Archive for Ballet Blog


The Great Male Russian Ballerinas

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Mikhail Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov was born on the 27th of January in Riga, Latvia. Misha (nickname) began to dance the ballet in 1960 at the age of sixteen. He started formal training in the Vaganova School in St. Petersburg.

In 1967 Mikhail joined the world-famous  Mariinsky Ballet (formerly called the Kirov Ballet). The quality of his dancing was quickly recognized, and it inspired several choreographers to produce ballets for him. However, like many dancers in the Soviet Union, Misha longed for more freedom.  Although he was technically incredible, the fact that he was extremely short made finding a partner difficult and often limited his choices. Additionally, he wanted to be able to learn and dance some of the more modern ballets, which were virtually unheard of in the Soviet Union. To achieve this desire, Mikhail defected to Canada in 1974 while on tour with the Bolshoi Ballet.

Canada granted Mikhail political asylum, and he decided to stay. He joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and preformed with this company and with the Royal Canadian Ballet before moving to the states. In 1974, Misha joined the American Ballet Theatre in New York.

Mikhail has gone on to become heralded as one of the best male dancers of all time. He has received numerous awards throughout the world for his dancing.  He has also been recognized as being a skilled and gifted choreographer. In addition to his incredible dancing, Misha was nominated for an Academy award for his role in the film “The Turning Point”. Today he owns a home in Dominican Republic.


Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev

Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev was born on a train, on the 17th of March, 1938. His mother was enroute to Vladivostok. She gave birth to her son while the train was near the city of Irkutsk in Siberia. In 1955, Rudolf enrolled at the prestigious Leningrad Choreography School. He was seventeen and had already been dancing with smaller troupes for a number of years.

After graduating, Nureyev joined the Kirov Ballet (it is now known as The Imperial Russian Ballet) where he quickly rose to the role of a soloist. Although, he was an incredible dancer, he was only permitted to dance once outside of Russia in Vienna. After that trip abroad he was told that he would not be permitted to leave the country again. However, in 1961 the male soloist who was scheduled to go on tour with the company was injured, and Nureyev was permitted to go in his place. Rudolf knew that the KGB was investigating him, and he was terrified.  He believed that if he did return to the Soviet Union, he would be imprisoned, so while in Paris Rudolph took the opportunity and defected.

Rudolf’s first appearance with a western company was with the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas (the Ballet International in New York).  He did not stay long with this company, but rather he moved to Britain where he could be a principal dancer. This role was offered to him by Dame Ninette de Valois, the founder of the Royal Ballet. In 1962, he performed on stage with Margot Fonteyn for the first time in the classic ballet Giselle. This pair would dance together for many years and is heralded as one of the best dance couples in the history of the ballet.

One of the things that truly made Nureyev remarkable was his ability to dance both classical and modern ballet. At the time when he was dancing it was rare for a dancer to be able to do both styles equally well. In fact, it was not often that a dancer was trained in both styles.

Nureyev died in 1993. He had been sick with AIDS for a number of years before finally succumbing to the disease. He is buried in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, which is near Paris.

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World Class Ballets

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There are hundreds of ballet companies throughout the world. However, some have stood the test of time and distinguished themselves from the pack.

The Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the oldest ballet schools in the world. This school’s history can be traced back to 1776. This extraordinary troupe considers the Bolshoi Theatre to be its home. It is one of the largest ballet’s corps in the world with more than 200 dancers. Since it is so large, it often operates two separate corps de ballet.

This company has had a long-standing  rivalry with the Mariinsky ballet and has struggled to create its own identity. Many experts attribute the company’s identity with Alexander Gorsky. Alexander became the Ballet Master of this group in 1900. It was he who led the troupe towards a bolder and more relaxed style than its rival.

The Mariinsky

This world-class  ballet company is also known as the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Kirov Ballet. Founded in 1740, it is one of the oldest ballets in the world. This company makes its home in St. Petersburg, Russia. Their principal venue is the Mariinsky Theatre.

This is a large ballet with more than 200 hundred dancers. Many of its dancers learn their craft at the Vaganova Ballet Academy. In fact, the Mariinsky ballet is recognized as being the parent company of the school. The school is known throughout the world as one of the leading places for a person to study the classical ballet.

The Royal Ballet

There are actually four world-class  ballet companies in England. The Royal Ballet is the largest of these. Based at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, this troupe received a royal charter in 1956. The company has more than 100 dancers and is closely tied to the Royal Ballet School.

Founded in 1931 by Dame Ninettte de Valois, who was an Irish born dancer and choreographer. She established the company along with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School. In 1925, Dame Ninete was hired by Lilian Baylis to stage dance performances at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre and the Old Vic. Both locations were owned by Lilian.    Lilian lost the Old Vic, in 1939, both companies danced at the Sadler’s Wells. This situation continued until 1946, when the Royal Ballet was invited to move to Covent Garden.

Today both companies are completely independent, each having their own charters and their own venues.

Royal Winnipeg Ballet

The oldest ballet company in Canada is the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. This ballet was founded in 1939 by Betty Farrally and Gwyneth Lloyd.  The company was the first company granted the “royal” title by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

This company considers Winnipeg to be its home city, but they spend more than twenty weeks every year touring the world. However, when they are at home, the company dances at the Centennial Concert Hall.

The Paris Opera Ballet

The Paris Opera Ballet is the world’s oldest ballet company. It was founded in 1669 under the name of the Academie d’Opera. Since that time, the ballet company has had a number of different names, but they have been known as the Paris Opera Ballet since 1994.

The company considers Paris to be its home. When in Paris, this troupe dances at the Palais Garnier. The Palais Garnier was completed in 1875 and seats over 1, 900 guests.

The New York Ballet

The New York Ballet company was officially founded in 1948. However, it was the result of a number of merging ballet companies, including the American Ballet and the Ballet Caravan. This company calls both the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the Lincoln Center’s David Koch Theatre home. They have the largest repertoire of any ballet company in the United States and o stage more than sixty different ballet’s productions in a year.

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A Condensed History of the Ballet

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BalletTo truly understand and appreciate the ballet, perhaps the best place to start is to have a basic understanding of what it actually is and how it differs from other types of dancing. The dictionary defines ballet as a classical, theatrical entertainment, which involves formalized precision steps and gestures in intricate patterns. It frequently tells a story through movement.

It is important to note the words “formalized” and “precision” in the definition. Ballet uses“codified” steps. Some of the first codifications were done in France in the 1600s. Pierre Beauchamp, superintendent of the Academie Royal de Danse codified the five basic positions of the feet based upon Thoinot Arbeau’s foundations laid out in the 1500s. The fact that these codifications were done in France has had a profound effect. French is the language of the ballet. Almost all the terms in ballet are French in origin, regardless of the creator.

The five basic positions are the basis for the majority of steps in ballet. These positions involve the feet being turned out pointing in opposite directions. There are also five basic positions of the arms.

The Ballet de cour (Court ballets) is considered to be the forerunner of the ballet. These dances evolved for folk and local social dances. Preformed in various European courts these dances were performed by the wealthy and royalty.  These performances were extremely elaborate. Members of various courts would try to outperform or up-stage each other.  Costumes and sets became the norm.



These events were frequently performed during feasts and banquets. Dancers were often done between courses. Additionally, the dances that were staged might relate to the menu. Shows often included a variety of entertainments, along with the dance. These shows underwent a major choreography change when dancers were moved to a stage. The dancing was no longer seen from all sides. Dancers had to turn each move to ensure that their faces were towards the audience.

The ballet underwent a number of significant changes in the 1600s. King Louis XIV of France set up a professional dance Academy. When Louis retired from dancing, many of the members of his court did so as well. The job of dancing fell to the professionals. The first professionals were all men. However, within a few years women were included.

There were a number of changes to the costumes over the next two centuries. The first dancers were courtiers who were wearing their court dress. Although elegant and elaborate, these outfits restricted the movements of the dancers. To accommodate leaps and spins, hoop skirts and corsets were removed. Dancers also changed their footwear. The professionals preferred to wear slippers rather than shoes, which had a heel.

Another dramatic change was made in the 1800s. Operas at this time always featured a ballet. The opera was considered to be a show where the music, the dancing and the singing were all in balance. Each was given a significant role. However, people who favored the dance began to create entertainment pieces where it was the dance which dominated. They started choreographing entire shows and stories where there were no spoken words. They used the dance itself to tell the entire tale.

This is far from a complete history about the world of ballet. However, it does help the reader to understand that the ballet is not a free form of dance, but rather a coded set of moves, which are preformed in elaborate patterns. It also provides some insight as to how the ballet moved away from being merely a part of a show to being the center.

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