The first ballet shoes looked like ordinary shoes with a soft fabric inside. This simple technique helped ballerinas somehow protect their feet from injuries. Modern pointe shoes differ significantly from their predecessors of the early 19th century.
They may look minimalistic, but even in this case ballet shoes can be “decomposed” into more than 50 parts. A pointe shoe consists of an upper part, a sole and a box, or block, - the toe part where the toes are placed. The sole is made of genuine leather, and the upper part is usually made of satin and lining fabric. Calico cloth can be used in some models, as it is known for good breathability and the ability to easily take and maintain the shape you need.
The box is the hard part of a pointe shoe, which is made of several layers of fabric carefully glued to each other. Manufacturers often alternate a denser burlap-like fabric with a textile one, adding jute inserts to make the toe stable and durable.
A leather or cardboard insole is placed above the sole, it is attached with nails and glue. Despite all these "efforts", ballerinas often tear the insole from the sole to bend it before practicing or going on stage. Above the sole, there is a platform. It can be reinforced with a small leather pad or thread around the perimeter. Another platform is at the bottom of the pointe shoe, and it is smaller in size than the outer one.
Ribbons are an aesthetically significant detail of ballet shoes. They are attached at the side seams, but this is usually done by the ballerinas themselves, not by the manufacturer.
Historically, any partner dance performed by two ballet dancers on stage was called a “pas de deux” ("step of two"). In terms of musical accompaniment, a ballet duet is called “adagio” - this word is also very common to refer to a slow and/or partner part of a dance.
In the middle of the 19th century, the pas de deux acquired a clear structure of five parts, and the duet dance - adagio - entered this scheme along with the introduction, male and female variations, and coda.
A pair dance can be part of a production: such is, for example, the well-known lyric duet of Odette and Siegfried in Swan Lake. A ballet duet can also be an integral dance number, such as the peasant pas de deux inserted in Giselle.
At the same time, not every interaction of two ballet dancers on stage is a duet dance. There is also a dance dialogue, which is, for example, the scene with Maria and Zarema in the ballet The Fountain of Bakhchisarai. The level of stage and emotional interaction of partners in a duet is higher, while in a dialogue the artists seem to be soloing alternately.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, choreographers Jean Dauberval, Charles Didelot, Jules-Joseph Perrot and August Bournonville actively used duet dances in their productions, alternating parterre lifts and combinations. Later, choreographers Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Alexander Gorsky made ballet pas de deux more complicated and diversified, perfecting them technically and plot-wise.
A dance monologue that a ballet dancer performs on stage is called a variation. There is a partial synonym for this term - adagio, one of the meanings of which is an independent dance number performed by one, two or more soloists. By the way, a variation can also be performed on the ballet stage by several dancers.
There are male and female solo dances, such as the three famous Kitri variations and Basile's dance in the ballet Don Quixote.
According to another classification, they distinguish between parterre (“terre à terre” literally means "moving near the floor", without jumping) and jumping variations. A ballet solo dance can be combined: in this case, it includes pointe movements, rounds and jumps.
To perform a solo dance, an artist requires special skills, experience and originality, that is why only soloists and principals are trusted with them. As any other complete stage statement, the plot of a variation consists of the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
A ballet position is a fixed position of the artist's arms and feet. This is the basis for the other movements of classical dance. Positions help a ballerina or a dancer maintain stability by taking the correct position of the body in space.
The first record of the dance movements that served as a basis for the classical ballet positions was made by the French choreographer Pierre Beauchamp in the 17th century. He was followed by Pierre Rameau, who wrote about the five basic positions of the feet in ballet. This system quickly became canonical.
Positions of the arms in the history of ballet were defined in different ways. Thus, the classical French methodology included seven arm positions. At the end of the 19th century, choreographer Enrico Cecchetti created a method of five positions. Later, teacher Agrippina Vaganova proposed a system of three basic arm positions and one preparatory one. This way, the modern classical ballet has five basic positions for the feet and three - for the arms.
The correct position of an artist in all ballet positions is standing with contracted muscles and a straight back. Learning the art of dance in ballet schools begins with mastering this system of positions.
A ballet libretto is a written narration of the plot of a production. The word is translated from Italian as "booklet".
Librettos are often based on literary works, fairy tales, legends. It also happens vice versa - a ballet plot can be created for a specific piece of music. A ballet "script" can be written by a choreographer, composer, stage director or librettist. They usually prefer poetic form, alternating it with prose and even including notes to emphasize the most striking musical episodes.
An important goal of a libretto is to reveal the content and meaning, to tell viewers about the characters and events that the choreographer embodies in plastique images. Moreover, such a text helps the audience better understand the ballet plot.
A libretto should not be confused with a synopsis, which is a summary of the plot. It is a synopsis that you usually find in the programs that can be purchased before a performance.
It is impossible to imagine classical ballet without fouetté - this virtuoso element often becomes the culmination of a dance in a performance.
Like other ballet terms, “fouetté” is a French word derived from “fouetter”, which literally means “to whip, to whisk, to beat”. This is a series of quick successive 360° rotations on one spot enabled by sharp sweeping movements of the leg from front to back.
Ballerinas do fouetté in pointe shoes standing on the toes of one foot, while the other leg opens to the side in the second position at a 45-90° angle. This movement appeared in ballet only in the late 19th century, but it was known before - similar rotations were performed by Italian street dancers.
The gold standard today is 32 fouettés, although most modern ballerinas can do more turns.
One of the main "technical" parameters in ballet is the ability to turn your legs outward or, as they say in ballet, en dehors. Three joints at once are in charge of this anatomical skill - hip, knee and ankle, and it depends on the physical predisposition. When the glenoid fossa of the hip joint (it is also called a hip socket) has room for rotation of the femoral head, it is easier to practice turnout. Ballet dancers do this from an early age, because the technique of ballet jumping and the very jumping ability as a quality, depends on it.
As choreographer and teacher Agrippina Vaganova wrote, “a dancer without turnout is limited in movements, while a classical dance with its en dehors has all the imaginable wealth of dance leg moves”.
Turnout allows ballet dancers to perform moves with maximum amplitude and at the same time maintain balance. A ballerina can take her thigh to the side without twisting the pelvis, while non-professional dancers will find this position non-physiological.
The determining physical parameters of a dancer are her height and weight. Over the years of the ballet's existence, ballerinas have “grown taller”, but the weight standard remains the same.
The height of the first professional dancers was about 150 cm. As for modern ballerinas, in the Bolshoi Theater, for example, it ranges from 161 to 164 cm on the average.
The canonical weight of an adult ballerina for centuries has been about 50 kg. In ballet schools, the ideal weight is often determined by the formula: "Height - 122".
Moreover, when assessing the height of a ballerina, the ratio of the length of her legs and body is important. This ratio is calculated in the sitting and standing positions using the formula: "Sitting height/standing height x 100%". Ideally, this figure should be in the range between 49 and 53%.
Although ballet is considered to be an elite art form, this doesn’t mean that only intellectuals can understand it. Even if you are about to become a spectator of a ballet performance for the first time, you will surely understand much more than you’ve expected - classical music and choreography evoke a strong emotional response and are perfectly understandable on an intuitive level. Moreover, the plots of classical ballets are quite simple and convey eternal ideas about good and evil, love and devotion, salvation and betrayal. But to get a more holistic impression, look into the original source - often it is a literary work.
Didn't have time to get ready? At the theater, you can buy a synopsis with libretto - a summary of the play. Reading the libretto, you can notice that not all of the ballet's acts are directly related to the plot. For example, the part of the Russian Doll in The Nutcracker adds choreographic variety to the production. So, don't focus on the plot, just enjoy!
The students of ballet schools are taught to stand “en pointe” at the age of 11-13, after 3-4 years of training in the primary choreographic classes. By this age, young ballerinas have already shaped their high arches sufficiently and trained their leg muscles, which allow them to achieve an ideal vertical line required in this dance technique.
“En pointe” does not mean that the tiptoes have to literally support the entire body weight. For this purpose, pointe shoes have a box - a rigid element that tightly wraps around the forefoot and prevents it from slipping forward. The box protects toes from serious injuries, and stability in pointe shoes is achieved by the dancer's perfect balance and the flat tip of the shoe - a platform. While dancing, a ballerina stands on the platform, bringing the pointe shoe to an upright position, and this is called “en pointe”, although the main load actually falls on the forefoot.
Traditionally, men perform on classical stage in ballet shoes, not in pointe shoes, so they dance “en demi-pointe” (on half-toes), lifting their body weight on their toes as high as possible. Women practice this technique for years too, but for them it is considered preparatory to go “en pointe”.
You can do ballet professionally only "out of love", because serving the classical stage is a vocation that you will have to devote most of your life.
In the first half of the day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., ballet dancers have a rehearsal. After that, they take a rest. And in the evening, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., there is another rehearsal or a performance. In total, we get a standard workday, but it is important to understand that theatrical life requires almost constant presence. Make-up, hairstyle, costume fitting, extra classes, communication with colleagues: usually, ballet dancers come to the theater in the morning and leave late at night. And they work 6 days a week.
On the other hand, official vacation of classical dancers is twice as long, they usually have it in July and August. But serious ballet dancers never allow themselves to get out of shape during this time, that is why, if possible, they continue training.