History of Neoclassical Ballet
History of Neoclassical Ballet History of Neoclassical Ballet

Neoclassical ballet is the style of 20th century classical ballet exemplified by the works of George Balanchine.

The term "Neoclassical Ballet" appears in 1920s with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, in response to the excesses of romanticism and modernity.

It draws on the advanced technique of 19th century Russian Imperial dance, but strips it of its detailed narrative and heavy theatrical setting. What is left is the dance itself, sophisticated but sleekly modern, retaining the pointe shoe aesthetic, but eschewing the well upholstered drama and mime of the full length story ballet.

History and Development

Neoclassical ballet is a genre of dance that emerged in the 1920s and evolved throughout the Twentieth Century.

Artists of many disciplines in the early 1900s began to rebel against the overly dramatized style of the Romantic Period.

As a result, art returned to a more simplistic style reminiscent of the Classical Period, except bolder, more assertive and free of distractions.

This artistic trend came to be known as Neoclassicism.

The ballet choreographer who most exemplified this new, clean aesthetic, was George Balanchine.

As a child, the importance of classicism was imprinted on him when he was a student at the famed Imperial Ballet School, which was (and remains) steadfast in its firm commitment to classical ballet technique. Upon his graduation, Balanchine earned the privilege of choreographing for the Ballet Russe, where he had the opportunity to collaborate with Picasso, Matisse, Chanel, Debussy, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, who were all at the forefront of Neoclassicism. These interactions pushed Balanchine to explore neoclassicism though dance.

Balanchine's first major ballet that contained neoclassical elements, Apollon Musegete, was set to a Stravinsky score. Unlike many of his later neoclassical works, this ballet tells a story, which indicates that Balanchine had not yet completely broken free from the Romantic tradition. Moreover, when this ballet first premiered it featured large sets, costumes and props. However, Balanchine continually revised it as his neoclassical style evolved.

For example, later versions of the ballet utilized white practice leotards and minimal sets and lights.

Balanchine even renamed the ballet simply Apollo.

The transformation of Apollo exemplifies Balanchine’s transformation as a choreographer.

As Balanchine’s neoclassical style matured, he produced more plotless, musically driven ballets. Large sets and traditional tutus gave way to clean stages and plain leotards.

This simplistic external style allowed for the dancers’ movement to become the main artistic medium, which is the hallmark of neoclassical ballet.

Although much of Balanchine's work epitomized the genre, some choreographers like the British Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan were also great neoclassical choreographers.

George Balanchine Choreography

Apollo 1928
Serenade 1934
Concerto Barocco 1940
Symphony in C 1947
Agon 1957
Jewels 1967
Serge Lifar
Les Créatures de Prométhée 1929
Le Spectre de la rose (personal version) 1931
L'Après-midi d'un faune (personal version) 1935
Icare 1935
Istar 1941
Suite en Blanc 1943
Frederick Ashton
Symphonic Variations 1946
Cinderella 1948
Sylvia 1952
Romeo and Juliet 1956
Ondine 1958
La Fille Mal Gardee 1960
The Dream 1964
Roland Petit
Le jeune homme et la mort 1946
Carmen 1949
Notre-Dame de Paris 1965
Proust, ou Les intermittences du coeur 1974
Clavigo 1999
Kenneth MacMillan
Romeo and Juliet 1955
Anastasia 1967
Manon 1974
Jerome Robbins

Serge Diaghilev: Ballet Impressario
Au, Susan (2002). Ballet and Modern Dance. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-20352-1.

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