Sunday, July 22, 2012

How did Ballet develop from the change in dancewear?

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The development of dance changed with the development of dance costumes. Royal Patronage, fashions and professional dancers played important roles in the development of Dance and Dancewear. Ballet was initially a combination of professional acrobatics and folk dance with an aristocratic grace performed for the leisure of the monarchy.

Men’s clothing wasn’t very practical, they wore heavily brocaded tunics and coats which were very stiff and breeches limited movement of the knees. Heavy wigs and swords to the waist reduced movement while small heeled shoes disabled the pointe of feet. Woman wore clothing even more unsuitable for dancing, stiff lacy long sleeved bodices and panniered skirts. This shows us that the importance of dancewear should not be overlooked because dancers were less skilled then they are now and so were not bothered by bulky costumes.

During the early 1700s, fashions in ballet costumes began to change. The great dancer Marie Camargo shortened her ballet skirt to above her ankles, and removed the heels from her dancing slippers. Allowing her ankles on show meant full appreciation of intricate footwork and complex jumps. She believed that Dance “should be natural and expressive”. Ballet technique grew increasingly spectacular, and the skirts became shorter and shorter. This overcome the problem of wearing “caleons de precaution” (precautionary drawers) to keep their legs covered in the resulting whirls. Marie Salle further shocked audiences with the show of more skin, by discarding petticoats and replacing with a flimsy Muslim dress, and this I feel was very important in revolutionising the performance of dance in opera houses as it enabled the development of gliding leaps we see today which also attracted more audiences.

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An innovating designer at the Paris Opera named Maillot overcome the heavy weight of these clothing by introducing tights. Believe it or not but these thin garments of nylon revolutionised the world of dance forever. Tights allowed a significant degree of freedom that dancers had never before experienced. Dances were no longer limited to simple elegant steps, but complex as well as dramatic athletic movement became possible, allowing ballet to move far beyond its previous limited boundaries.

The bell-shaped Romantic dress of the mid-1800s gave way to the famous tutu at the end of the 1th century. Connoisseurs of ballet, the Russians also wanted to see the new technical feats and fancy footwork of their ballerinas. The new long, floppy, 16 layer tutus reached to the knee and allowed the female dancers much greater mobility in such technically demanding ballets as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Paquita. George Balanchines athletic choreography led to the creation of the shorter powder-puff tutu that is worn in Symphony . These tutus allow the entire leg to be seen and so today, the standard ballet skirt, the tutu, ends well above the knees.

To enhance the image of the ballerina as light and elusive, the Pointe shoe was introduced, enabling women to dance on the tips of their toes. The tips of these shoes are made with layers of cloth and glue, the layers strengthen the tips, giving the dancer support. Each dancer fitted with the Pointe shoes must have good strong feet leg muscles, good placement and a correct ballet technique. Without these shoes imagine how uncomfortable it was when early 1800s dancers wore small heeled firm shoes that they would again use as everyday shoes?

Modern dancers wore the new leotard for their practice wear. Invented by the trapeze artist Jules Leotard, the original leotard consisted of a close-fitting suit of knitted jersey, which reached to the wrists and ankles; the womans version came with a short fringed skirt. Today, the leotard is the accepted uniform of dancers around the world and is designed in many attractive patterns, colours and materials.

Bare legs were never very popular with dancers for practice sessions since the leg muscles must be kept continually warm. Today dancers wear not only leotards and tights but also wool leg warmers and/or plastic pants over their tights in order to keep their muscles warm and supple.

The best ballet costumes are light and simple. They show all the lines of the body and never interfere with the dancers movements. Even in historical ballets, freedom of movement is more important than costumes that look exactly like the clothing of the time. I’m sure you all will agree that dancewear is a important part of the development in Ballet as it has enabled great dancers and choreographers to create techniques that make it look as though heavenly figures glide effortlessly across the stage and open up new possibilities in Ballet as an art form.

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