History of Ballet Series; Volume 1

With our forty-third season getting underway, those of us at California Ballet Company have been working hard to bring only the finest ballet productions to the stage for you, our friends, fans,and family. Unfortunately that means our blog has gone a little untended. We apologize for the unseemly delay between blog posts.


On Saturday, October 23rd, California Ballet will officially begin the new season with Ballet Bites – A Taste of Transylvania. Featured on the  program is Charles Bennett’s Dracula. This particular ballet was originally created for and set on the California Ballet Company, but has since found new homes in ballet companies across the U.S.

If you haven’t had a chance to see this spine-tingling ballet, now’s the time! Don’t miss your opportunity to see Ballet Bites in the intimate setting of California Ballet’s Theatre West. For more info on tickets and group sales, please call the California Ballet Ticketing Office at 858-560-6741.

In case you might have forgotten:

A long time ago we began our History of Ballet Series. We covered nearly all of the history of this fine art, but never actually wrote the final installment. Well the final leg of ballet’s history is just around the corner, but we thought we’d repost the series, starting from the beginning, as a recap for those who were following us before, and to catch up some of you newcomers.

So, without further ado. . .

Picture this:


You are dressed to the nines. The men are clean-shaven and handsome in their suits, ties, and freshly polished shoes. The women are ravishing in their well-coiffed hairstyles and elegant evening wear. There is an air of excitement as everyone takes their seats and start to riffle through their programs.



Suddenly there is a cacophony of strings and brass rising from the orchestra pit that slowly comes into harmony as the instruments synchronize their tuning. The lights dim, the conductor takes his place to the polite applause of the audience, and the curtain lifts.




You are at the Ballet! If you’re reading this Blog, you’ve most likely been there before. We all enjoy theater, we all love a good ballet. We might know a little about where any particular ballet came from, who choreographed it, who composed the music. But, have you ever stopped to think about where Western dance came from? What are the roots of this art form we love so much?

The roots for much of contemporary performance dance can be found in Ballet. This dance style has informed much of what we see onstage today, from modern dance to musical theater. Turns, jumps, and even the way a person carries him or herself has all been influenced by Ballet. But, Ballet didn’t just spring into being, so how did it develop?

The origins of this art can be found in the social dances of European Royal Courts. During the Renaissance, instruction of social behavior was considered to be of equal importance to instruction of mathematics, reading, the sciences, history – the subjects we think of when we think of schooling today. Included amongst those social interactions was the art of dancing.




With dance being such and important part of court interactions, most nobles employed a specialized instructor, a Dance Master, to give them daily instruction in court dance. These Dance Masters were considered experts on proper social behavior, and would instruct the Nobles on such things as how to dress properly, how to bow correctly, how to handle one’s gloves, fans, or swords with ease, how to properly carry oneself. These things were all requisites for advancement within the courtly circles, and a single fumble could set a nobleman or noblewoman back years in their advancement. This attention to personal deportment may still be seen in ballet dancers today – how they stand, walk, carry themselves in a lifted position.

Most people think of France when speaking of the origin of Ballet. The truth is, Ballet’s earliest roots can actually be found in the Royal Courts of Italy! In Renaissance Italy, court pageantry was an important and highly utilized way for Nobles to display their sophistication and wealth in the courts. Weddings and festivals were filled with these courtly diversions, and soon the social dances of the court were elevated to the level of performance art.

But, if Ballet started in Italy, then how did it find itself in France, why are all the dance terms in French?


 catherinedemedici Catherine de Medici

This can be attributed to the marriage of the Italian noblewoman, Catherine de Medici to Henri, duc de’Orleans, later the King of France. Catherine had a penchant for court dance and pageantry, one which she brought with her to the French courts. Under her direction, patronage, and financing, the court pageantry reached new levels.



Catherine would produce costly court festivals that lasted several days. The Nobles would be entertained by fireworks, water shows, banquets, and special performances comprised of music, verse, dance, and decor. These would come to be known as ballet de cour, or court ballet. These early court ballets would have looked nothing like what we would expect to see at a Tchaikovsky Ballet. Tutus, pointe shoes, and tights hadn’t even been dreamt up, and the stylized choreography was yet to be created. At this point in time, the choreography was comprised of steps pulled from court social dance, and in many cases the dance was audience participatory, with the Nobles joining in the dancing at the end!

These divertissements would remain fashionable from the mid-1500’s to the mid 1600’s. By the middle of the 17th century, however, they would be abandoned in England as the monarchy was overthrown by the Commonwealth, and in Italy as the Royal Court became more interested in the development of Opera. It was France that would pick up the torch and carry ballet onto it’s  next phase of development, under the stewardship of King Louis the XIV!

But that’s a tale for another time. Come back for our next blog entry to find our how King Louis the XIV of France changed the face of dance in the Western world forever!



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