the Ballet
the History

1740 to Pre-Romantic

In 1738 the Russian Monarchy established the St. Petersburg school - the world's second oldest ballet academy.

After about 1735 England started paying a lot more attention to ballet. It was during this time that the English dance master John Weaver, (1673-1760), created ballet d'action - ballet with no spoken words. The entire story was portrayed through dance and pantomime. His most ambitious project was The Loves of Mars and Venus, which starred Louis Dupré, John Weaver and Hester Santlow, (1690-1773), England's first ballerina. Although well received, The Loves of Mars and Venus was forgotten and Weaver did not get the credit he deserved. In fact, ballet d'action would probably have died with Weaver if the Italian Gaspero Angiolili, (1731-1803), and the French-Swiss Jean Georges Noverre, (1727-1810), had not pursued the ballet d'action on their own.

Because of the huge costumes worn by the ballet dancers of the day, it was hard for them to dance, and because they wore leather masks, it was hard for them to act. Noverre pushed to change the traditional costume of ballet dancers and in 1763 staged Jason and Medea maskless. With the facial expressions of the dancers visible the "vividly expressive show" sometimes was shocking for the audience.

One of the ballerinas of the time, Maria-Madeleine de Crespé, (1760-1796), is an important part of ballet history because she and her husband Jean Dauberval, (1742-1803), staged one of the first ballets to deal with middle class people in Bordeaux in 1789. Le Ballet de la Paille, (The Ballet of the Straw), was about a mother trying to arrange a profitable marriage for her daughter. This ballet is now known as La Fille Mal Gardée.

At this time the French revolution began and prompted Dauberval to stay in Bordeaux. While there he taught the Italian born and trained Salvatore Viganò, (1769-1821), and his wife. As well as being a ballet dancer, Viganò was an acclaimed poet, musician, and actor. His theatrical genius was said to be on a level with Shakespeare's and Beethoven wrote his only ballet score, The Creatures of Prometheus, for him. From drawings of Viganò and his wife we see that with the French revolution came a fashion revolution in ballet. Viganò's costumes were much lighter and his wife wore light flowing dresses with a cut similar to the French Empire line, and both dancers wore soft flexible footwear!

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