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My Favorite Ballets - Part 1

Updated on July 2, 2012
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), the class of dance (ca. 1874). Musée d'Orsay, Parijs, Oil on canvas, 87 x 75 cm
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), the class of dance (ca. 1874). Musée d'Orsay, Parijs, Oil on canvas, 87 x 75 cm | Source
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) Dance Hall of the Opera in the rue Peletier
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) Dance Hall of the Opera in the rue Peletier | Source

I have always loved the Ballet

I love the etymology of the word “Ballet.” “The word ballet comes from the French and was borrowed into English around 1630. The French word in turn has its origin in Italian balletto, a diminutive of ballo (dance) which comes from Latin ballo, ballare, meaning "to dance", which in turn comes from the Greek ballizo, "to dance, jump about". (Wikipedia)

When I was a little girl, my mother took me for ballet lessons. I did ballet for ten years and can highly recommend it as a dance/art form for girls and boys. It teaches discipline, wonderful poise and posture, co-ordination, appreciation of music, and builds the body into a wonderfully strong, lean, dancing machine. Ballet forms the basis of classical dance and lends itself to the telling of comedy and sweeping dramas from fairy tales, to Shakespeare and other classics.

I may not have been a wonderful ballet dancer, but the dance form lit up my imagination and I LOVED going to the Johannesburg Civic Theatre as a child, and becoming transported by the ballet. When I was old enough, I went with a few friends, back in the day when we still had double decker buses, and arrived at the Civic Theatre after a woman on the bus commented that we were “highbrow!” Her remark made me feel very grown up and important! I usually had tickets at the back of the auditorium and it was a thrill, when finally, as an adult, I could afford to sit in far better seats in the center of the auditorium, and not at the back.

Allow me to introduce one of my favorites first: The ballet is “Coppelia.” I participated in many dance shows and Eisteddfods as I grew up, because I learned various forms of dance, speech and drama, choral verse, and I sang in the choir from Grade 2 through Grade 12. One of the solo dances I did in a ballet Eisteddfod was the wind-up doll from Coppelia. I loved the costumes, the music, the story and the dance.

San Francisco Ballet's Coppelia - Interview

The Story of Coppelia

This ballet is a comedy which is somewhat unusual, with choreography by Arthur Saint-Léon and beautiful music by Léo Delibes. The ballet was based on two strange stories: “The Sandman” and “The Doll” by ETA Hoffmann. This ballet premiered in 1870 at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra; and became the most popular ballet performed at Opéra Garnier.

George Balanchine choreographed a version of the ballet for the New York Ballet in 1974. Alexandra Danilova, who had danced the title role many times through her career, assisted him.

The story of Coppélia is about a toymaker, Dr Coppelius, who makes a dancing doll which is life-size. It looks so real, that a young villager, named Franz, falls in love with it, ignoring his real true love, Swanhilde. Swanhilde takes matters into her own hands, dresses as the doll and pretends to make it come to life, which ultimately saves Franz from a dubious end at the hands of the inventor.

PNB's Coppélia Imagery

Coppelia - Royal Ballet 2000

Swan Lake Ballet

Corps de Ballet
Corps de Ballet | Source

Swan Lake

Pyotr Tchaikovsky composed Swan Lake ballet, op. 20 in 1875-1876. The ballet, initially in four acts, was choreographed around Russian folk tales. It tells the story of a princess, Odette, who was turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer. The original choreography was done by Julius Reisinger. This ballet premièred at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1877 and was initially called “The Lake of the Swans.” There are many different versions of this ballet, but most ballet companies use the choreography and music of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov who revived the ballet in 1895. It was reintroduced for the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, and Riccardo Drigo (chief conductor and composer), revised Tchaikovsky’s score.

The story has been called a “national ballet” because the swans originate from Russian sources and many movements of the corps de ballet originated from Slavonic ring-dances. The libretto is based on “The Stolen Veil” by German author Johann Karl August Musäus and provides the general outline. Another possible source is the Russian folk tale, “The White Duck.” Tchaikovsky was most interested in the life of Ludwig II, the King of Bavaria, who became the inspiration for Prince Siegfried – the dreamer.

Royal Ballet Trailer

Bolshoi Swan Lake - Pas de Quatre Small Swans

Swan Lake is a great classic

Prince Siegfried is out hunting and spots a beautiful swan. As he takes aim, to his amazement, the swan turns into a beautiful woman. Her name is Odette, and she tells the Prince that she has fallen under the spell of an evil sorcerer. During the day, she is doomed to swim in a lake of tears, but at night, she is transformed from a swan, back into human form. The spell can only be broken if a virgin Prince professes his eternal love for her, otherwise she will remain a swan forever.

Prince Siegfried is that virgin prince and falls madly in love with Odette. The evil sorcerer, however, introduces a black swan, Odile, to Prince Siegfried at a royal ball. Siegfried believes her to be Odette and proposes to her. Odette feels betrayed and throws herself into the lake. Siegfried is horrified at the mistake and drowns himself with her. In a heartfelt climax to the story, they both are transformed into lovers in the afterlife. Swan Lake is one of the best known and most classical of all the ballets and has held audiences spellbound for over a hundred years!

Black Swan pas de deux

© This writing is the work of Sue-Lynn Grace.

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