Romantic Ballet History

The Romantic Movement of the early 1800s was where the romatic ballet helped change old ways of thinking and feeling of art in every form. Society had reached new ideas of equality and liberty due to the French revolution and industrial revolution. Due to this change of thinking people were discovering new ways of expressing themselves. The Romantics wanted less cold technique and rigid classicism and more warmth and feeling in their dancers.

The Romantic Movement affected all branches of art, writers, painters, musicians, dancers and choreographers were all inspired by the new way of societies thinking and great works of art came out of this period.

The significant change in Romantic ballet was that the ballet appealed more directly to the emotions of the audience, they achieved this through poetic and ethereal works. Supernatural themes were used as well as exotic and rustic folk scenes. Giselle is a good example of this, a folk dance in Act I and a supernatural theme, Willis Act II. A number of theatrical changes occurred also. The use of gas lights began at this stage as well as the use of pointe shoes, proscenium arches and curtains, realistic scenery and costumes. They started to dim the auditorium for performances and they shortened the skirts which then became the Romantic skirt that we know today.

In 1800 the center of the ballet world was still Paris, France and specifically the Paris Opera Ballet. The ballet was included in a full evening of opera entertainment. There were two famous ballerinas of this time who had different styles and were often in competition with each other. Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) was taught by her father Phillipe Taglioni and perfected her technique with a special ethereal quality and the ability to dance on pointe. Fanny Elssler (1810-1884) was an Austrian rival to Marie, she was more dramatic in style and a great dance actress. She was also the first great ballerina to dance in America in 1840.

The competition between the two ballerinas attracted public attention who wanted to judge and compare the two dancers. The presence of claques, who were groups of people paid to applaud a particular performer, were encouraged by theatre management. A famous poet of the time, Theophile Gautier, called Elssler the “Pagan dancer” and Taglioni the “Christian dancer”.

Well known Romantic ballets of this period are Robert le Diable (1831), La Sylphide (1832), Giselle (1841). Variations in these ballets are studied in ballet dance classes around the world.