1902 Encyclopedia > Ballet


BALLET is a word, the signification of which depends upon the century in which we find it employed. Originally derived from the Greek fiaXKl&iv, to dance, it has passed through the mediaeval Latin ballare (with ballator as synony-mous with saltator) to the Italian ballare and ballata, to the French ballet, to the old English word ballette, and to ballad. In old French, according to Eousseau, ballet signifies " to dance, to sing, to rejoice ;" and thus it incorporates three distinct modern words, " ballet, ball, and ballad." Through the gradual changes in the amusements of different ages, the meaning of the first two words has at length become limited to dancing, and the third is now confined to sing-ing. But, although ballads are no longer the vocal accom-paniments to dances round the maypole, our old ballads are still sung to dance tunes. The present acceptation of the word ballet is—a theatrical representation in which a story is told only by gesture, accompanied by music which should be characterised by stronger emphasis than would be employed with the voice. The dancing should be con-nected with the story, but is more commonly incidental. The French word was found to be so comprehensive as to require further definition, and thus the above-described would be distinguished as the ballet d'action or pantomime ballet, while a single scene, such as that of a village festival with its dances, would now be termed a divertissement.

The ballet d'action, to which the changed meaning of the word is to be ascribed, and therewith the introduction of modern ballet, has been generally attributed to the 16th century. Novelty of entertainment was then sought for in the splendid courts of Italy, in order to celebrate events which were thought great in their time, such as the marriages of princes, or the triumphs of their arms. Inven-tion was on the rack for novelty, and the skill of the machinist was taxed to the utmost. It has been supposed that the art of the old Roman jtxwifomiW was then revived, co add to the attractions of court-dances. Under the Roman empire the pantomimi had represented either a mythological story, or perhaps a scene from a Greek tragedy, by mute gestures, while a chorus, placed in the background, sang cantica to narrate the fable, or to describe the action of the scene. The question is whether mute pantomimic action, which is the essence of modern ballet, was carried through those court entertainments, in which kings, queens, princes, and princesses took parts with the courtiers; or whether it is of later growth, and derived from professional dancers upon the stage. The former is the general opinion, but an analysis of the only ballet which is known to have been printed in a complete form during the 16th century, would lead to the inference that the court enter-tainments of Italy and France were masques, or masks, which included declamation and song, like those of Ben Jonson with Inigo Jones for the court of James I.
The introduction of the Italian style of ballet into France was on the occasion of the marriage of the Due de Joyeuse with Mdlle. de Vaudemont, sister to the queen. This was in 1581; and the ballet was printed in 1582, in a small folio of eighty-two leaves, with music, dialogue, engravings of the scene and of the fancy dresses, and full details of the plot. It is entitled Balet Comique de la Boyne, because the queen took a part in it, as one of the naiades, with her ladies; but they were only posed upon machinery to be looked at, and neither spoke nor sang. One lady of the court sang a song, two others a duet, and, again, others a chorus. Jupiter and Mercury each sang a song, but Circe and the rest spoke poetry. The king's musicians, as tritons, were the mainstays of the music; the ladies and gentlemen of the court appeared in splendid fancy dresses, and danced the entrees. The inventor of the ballet was Baltazarini Kalgioioso, who had assumed the name of Baltasar de Beaujoyeux upon his appointment as first musician to Catherine de Medicis, queen dowager of France. The disuse of dialogue and of vocal music in ballet seems to have been arrived at only by degrees. One of the most complete books upon the subject is by the Jesuit Le Pere Menestrier (Claude Francois) Bet Ballets Anciens et Modernes, 12mo, 1681. He was the inventor of a ballet for Louis XIV. in 1658; and in his book he analyses about fifty of the early Italian and French ballets. His definition is as follows:—- "Ballets are dumb comedies, which should be divided into acts and scenes, like other theatrical pieces. Recitations
divide them into acts, and the entrees of dancers are equal in number to the scenes." So recitation had not then been dispensed with At length the opinion gained ground that, in stage representations, the actions, feelings, and passions could be more faithfully, gracefully, and intelligibly expressed to the eye by pantomimic action, than it would be
possible to do to the ear. The art of dramatic expression then became a greater object of study; and, perhaps, from about the middle of the last century, or in the time of
Noverre, the spectators have been prepared only by a short printed summary of the story which was to be represented, (w. CH.)

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