets. It was not an emotional form of art, clearly seen by the rigidity in the steps also known as the "horizontal" concept of the dance. However, in today's 20th century context, we see how the steps in ballet have changed. Steps in the dance do not only exude grandness and elegance but the agility and strength of each dancer. Contemporary ballet dancers today allow a greater space for movement and not necessarily adhere to the strict lines of past ballet - which would not have been condoned in the past. The energy that is portrayed by ballet dancers today allows the audience to feed off it, and understand the story (plot, or without) that unfolds in front of their eyes.
Ballet in the 16th and 17th century also expected dancers involved to wear grand masks. In that sense, there was no expressions portrayed to the audience. One would feel rather intimidated to be in the presence of this dance - it did not do justice to the emotions a human being could truly portray. However, back in the 16th and 17th century, that was not the main aim of the dance - portrayal of the human emotions through dance. It was a mode of grand entertainment for and with the King and Queen. Ballet was a form of so-called 'distraction' from animosity that could stir up against the King. However, upon the reading of the Two Letters on Dancing by Jean Georges Noverre, one is able to see that some were agitated by the idea of wearing masks, big head-dresses and tight outfits that allowed no breathing space. True enough, these things allowed for the execution of a grand performance, but there was more to a dance than merely executing steps. When one uses the body as a medium of expression, these expressions should not be pinned down by the weight of sideline distractions - such as the masks and whatnots. That is exactly what the modern dance ballet has freed itself from. Today's ballet dancers can be seen in nothing too spectacular - just a simple black and white outfit - that does not hinder the movement of the dancers. Masks are no longer worn in ballet performances, as the expressions on the dancers' face is paid attention to.
The subject matter of ballet performances have also undergone changes. Ballet used to be a dance that glorified the gods and showed Greek myths where the dance revolved around. However, today there are variations in subject matter of the dance. Once in a while, one sees the romance story - which is rather self explanatory. Other times, one sees the noble savage as the hero of the story - one who is not necessarily educated, or runs in the elite circle of society but, has values that enables him to seize victory at the end of the day. Ballets today also require no plot or story whatsoever. Some are just an exhibition of movements that are accompanied by the music. Interpretations are left wide open for each audience to make. There are hardly any boundaries, in comparison to the ballet that started in the 16th and 17th century France.