Ballet, as we know it today, was originally cultivated from the Italian artistic dances of the 16th Century. It has actually revolutionized from a change in dress code to the very moves being employed; it isn’t what it used to be at all. Dancers used to put on masks on top of layers upon layers of brocaded costuming and pantaloons. Moreover, ornaments and headdresses would grace the dancers with a sumptuous look. Nonetheless, it was quite hard to make any sort of decent movements in such attire – it required a lot of practice and grace too. It was during the Renaissance, around 1500 when Catherine de Medici of Italy married French King Henry II that ballet began its vast transformation.
The queen introduced early dance styles into court life in France and over the next 100 years, the official terminology and vocabulary of ballet were codified into French. Performances would, later on, become a spectacle to larger audiences including the very populace; at least, the common man could now have a taste of royalty.
Over the years, master choreographers have emerged who have come up with unique and opulent moves that have required years of practice to mimic. Some of these masters are still alive today and making huge contributions in the ballerina world.
Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)
Even though many claimed that she had a limited set of technique, she had a unique charm surround her aura which led her to come up with the role of The Dying Swan, choreographed for her by Michael Fokine. This auspicious set of characteristics, later on, propelled her to becoming the first-ever ballerina to tour baller all around the world. When thinking of ballet dancers, you cannot simply fail to give a huge shout-out to the historical legends, those have made ballet what it is right now. Considering the dedication, tough training and strict discipline required to learn ballet, she can be called ‘the Iron Lady’ of her times.
Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev
When thinking of iconic figures, you have to give recognition to the specific ones who influenced some part of history as we know it. See, ballet was originally crafted as women’s dance, even though their male counterparts had little role to play. Even the dress code of male and female highly deferred with the male ballet dancers appearing in heroic costumes to bring out the image of conquering the evils that their dream girl faces.
Nureyev is an important figure in history as the Soviet defector is recognized as the force behind opening up opportunities for male artists in both ballet and modern dance. His skill and energy saw him successfully choreographing ‘Tancredi’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’. His dedication in Paris saw him appointed the Director of Paris Opera Ballet way back in 1983.
Alia Al Neyadi
She is referred to as the first Emirati ballerina and surely justifies whatever title that’s bestowed upon her. At only 24, the youthful ballerina from the Middle East has dazzled massive audiences in Egypt as well as Abu Dhabi. She was about to put her shoes down and consider a career change; but as they say, ‘Once a ballerina, always a ballerina.’ She couldn’t pass the chance to perform alongside the legendary Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theatre. Watch out for this rising star in the Arab world as she combines beauty and cultural tradition to bring about perfection to the stew.
Misty Danielle Copeland
Meet the 36-year old American who has taken over the dance industry with a wave not common amongst regular dancers. Talk flexibility, talk of a body shape with the right curves, talk of moves more graceful than a dove’s – she just has it all. She has received massive feedback and love from different social media making her not only trendy but also commands a voice over the airwaves.
The classical ballerina achieved a fete unheard of, by starting out dancing ballet and becoming a professional dancer in just a year. It is right to say ballet was in the first African American Female Principal Dancer right from the very start.
Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov
The 70-year old Russian dancer and choreographer has climbed the ladders in his dance career to achieve a net worth of $45 million dollars. The Russian artist has over the years re-choreographed traditional ballet dance forms earning him respect among the Soviet Union. He later moved on to Canada in 1974 before relocating the States in a quest to explore contemporary dance. He has successfully made the list of top ballet male dancer in history and has a common name by which everyone calls him – Misha. The prodigy has gone right ahead and featured in several televisions and films.
Dame Margot Fonteyn De Arias
The biggest names in history have a way of sticking on people’s tongues, people’s minds and even souls long after they are gone. Margot Fonteyn makes a perfect illustration to that analogy – the Brit can bear me witness. She still stands in the ranks of the greatest classical ballet dancers of all times with her career spanning over four decades. Much of her time dancing she spent with The Royal Ballet before appointment as Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the company by Queen Elizabeth II.
Her passion for fine arts seem to have been a genetic transfer from the father’s side and got her motivation from her mother. She flourished in her career and later on formed dance partnerships with figures such as Robert Helpmann and Rudolf Nureyev. This would mark the hallmark of her career as she is seen retiring in her last appearance in Nureyev’s 1979 summer season at age 60. She died at age 71 having danced away her life; raise a glass to the British heroine!
When elegance is mixed with a touch of gymnast perfection, the result is Sylvie Guillem – the Principal Guest Artist of The Royal Ballet 1988-2007. She started out a gymnast and forged a successful career as a ballerina having formed contemporary relationships with important figures such as William Forsythe, Akram Khan, Mats Ek, Rusell Maliphant and Michael Nunn. 11 was the turning point of her career and what would, later on, determine the rest of her life as she started out in the Paris Opera Ballet School.
The ambitious ballerina went on to become an Associate Artist of London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre. As she approached her Jubilee years in November 2014; she announced her retirement from the stage.
I present to you the English dancer, designer, and director of the Royal Ballet 1986-2001. Not only was he a master choreographer of his time, but he is also seen as an elegant and prosperous businessman who forged deals in the dance world and brought a new face to the Royal Ballet. He is seen to have partnered with Antoinette Sibley and went ahead to stage new productions of Swan Lake (1987) and The Sleeping Beauty (1995) for the company.
Natalia Romanovna Makarova was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and started out her training at the tender age of 12 at the Leningrad Choreographic School. She, later on, proceeded to join Kirov Ballet, became a lead ballerina and in the year 1965, she got herself her first gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition. The star would go through hardships and hurdles to win a Tony award for her 1983 superb acting. Even long after her retirement, she is still hitting the media scenes as an influential figure having been named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2012.
Vatslav Fomich Nizhinsky
Sensitivity was amongst his definition; he had spectacular leaps with a sensitive Russian interpretation that made him amass a gentle poise throughout his career. The Russian knew what admiration from the ladies was, and he was never afraid to show off some of his unique moves.
The legend is connected with famous works such as Giselle, Sleeping Beauty & Swan Lake in 1907. He gained so much popularity from his skill set that some actually referred to him as the “eighth wonder of the world.”
More felicitous figures have appeared on the screens and been captured on camera as better ballet dancers. The likes of Carlos Acosta, Gelsey Kirkland, Angel Corella, Tamara Rojo, and Benjamin Millepied are all characters that deserve a whole book of biography to better illustrate such talents. Welcome to the world of ballerinas and male ballet dancers who are sure to swoop you off your feet!