When we think of ballet dancing in the 19th century we think of romanticism. It was just after the French Revolution and the middle class was gaining power. This new middle class wanted to experience all the art world had to offer. They also wanted to escape. The themes of the ballets were often about man versus nature, the supernatural and exotic lands.
The first ballet that is considered to be of the romantic era was Robert le Diable performed in 1831. It was choreographed by Filippo Taglioni. Taglioni is one of the major choreographic figures of this time. His ballet La Sylphide rose his daughter Marie to stardom.
Marie Taglioni was the first ballerina that made the public take notice to dancing on pointe. Dancing on pointe then became the norm for ballerinas. At this time as well ballerinas were taking over in the ballets. No longer were the men the stars. The public wanted to see the females float on air. The Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler was one of Taglioni’s rivals. She became well known for her role in Le Diable Boiteux in 1836. The epitome of the Romantic ballets is Giselle. It is about an aristocrat who is haunted by spirits. This gave another ballerina fame named Carlotta Grisi.
We cannot forget that there were also many great male dancers at this time. Some of them were Jules Perrot, Arthur Saint-Léon, Lucien Petipa and Joseph Miller.
The scenery of the ballets at the time also helped to create the supernatural stories. Along with pointe work, wires were used to help suspend dancers for short periods. Other equipment that was used were trap doors, sliding painted flats and backdrops, and gas lighting. Music was used even more to evoke the atmosphere of each scene.
Costumes were still evolving and the Romantic tutu was now in vogue. Although the term tutu was not used until 50 years later. This was the skirt that Marie Taglioni made popular when she danced in La Sylphide. It was a white bell-shaped skirt that fell from her bodice. The skirt helped to create her spirit like character.
Most of the Romantic ballets were performed in France and London. However other countries were advancing in ballet as well. At this time Denmark and Russia were developing their own styles. August Bournonville had a great career as a dancer until he settled back in his homeland and become a teacher and choreographer for the Royal Danish Opera. This is where he created his own style of dance called the Bournonville School.
Russia first knew the Romantic ballets through the dancers that toured there. Soon they would have dancers and choreographers of their own. Choreographers such as Charles- Louis Didelot, Christian Johansson and Marius Petipa would help raise Russian ballet so much that it would eventually surpass France.