Ballet in the 1700s

There were many changes made to ballet in the 1700s. Steps and dances were being laid down in books, ballet d’action was taking over. At the same time costumes were changing and women were becoming stars just as the men were.

In 1700 Raoul Feuillet wrote a book called Choreographie,ou l’art de decrire la danse which defined many of the steps we now know today. Some of the steps included jete, sissone, chasse, entrechat, pirouette, and cabriole.

The opéra-ballet was very popular in the early 1700s. The opera ballet contained both singing and dancing. One famous ballet of this type was called The Gallant Indies composed by french composer Jean Philippe Rameau in 1735. However ballet d’action was starting to take shape as choreographers wanted the ballets they created to contain more plot and expressiveness through the dance. Ballet action had continuous dance instead of dance interspersed with singing or spoken words. An Englishman named John Weaver started the ballet d’action and his ballet, The Loves of Mars and Venus was his most acclaimed peice. Followers of this style of ballets were Gaspero Angiolini and Jean Georges Noverre.

Noverre was probably the most outspoken of the ballet d’action. He wrote Les Lettres sur la Danse et Les Ballets in 1760. In his letters he was very firm about the fact that every element in a ballet should be compatable. The music, dancing, costumes, lighting and make-up should serve the plot of the story. He also believed that dance should be pure and natural without falseness.

Noverre was also an influence in costuming as well. He encouraged dancers to use their bodies more to express feelings of the dance. Not to use heavy costuming. The costumes of the time were still very cumbersome. Dancers still wore masks, wigs, headdresses and heeled shoes. Women wore hoop-skirts called panniers. Men often wore a type of hoop-skirt as well call a tannelet. In the mid 1700s however this started to change. Not only because of the need for more natural expression but also dancers wanted to show off their steps.

Marie Camargo shortened her skirt and wore heelless slippers to show off her jumps and beats. She even is known for taking the stage for her one her male dancers when he missed his cue. Marie Sall, her rival at the time wore a Greek robe instead of a traditional corset in the ballet, Pygmalion in 1734. She wanted to make sure that her costumes reflected the character she was portraying. Another great ballerina of the time was Barbara Campanini famous for her pirouettes and entrechat huit.

The technical skill of all dancers was improving at this time. Some famous male dancers known for their jumping skills were Gaetan Vestris and his son Auguste Vestris.

The 1700s in ballet was reforming more and more to what we know it as today. After the French Revolution dance was made available to an even wider audience. Yet more was to come. The Romantic Ballet was just beginning.