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IntroductionIntroduction
Origins of BalletOrigins of Ballet
Dance in the 18th CenturyDance in the 18th Century 
Romantic Ballet 
Classical BalletClassical Ballet
20th Century Revolution20th Century Revolution 
The Establishment of British BalletThe Establishment of British Ballet 
Marie Taglioni in La Sylphide
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Marie Taglioni in La Sylphide

In the early 19th century, the Age of Reason gave way to the age of the imagination and the Romantic Movement . Young artists, writers, poets and dancers wanted the freedom to express themselves in a spontaneous and individual way. Rejecting the classical ideas of order, harmony and balance they turned to nature as a source of inspiration. As people left the countryside and agriculture for the growing urban industries and factory work, the Romantic vision was partly a plea for a return to a ‘natural’ life, and partly escapism.

Although most ballets were created by men, the male dancer was no longer an equal star. In the following decades dance became an unacceptable career for a man. Male roles were often taken by women dressing en travestie . Men only appeared in character roles.

Fanny Elssler
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Fanny Elssler

Fanny Elssler's 'Shadow Dance'
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Fanny Elssler's 'Shadow Dance'

Ballerinas

By the 1840s women had become the great ballet stars, and ballerinas wore the familiar bell shaped dress with cap sleeves, low cut bodice and long skirts. If you look at fashion plates of the period you can see that their costumes developed from fashionable dress of the time. Ballerinas also learned the art of dancing on the very tips of their toes, known as pointe work. There were no stiffened pointe shoes and dancers darned the toes of their slippers to give additional support.

A Spanish Dance
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A Spanish Dance

Lola Montez
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Lola Montez

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The Cult of the BallerinaThe Cult of the Ballerina

 
     

Age of Reason

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'The Age of Reason' or 'Enlightenment' was an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries which examined the world through scientific observation and rational argument. This was in contrast to the unquestioning acceptance of religious doctrine expected in the past, and to the interest in imagination and inspiration that characterised the 19th century Romantic movement.

Romantic Movement

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The Romantic movement of the 19th century rejected the idea of a rationally ordered universe put forward by the Age of Reason. Instead it focussed on the experience of the self: emotion, inspiration and imagination. The world was something to be experienced by the individual rather than explained and defined. Exotic foreign lands and the natural world were popular themes in literature and poetry.

En travestie

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A theatrical term for a female performer in a male role. Certain roles in opera and drama are written for women to play men. In dance, the decline of the male dancer in France and England in the late 19th century and early 20th century, led to girls appearing in the male roles, most famously as Franz in Coppelia. Today it is rarely seen except in pantomime.

Fashion plates

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Illustrations of fashionable dress have been produced since the 17th century. Originally they were simple sketches used by professionals in the clothing industry but by the end of the 18th century they were prints to show women and men the fashionable dress of the moment. They were superseded by the mass produced illustrated periodicals at the end of the 19th century.