Originally published on dance journal/hk 2-6, 2-7 and 2-8 in 2000）
古典芭蕾舞劇是西方世界的產物，因為我們可以清楚地看到，古典芭蕾舞劇的特徵以及其一直維持的意義，是對西方社會傳統、信仰和美學價值的肯定。像所有舞蹈一樣，古典芭蕾舞是民族舞蹈的一種形式，但通常被稱為劇場或藝術舞蹈。自從「芭蕾舞」這個類型在歐洲宮廷中誕生，到「古典芭蕾舞」風格的發展，再到今天，其主要功能一直是給觀眾看的劇場表演。古典古代的權威對舞蹈的發展影響很大，儘管那是發生在不同的脈絡中，而意義也有改變。芭蕾舞這舞蹈類型只有很少數長於解說的有識之士來指導其發展， 而現存的一些公式和原始理論都可以說是接受古典古代傳下來的觀點。同樣從這個體系發展而來的其他藝術形式，都受益於保存下來的一些有形之物，例如詩歌、原始文本、雕塑等，可以用來檢驗理論對實踐的影響。舞蹈受限於缺乏歷史記錄，所以其學術研究和文獻記錄相對於其他藝術形式而言相對較少。因為這樣，我只能從現有參考資料中，推想一些真實表演過的舞蹈之性質、種類、效果、手法和技巧。 在此，需要簡單定義源於古希臘人的古典理論，以作為本文稍後提出的解釋的參考。作為藝術運動的古典主義，其概念是一個重要而複雜的課題。我嘗試分離出當中的一些關鍵部份，來把其基本理論具體化。然而，這將不可避免地過分簡化了這個本身是一個整體的運動。
「……可能與古希臘或羅馬相關，可以是另一個時期而得以留存下來（通常是在教室）的作品；它可以根據特定和模式化的形式規條（rules of forms）組編而成；它可以使用標準並編纂了的詞彙；它可以以在設計上是冷靜、樸素和平衡的一種風格來表達；或者，它可以只是那些即時而廉價的潮流範圍之外的東西。」2
學習動作和音樂是古希臘兒童（古典時代，the Hellenic Age 500-400 BC）的教育基礎。動作訓練孩子控制身體，音樂訓練孩子發展審美意識。通過跳舞和唱歌來提高這些技能，以培養每個孩子的自然節奏，並以之作為人生基礎。關於認識節奏的必要性，柏拉圖寫道：
我發現的是舞蹈在浪漫主義時期之前也有古典時期，就像音樂這藝術形式一樣。為芭蕾舞的發展奠定基石的是讓˙喬治˙諾維爾（Jean Georges Noverre，1727-1810），但他的理論只有在他去世後，才能在一個願意試驗的機構所提供的穩定環境中得以實現，就像狄亞基列夫的俄羅斯芭蕾舞團所做到的。更重要的是，他的理論只能預視一個良好基礎，以培育舞蹈員成為編舞家的萬用工具。
這些發現的重要意義，在於它們消除了一種歷史觀點，即俄羅斯芭蕾舞團那些偉大的足本芭蕾舞劇是由米歇爾˙福金（Michael Fokine，1880-1942）帶領下，被聖彼得堡啟發的創作。一直以來，組成古典芭蕾舞劇目的許多作品，是來自本世紀初發生的那場偉大的芭蕾舞復興， 而這次復興， 是起源自一個遠離法國，但可以讓諾維爾的法國理論完全實現的環境。福金直接使用了諾維爾的理論，但什甚少提及它們的出處，因此幾乎從沒有人質疑過福金所使用的規條的起源。
在外形上，女古典舞者與芭蕾舞短裙緊密相關，而男性則是淺色緊身褲和貼身外套。這舞蹈類型在風格上最強烈的體現，可能是舞者的垂直度、開放舒展的姿態，以及舞者身體那沒有脂肪但肌肉結實的外觀。 垂直度或脊柱長度顯然是源自試圖刻畫王室風範的宮廷舞。隨著技術的發展，這種脊柱長度的概念也被應用到四肢的使用中，因此所有動作都試圖伸展，盡可能多地利用在身體周圍的空間。上半身的這種舒展、伸延、向外的形態與外開的雙腿協調。整個身體因而向觀眾和其他舞者開放。抬起下巴，使視線略高於從雙眼延伸出的垂直線，並控制肋骨並使其垂直於脊椎。做成的效果，是一種強烈而矜持的信心。 每個動作，無論是阿拉伯斯卡舞姿（arabesque）和單腳尖旋轉（pirouette）之類的基礎位置，還是連接基礎位置之間的動作，都必須連貫、用心和精確。矯揉造作和任何其他多餘的動作都會削弱觀看者對舞者的形態、空間中的線條，以及身體形態演化時之流動的感知。 這些形態的完成，要與音樂協調和在時間上有精確而預設的配合，才能成功。舞者要知道必須在音樂小節的某個節拍上做到阿拉伯斯卡舞姿，或必須在設定的樂句中完成三次轉身，除了指揮家的節奏之外，幾乎沒有什麼會改變這個計劃。當舞者明確的舞步做到與音樂合理地和諧，這種精確度就可以提供連貫性。 古典芭蕾舞風格的女舞者有超凡的氣息。與日常生活中的機能性動作不同，她的動作細膩而嬌嫩，但又似乎從未使她顯得脆弱。這種舉止和目標明確的動作相結合的效果，就是我們所說的優雅。
瑪麗˙卡瑪戈 Marie Camargo (1710 - 1770)
達基列夫的理想是恢復音樂和舞蹈編排的平等夥伴關係，這出現在福金的《火鳥》（The Fire Bird）和《木偶的命運》（Petrouchka）中，前者的音樂由伊戈爾˙斯特拉文斯基（Igor Stravinski）創作，後者由斯特拉文斯基和亞歷山大˙班耐瓦（Alexandre Benois）共同創作。〔編者按：斯特拉文斯基作曲、斯特拉文斯基和班耐瓦作文本〕。現存的古典芭蕾舞的兩個最佳例子是《天鵝湖》和《胡桃夾子》，兩者能歷久不衰，音樂和芭蕾舞都同樣有功。兩者都是彼得˙柴可夫斯基的作品。
《火鳥》 Tamara Karsavina and Michel Fokine in The Firebird (1910)
1877年首演、莫斯科大劇院製作的原版《天鵝湖》，其中許多細節都已失傳。眾所周知，柴可夫斯基的音樂最初被表演者和評論家嘲弄為過於似交響樂和難以起舞（「當時典型的芭蕾舞音樂都是帶有清晰節奏的oom-pah-pah曲調。」9）現時我們認識的版本，是佩蒂巴（Marius Petipa）和艾化李夫（Lev Ivanov）的共同編舞。這是莫斯科大劇院為使此芭蕾舞劇取得成功而進行的第三次嘗試，在1894年首演，並作為聖彼得堡對這位於早一年去世的作曲家的紀念節目之一。
尼金斯基的《牧神的午後》Nijinsky's Afternoon of a Faun
在有序的社會中，古典芭蕾舞劇強化了基督教的嚴格道德價值觀，而壯觀地呈現非凡而優美的動作是這舞蹈類型的主要目的。故事、音樂和舞台設計的和諧融合進一步增強了觀眾的體驗，並展現出我們現在所認識的古典芭蕾那盡致奇觀。塞爾瑪˙珍妮˙科恩（Selma Jeanne Cohen）在處理古典芭蕾舞的定義時得出的結論是：「對於優雅形象，我們所知道的最好體現可能是古典風格。」10
In modern Western society the term classical ballet conjures up specific stereotypical images. The pictorial image of the fine-framed ballerina standing vertically on her toes and dressed in white tutu is perhaps the strongest image which unites our understanding of this term. This paper explores classical ballet to discover the origins of this image and dance-style, the identifying features, with their explicit and implicit meanings, and finally what makes this style "classical".
The very first task to confront when discussing any form of dance, is the attempt to provide valid definitions for key words. The most fundamental of these should be the word "dance", for which many definitions have been written. A particularly useful one of these is by the anthropologist Joann Kealiinohomoku:
"Dance is a transient mode of expression. performed in a given form and style by the human body moving in space. Dance occurs through purposefully selected and controlled rhythmic movements; the resulting phenomenon is recognized as dance both by the performer and the observing members of a given group."1
The Dance in Theory by John Martin
This definition is clinical, and does not recognize either the relationship between dance and music, or mention the "expressive" potentialities of dance; but, the two aspects which most appeal to me are that dance is human activity, and that performer and observer recognize the activity as dance.
Classical ballet is a product of the Western world since it can be clearly shown that its characteristics, and the enduring significance of these, are an affirmation of Western social traditions, beliefs and aesthetic values. Like all dance. classical ballet is a form of ethnic dance, however, it is commonly described as either theatre or artistic dance. From the birth of the genre "ballet" in the courts of Europe, and throughout the development of the style "classical ballet" to the present day, its prime function has been a theatrical presentation to an audience. The authority of classical antiquity has strongly influenced the development of dance, albeit in different contexts and with altered meaning. The dance genre of ballet has had very few articulate cognoscenti to guide its development. The few formulas and original theories that do exist could all be said to accept the views handed down from classical antiquity. Other art-forms developed from this lineage have the benefit of physical objects that have survived such as poems, original written texts, sculptures and so on, which can be used to examine the effect of theory on practice. Dance suffers from its lack of historical recordings; this explains why its academic pursuit and documentation is comparatively small against other art-forms. Because of this. I can only speculate about the actual performed dance, drawing inferences from existing material about its nature, its kinds, its effects, its devices and techniques.
Classical theory stems from the ancient Greeks and requires brief definition as a reference point for explanations put forward later in this paper. The concept of classicism as an artistic movement is a major and complex subject and my attempt to crystallize the essential theories. key aspects of which I have isolated, will inevitably over-simplify the movement as a whole.
The word Classical derives from our knowledge of Class I citizens in Rome (2nd to the 4th centuries AD), who paid taxes and could vote. Thus, in alignment with Class I citizens. the term was applied to literature and other arts, denoting their value as the best or excellent or outstandingly important. These citizens had long and famous family lineages, which confirms the notion of classical art's being capable of long-lasting effect and value. The common understanding of the term "classical", as it relates to the arts, is the restrained style of Greek classical antiquity — a long established style, serious and conventional. This style was supported by rules prescribed as a formula for the production of excellent art. These rules dictated that art be simple, harmonious, well-proportioned, and finished.
The concept of classicism arose through historical processes, and an exact definition must be replaced by description. Names ascribed to cultural habits or movements attempt to synthesise the spirit of what has already been done, thus allowing distinction between specific movements, between the classical movement and the Romantic, for example. The dance theorist John Martin finds no less than six meanings for the term classical when applied to art:
“... it may have to do with ancient Greece or Rome, it may be a work from another period that has managed to survive, usually in the schoolroom; it may be composed according to specific and stereotyped rules of form; it may employ a standard, codified vocabulary; it may be couched in a style that is cool, unemotional and neatly balanced in design; or it may be simply something outside the range of what is immediately and cheaply popular."2
To assist readers of this study, a brief insight into the cultural ethos of the ancient Greeks will serve to expose the thinking of the peoples whose actions and philosophies inspired the word classical. It would seem appropriate to use dance as my immediate consideration, not only because it is central to this study. but because ancient Greek thinking in relation to dance mirrored the rules and methods they advocated for life in general. The 20th-century Greek dance historian Ruby Ginner, in Gateway to the Dance, writes that the Greeks cultivated dance to an "...extraordinary degree and in it found the full perfection of rhythm."3 Dance to the ancient Greeks expressed the rhythm of their lives. They strove for perfection of rhythm in their work and in all that they made. Their study for an understanding of rhythmic law searched for answers to the mysteries of life and death. Nature became their guide; they were keen observers of it, and abided by its laws. Plato (331-404 BC) writes in the Symposium that the lover of beauty uses "... the beauties of the earth as steps along which he mounts upwards"4. The notion that rhythm was central to life afforded dance great importance.
The study of movement and music formed the basis of education for the Greek children of Hellas (the Hellenic Age 500-400 BC). Movement trained the child to govern the body, and music to develop the aesthetic sense. These skills were advanced by dancing and singing to cultivate natural rhythm in each child as a foundation for life. Plato wrote on the necessity of knowledge about rhythm:
"Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend upon simplicity, I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character. If our youth are to do their work in life, must they not make these graces and harmonies their perpetual aim? Let our artists be those who are gifted to discern the true nature of the beautiful and graceful, then will our youth dwell in a land of health amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything." 5
Ginner states: "In its highest forms, dancing is an effort to make visible through movement the things of the spirit that lay beyond the material world." Therefore, dancing for the Greeks could be an activity of a worship, a "... language of prayer, praise and dedication, a means of attaining union with the divinities who themselves danced their celestial dancers in the halls of Olympus."6 Dance therefore has undoubtedly developed as a classical expression of the rhythm that governed the lives of the ancient Greeks.
Classical Ballet as a Period
My early research was to re-look at the history of ballet. I wanted to discover exactly when the ballets that we know as classical were produced and by whom.
What I discovered is that like the art-form of music, dance too had a classical period prior to the Romantic period. It was Jean Georges Noverre (1727-1810) who laid the foundation for the development of ballet. But his theories could only be realized after his death in the secure environment of an organization willing to experiment, such as that created by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. More importantly, his theories could only foreshadow a sound basis for the education of dancers that would develop them into resourceful tools for the choreographer.
Jean-Georges Noverre (Perronneau, 1764, Louvre)
What is significant about these findings is that they dispel the historical view that the great full-length ballets of Ballets Russes were a St. Petersburg-inspired creation lead by Michael Fokine. The great ballet revival which occurred at the beginning of this century and provided us with many works which continue to make up the classical ballet repertoire, was the result of an environment, far from France, where the French theories of Noverre could be fully realized. Michael Fokine (1880-1942) used Noverre's theories directly, but afforded them little credit, and few have since questioned the origins of the canons employed by Fokine.
Classical ballet had two separate periods of development. Noverre created the first classical ballet; therefore, the classical style dates back to the second half of the 18th century in Germany and later in France. The style was again revived in the post-Romantic period, with its height of popularity from the 1890's up until the 1920's in Russia (and in the West), and continues throughout the world to the present day.
As a Style
The modern art of classical ballet has its roots in the court dance of Western Europe. Its history can be traced through a line of dancers, ballet-masters and choreographers since the establishment of the L’Académie Nationale de la Danse, founded in 1661 by Louis XIV. This court dance adapted steps from the folk-dances of the peasants, which were adjusted to conform to the dress, manners and social values of the upper classes. Dance-styles reflect the society which creates them and this is well exemplified in the style of court ballet.
The technical advances in human movement made since the day of the court dance have rendered such movement a specialist field of endeavour, and demand that today's student undergo years of arduous and disciplined training to acquire the essential specialist skills. The practice of ballet is no longer the social event. The social event today has become the passive activity of viewing performances of ballet-dancing specialists.
That ballet has survived and is valued in today's society is extraordinary, given the differences between the society from which the genre grew and the society which sees a use for it today.
I would assert that classical ballet's aim has always been fairly simplistic and clear, that is, to entertain and please its audience. Its themes, messages, costumes and movements may have at first shocked its audience; however, its creators have never aimed at being subversive. The gradual evolution of costumes, the process of wearing less and revealing more, has caused great alarm and considerable derision; but this was done to demonstrate better the advances in technique rather than to reinforce or change society's image of the human body.
The female classical ballet-dancer is associated strongly with the tutu, and the male with light-coloured tights and fined jacket. Perhaps the strongest manifestation of the style of this genre are the verticality of the dancer, the open expansive stance, and the lean, muscular look of the dancer's body.
The verticality, or length of spine, is clearly derived from the court dance which attempted to portray a regal demeanour. As technique developed to serve the style, this concept of spinal length was also applied to the use of the limbs, so that all movement attempted to extend, to use as much space around the body as possible. This expansive, stretched, outwardness of the upper body acts in harmony with the turned-out legs. The entire body is therefore open to the audience and to the other dancers. The chin is raised so that the eye line is slightly higher than the vertical line extending from eye-level, and the rib-cage is controlled and held vertical in line with the spine. The effect is of a strong but reserved confidence.
Each movement, whether of the foundation positions such as the arabesque and the pirouette or the linking moves from one to the other, must be coherent, deliberate and precise. Mannerisms and any other superfluous movement will detract from the viewer's perception of the dancer's shapes, the lines in space, and the flow of the body in its progression from one shape to the next.
The execution of these shapes is achieved in harmony with, and in precise and predetermined time to, the music. The dancer will know that the arabesque must be reached on a certain beat of the bar, that three turns have to be completed within a set musical phrase. Little but the conductor's tempo alters this plan and when the clarity of the dancer's steps is achieved in a logical harmony with the music, then this precision provides coherence.
The female dancer of the classical ballet style has the air of being unattainable. Her movements are, unlike the functional movements of everyday life, delicate and fragile, yet, incongruously, never seeming to make her appear vulnerable. The combined effect of this demeanour and the clarity of purpose in her movement is what we might call grace.
The male classical dancer is more earthbound than the female, vertical yet without her lightness. His posture, as with the female's, is proud and open. He stresses vigour with firmness of stance. The contemporary revivals of classical ballets stress the seemingly effortless elevation which displays the male dancer's balletic character. His attack is strong but not heavy.
It is impossible to separate historical influences from the aesthetic aims of training in the classical ballet technique. The five positions of the feet, the fundamental basis of ballet technique, were set down as rules of dancing at the beginning of the 17th century. Throughout the ensuing years of development, the French school retained the graceful, flowing, restrained inspiration of the minuet, whilst the Italians and Danes developed the more athletic aspects of technique. These and other influences from developments around the world have created a melting-pot of ideals and aesthetic tendencies in the teaching of classical ballet technique. In fact, it is common to have Russian teachers at the Paris Opera Ballet School and Danish-trained teachers engaged by the Royal Ballet School in London. Although specific national styles are recognisable to the trained eye, methods of training are generally consistent world-wide.
The history of dance technique is closely bound up with the history of costume. Before the length of the female costume was raised above the ankle, there was no chance or necessity to display virtuosity, and dancers were admired for their execution of complicated geometric floor-patterns. When the ballerina Marie Camargo shortened her skirt midway through the 18th century to reveal her ankles and feet, new steps were developed to display what could be done with this part of the body.
As the costume developed to reveal the legs, and the removal of sleeves allowed the free flow of the arms, so the technique strove to incorporate all of the body's capacities for expression.
The major development which saw the female dancer rise sur les pointes, or onto her toes, was the natural progression from the achievements of vertical line to an attempt to appear uplifted and weightless. This discovery was of enormous benefit to the Romantic ballets with their unearthly creatures. The dancer raised on the tips of her toes was in the natural taking-off position for flight to another world. This skill of pointe work and other developments such as the pirouette were first refined, then made more complicated, and have now become the established, recognisable technical symbols of the genre.
Ballet training is strict; teaching methods change very slowly and each generation retains much of its predecessors' methodology. The ballet studio is like a place of worship. For the student it is a non-verbal shrine where their craft of bodily co-ordination and communication is learned. This disciplined training, akin to the Draconian regimen of the Spartan warrior, attempts to develop skills of technique and interpretation and build character in the dancer. Dance critic Andre Levinson describes the dancer as "a machine for manufacturing beauty"7. This denial of individuality and personality, the forgoing of a natural method of functioning, is implicit in the technical training and in the rigorous artistic discipline accepted by today's ballet-dancers. This method of training has been employed for several centuries and continues to the present day, despite our more liberal concept of the individual. The established rationale for the classical dancer's education is best summed up by Levinson: "To discipline the body to this ideal function, to make a dancer of a graceful child, it is necessary to begin by dehumanising him, or rather by overcoming the habits of ordinary life.... The accomplished dancer is an artificial being, an instrument of precision."8
Today's ballet-training draws upon the personality and life experience of the dancer to assist them with interpretive roles. This can enable greater sincerity and depth of interpretation where human emotions are portrayed on the stage. It is also necessary for today's ballet students and, indeed, for ballet audiences to equate the relevance of the ballet-style with modern life.
A significant feature of the classical ballet is its intimate alliance with music. Jean Georges Noverre and Michel Fokine clearly defined this relationship and function. Music and dance were to be equal partners, the choreographer and composer jointly dealing with the problem of interpreting the ballet's theme. Interestingly, neither of these choreographers initially worked in this way. Both began by using music which had already been written.
Michel Fokine (1880 - 1942)
Diaghilev's ideal was to restore the equal partnership of music and choreography, and this Fokine did in The Fire Bird, with music by Igor Stravinski, and in Petrouchka, composed jointly by Igor Stravinski and Alexandre Benois [Editor note: Music by Igor Stravinsky; Libretto by Igor Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois]. Perhaps the best two examples of surviving classical ballets which owe their longevity as much to the music as to the ballets themselves are Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, the music for both was composed by Peter Tchaikovsky.
Many details of the original Bolshoi production of Swan Lake, which premiered in 1877, have been lost. What is known is that Tchaikovsky's music was initially derided by both performers and critics for being too symphonic and undanceable ("A typical ballet score of the time consisted of oom-pah-pah tunes with a clean rhythmic beat."9) The version we know was a joint choreographic effort of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. This third attempt by the Bolshoi to make a success of the ballet premiered in 1894 as part of a St. Petersburg memorial programme commemorating the composer's death the year before.
One could argue that the supremely melodic score that Tchaikovsky created for the flimsy (but complicated) story of The Nutcracker is central to its survival as an annual holiday-treat ballet. Lev Ivanov choreographed the first version which premiered in St Petersburg in 1892.
It is the striving to achieve harmony between all its elements, an ideal not always achieved, which distinguishes this genre from others.
The function of scenic design for classical ballet attempts to be far more intrinsic to the needs of the ballet than merely a decorative stage adornment. Just as costume and music arc indispensable elements in identifying classical ballet, so too is stage design. Its functions are to form the background that will help to show the line and subtleties of the choreography, heighten the theatrical effect, and importantly. set the ballet in a time, place and mood.
Diaghilev mounted his ballets on the same principle. carefully combining all of the elements so that the ballet had a coherent line of communication from the performance to the audience. Undoubtedly the combined effect produced such a spectacular visual and aural experience for the audience, that one can hardly evaluate the great creations of the genre, such as The Sleeping Beauty. without giving due weight to their musical and scenic properties.
As dance technique progressed throughout the 20th century, the story-line continued to lose its significance until it is now merely a vehicle for the formulaic display of dance-technique. Since the traditional ballet stories are now well known to regular patrons and detailed information appears in printed programmes, the overall design serves more often to fill the stage with visual spectacle than to assist the choreography.
Rather than describing and comparing the story-lines of the classical ballets, I will identify some recurring elements in them which link the themes of this genre. Traces of romanticism and its other-worldly features can be found in classical ballets. This is hardly surprising since the ballets of the Romantic Period were produced in the intervening years between Noverre and Fokine. The formula for the classical ballets follows a fairly regular path. The opening of the ballet introduces the characters and the plot, the middle develops the story-line, and the last act, or the end of the second, presents the crisis. Traditionally the third act celebrates the happy ending. in which good prevails over evil - as good an excuse as any for lots of virtuoso dancing.
Love, strictly hetero-sexual love, is a recurring central feature of many of the classical ballets. Infidelity was harshly dealt with, for example, in Swan Lake, where unfaithful men were made to dance to death by wronged women. The class system was upheld by love between princes and princesses and reinforced by the 'special' out-of-class marriages such as that in Cinderella.
With the notable exception of Nijinsky's Afternoon of a Faun, perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the genre is the strict avoidance of overt references to the body's sexual function. The solos of the protagonists, performed as part of a couple's courtship, are suggestive, and whilst the pas de deux, a close physical involvement of two dancers, aludes to what may eventuate, it avoids any realistic suggestion of the sexual act.
Considering the holding positions needed to execute some of the standard lifts in classical ballet, it is quite a feat to have rendered them devoid of any explicit sexual meaning. A good example is the sitting-lift, where the female sits on top of the male's hand whilst his arm is fully extended above his head. The female balances on the male palm, the heel of his hand on her pelvis. The mechanics of the lift are often obscured from public view by the costume; however, the positioning of the hand must be obvious to the audience and yet it all remains an innocent act.
Classical ballet reinforces strict Christian values of morality in an ordered society and the spectacular presentation of extraordinary yet beautiful movement is the central purpose of the genre. The harmonious blend of story, music and stage-design further intensifies the audience's experience and presents the full spectacle of what we now recognise as classical ballet. Selma Jeanne Cohen, in tackling the definition of classical ballet, concluded: "The classical style may be the highest manifestation we know of the image of grace."10
After such a description and discussion of the many component aspects of classical ballet, it is clear that no single element is exclusive. By combining all the important elements, however, we can identify the consistent stylistic traits which conform to the established rules of the style. An understanding of the historical development of these traits, along with the evolving aesthetic attitudes and values, allows greater understanding and appreciation of the art-form in general and the classical style in particular.
When ballet succeeded in providing a representational expression of the changing values and aspirations of society, popularity for the genre ensued. When its creators lost contact with contemporary values, using outdated themes or forms, then its relevance and usefulness to society waned and its popularity, therefore, declined.
The distinctive 'look' of the style and the constant revival of a very small number of works created in the boom period in Russia, have given the style an elitist, static, museum-art-form image. A modern audience could be forgiven for thinking that they are seeing faithful reproductions; however, these revivals, bear only a faint resemblance to the originals. Unfortunately, this misconception only helps perpetuate the myth that classical ballet is a museum art-form. This is clearly not the case, as advances in technique, production methods and personal interpretation give each revival a different, if not entirely new, perspective.
Many present-day reproductions fail, not because the themes are merely old, but for the simple reason that they ignore the fundamental rules and principles laid down for the relevant balletic style. As so-called classical ballet companies continue to mangle the old works, in a desperate attempt to maintain their audiences with more contemporary interpretations, very few new ballets in the classical style are being attempted. The original works and their intentions are not well served by producers who reduce the ballet to a series of all-dancing spectaculars or take excerpts out of context for presentation in divertissement programmes. These are the very developments against which Noverre and Fokine rebelled when they called for a unity of purpose and balance
between the elements sustaining their works, and returned (so successfully in the case of Fokine) to the maxims of classicism.
True to one of the main pillars of classicism, classical ballet remains elitist, but not elitist in its pejorative sense. Although its creation and participation are no longer based on definitions related to class, the ballet's physical and disciplinary demands preclude all but the most highly-trained specialists. In addition, the lure of elaborate, costly productions of classical ballet and ballet's image as a high art-form, have attracted not only those patrons with the considerable sums of money required to pay for tickets, but also those for whom attendance at the ballet is a symbol of their refined taste and upper-class status.
The reward for those who participate in ballet only as students is an important factor in the appeal of classical ballet-training: it provides an education for life. Although the rules and training methods employed may seem harsh, they offer benefits for the discipline of body and mind which are useful to life outside the classroom. Additionally, the attainment of physical skills, coordination and the experience of movement itself provide a unique, personal delight and a great sense of achievement. The 20th-century dancer and choreographer Ted Shawn (1891-1972), when discussing what constitutes a work of art, states: "... the greatest constant of all is that here in the dance we experience a rhythmic beauty. . ."11
The outstanding motive revealed by students aspiring to perform in classical ballet companies, is the desire to 'escape'. Since classical-ballet stories neither challenge nor distort the notion of an ordered Christian society, they are considered a safe haven for the mind. This may well explain why for centuries parents have educated their children, especially girls, in the art of ballet.
In the purely academic sense, there seems no doubt that classical ballet does indeed conform closely to the ideals of classicism espoused by the ancients. However, today the term 'classical ballet' is used somewhat more loosely and the word 'classical' has now become a generic term for all ballet.
That audiences continue to patronise performances of the ballet repertoire (classical and Romantic) must have a lot to do with the fact that this form of entertainment is considered by most to be 'morally safe' for the younger and the older generations of our society. The failure to attract audiences in the middle age-groups will surely become an increasing problem for the survival of the art form.
If ballet is not acknowledged as an evolving art-form, then its survival is surely in danger. The evolution of new techniques and dance philosophies throughout the modern era, are as pertinent to ballet as they are to any other dance genre.
The ideals of classicism, as put forward by the ancients and as manifest in classical ballet, provide a broad platform from which to launch dance into the 2Ist century. There is nothing in the theories of either Noverre or Fokine which preclude their adoption as a basis for producing new classical ballet works. The canons for the style laid down by these great artists have proved successful, and if they are applied to contemporary themes, music and values, classical-style ballet can once again delight the audience and challenge the performer.
Classical ballet, contrary to popular belief, is not a museum art-form but has continued to evolve over hundreds of years. The reason for the diminished power of the style in our time is due to the outdated Western cultural values which it projects and which have little or no relevance today.
Perhaps ballet is placed where it was at the time before its revival by both Noverre and Fokine. It feels as though it is at a low ebb in history. It needs to become more relevant to life in the 2000.
1. Copeland, Roger. and Marshel Cohen. eds. What is Dance?: Readings in Theory and Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. p.541.
2 Martin, John. The Dance in Theory. New York: Dance Horizons, 1989. p.81.
3 Ginner. Ruby. Gateway to the Dance. London: Newman Neame Limited. 1960.
4 Lee, D. trans. Plato. The Republic. London: Penguin Books. 1987.
6 Ginner, Ruby. Gateway to the Dance. London: Newman Neame Limited, 1960.
7 Selma Jeanne Cohen, (1982) Next Week. Swan Lake, Reflections on Dance and Dances (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press), p.123
8 ibid., p.123.