Ballet originated in 15th century Italian Renaissance courts, later developing into a performance dance in France and Russia, and over the centuries, has become a widespread and influential art form with many evolving stylistic variations (from classic to contemporary) and teaching methods (no less than half a dozen).
A ballet dancer [danseuse (female) danseur (male)] is a dancer who practices the art of classical ballet based on traditional technique and vocabulary. Many years of extensive training (starting as early as age 2) are required before a ballet dancer has a chance to join a professional ballet company, and there is an established hierarchy ranking system within a company as well as strict gender roles. Ballet training also takes a toll on a dancer’s body, making ballet dancers prone to serious injury after years of continuous physical strain.
The strength and stamina required of ballet dancers are not always obvious to a spectator as they make the physical demands of jumps, turns and lifts on pointe appear to be effortless during a performance, and there’s seldom a mention of a dancer’s personal sacrifice and total commitment. In these short videos, ballet dancers tell their stories and provide a glimpse of the goings-on backstage and behind-the-scenes.
En pointe (‘on the tips of their toes’) is classical ballet technique performed wearing special pointe shoes that enable a dancer to support all body weight on a fully extended vertical foot. Consequently, the construction and wearing of pointe shoes involves a very complicated process unique to each ballet dancer.
The tutu is a costume dress worn in a ballet performance, made of fabrics such as tarlatan, muslin, silk, tulle, gauze and nylon. There are two basic types of modern tutus as well as several derivative styles: the Romantic tutu is soft and bell-shaped with the skirt reaching down between a dancer’s knee and ankle; the Classical tutu is short, stiff and projects horizontally from the dancer’s waist and hip.
One of the most famous of all ballet dancers is Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans), a sculpture created in wax by Edgar Degas in 1880 of a student at the Paris Opera Ballet dance school, named Marie van Goethem. After Degas’ death in 1917, his family authorized copies of Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer and other Degas wax and mixed-media sculptures to be cast in bronze in order to preserve and sell the compositions. Louisine Havemeyer, an Impressionist collector, acquired the first bronze cast of Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, and bequeathed it to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929, where it can be viewed on display. [Editors Note: The original wax sculpture (a reworked version of the original sculpture that was shown in Paris at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881) is located at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and other bronzes can be viewed at museums around the world — Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of the novel ‘The Painted Girls’, provides a list of locations ⇒ HERE ]
The bronze dancer’s tutu has been replaced a few times since the Met’s acquisition, and a curator recently decided it was time for another update as the skirt looked “tattered and dirty”. The task was given to Costume Institute’s conservator, Glenn Petersen, and he tells the story of the historical research, fabric, design and color selections used in creating the dancer’s new tutu in the short video ‘Met Degas Tutu’. Peterson’s goal for the new skirt was that it would be harmonious with the sculpture as well as depict a sense of movement to add to the way people view Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, and most would have to agree that he accomplished that goal and more.
FREE To WATCH: Ballet performances from around the world
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Feature photo is courtesy of Flickr user, Pilar Castro, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0