The word ballet is French in origin, and although this unique form of dance originated in Italy as far back as the 1400s, it was in France, home to the world’s oldest ballet company, that ballet fell on its feet…
Dances called balletto were recorded in renaissance Italy, often performed at weddings or formal occasions. When the Italian Catherine de Medici married Henri II of France in 1533, she brought to the courts some of the arts and culture of her homeland, including music and dance.
In France, ballet was transformed when in 1581 Catherine organised the Ballet Comique de la Reyne and for the first time dance and music were used to display coherent dramatic ideas, and thus began the history of Ballet in France.
How Louis XIV got his name The Sun King from Ballet
Ballet was very much entertainment for the rich and the royal both to watch and to participate. Louis XIV, famously enjoyed dancing the ballet. He made his debut at the age of 13 in the “Ballet de Cassandre” in 1651. Two years later in 1653, the teenage king starred as Apollo, the sun god, in The Ballet of the Night (Le Ballet de la Nuit) dressed in a memorable, sumptuous costume. It was this celebrated performance which led to his nickname, the Sun King. In the ballet, he banished the night terrors as he rose as the sun at dawn. His courtiers were made to worship him like a god through choreography. Through the ballet it was clear that the glory of King Louis XIV was that of a sun king, and that he had absolute authority both on and off the dance floor.
His musician Lully was the first composer to make an art of the composition of dance and music and the first to insist that women be allowed to be ballet dancers, rather than restrict the performance to men only.
Ballet at the Opera Garnier
Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opera) in 1669 within which emerged the first professional theatrical ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest ballet company in the world. The company presents ballet primarily at the Palais Garnier, aka The Paris Opera.
When the king got too fat to dance, his interest waned and the ballet was no longer performed at court. Instead it was adopted by colleges, dances were performed at prize giving’s, often set to the compositions of Lully, and the rest as they say, is history.
Take a back stage tour of the Opera Garner and discover the world of the Paris Ballet