Raising The Curtain On… Ballet

Did you go through a ballet phase at one point in your childhood? Did you drag your parents to sign you up for classes? Did you continue with it and become a full-fledged dancer of one of the most famous, and undeniably elegant, form of performing arts in the world?

My answers? Yes. Tried to. Sadly, no.

Thus, I am still a painfully uncoordinated human being. I have always been envious of the graceful movements of beautiful, tutu-ed dancers graciously tip-toeing on stage to the befitting melody of a hidden orchestra, and that envy, that interest, grew for this refined and sophisticated dance… and here I am!

So, to the basics. What is ballet? Is is a form of performing arts used as a way to express emotions, thoughts, ideas. The term ‘ballet’ originated from the Italian ‘ballare’, which means ‘to dance’. Often, but not always, ballet assumes a theatrical nature, accompanied with elaborate costumes, picturesque stage props, and dramatic lighting.

The dance was born in Italy during the Renaissance period and was raised two centuries after in France- where, despite efforts made by renowned dancer at that time Jean-Georges Noverre, it unfortunately deflated in appeal sometime in the early 19th century. What followed almost a hundred years later was a reintroduction, a renaissance if you will, of the performing art to some western parts of Europe, namely Russia and France, shortly before World War I by the Ballet Russes Company, led by Sergei Diaghilev, who led ballet to enchant people all over the world.

There are primarily three types of ballet:


Classical ballet originated from multiple places, varying from Italy, Russia and France. However, Carlo Blasis, an Italian dancer, had the most influence on this style, taught since the 19th century until today. Classical ballet is the embodiment of traditional techniques utilised in what is considered as very formal, often emphasizing on gracefully flowing choreographs and of course, classic styles such as pointe work, where dancers balance their weight on the tip of their toes. This type of ballet narrates the show with a storyline that embodies a fantasy-like element, and includes elaborately designed stage and costumes, which are prime aspects to further emphasise the dancers’ expressions of their thoughts and emotions.

The epitome of classical ballet – Swan Lake performed at the Royal Opera House


Introduced in the 1900s, neo-classical ballet is a middle ground of the classical and modern style. Possessing less rigidity than the former and a defining fast-paced rhythm in the choreography, neo-classical ballet often deals with technical manoeuvres and focuses on the structural aspect of the performance to produce a sophisticated number. George Balanchine, a Russian-American choreographer and pioneer of the neo-classical style, opted for movements such as flexed hands and feet made by dancers dressed in simpler costumes as a way to differentiate neo-classical from classical.

Balanchine’s artistic coming of age piece, Apollo, performed by the Pacific Northwest Ballet


Coming from the influences of classical style and modern dance, contemporary ballet is most notably recognised by its much freer and larger range of movements. This freedom in the choreography allows the dancers to send the messages in their thoughts and feelings in unique and diverse ways. The contemporary style comprises of certain classical techniques, such as the quintessential pointe work, but many of its characteristics are also derived from modern dance, which often includes floor-work, turn in of the legs, and dancing with bare feet. Dancer and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is one of the contemporary scene’s acclaimed talents, proven through his achievement of working with the prestigious, centuries-old Russian company, Bolshoi Ballet.

Wheeldon’s After the Rain presented by the New York City Ballet is a tribute to the vigour of human spirit.

To end this post, I shall bestow you an inspiring quote from prominent American ballerina and choreographer, Twyla Tharp.

Ballet needs to tell its own story in such a way it can be received without having to be translated into language.


Header image source: Staatsballett Berlin

By Raihah Noorazli








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Writer, feminist, theatre enthusiast, but most importantly a purveyor of the importance of performing arts, from dance to spoken word and all in between.

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