Ballet History

For dance the original ballets were not done on a stage at all, they were performed in a large open area, with the audience seated around them

Not only were there dancers, there were also horses. This harkens back to the very beginnings of this dance form, in Italy.

Just as an aside, there are two steps in the vocabulary, ballet that is, that have always amused me; “pas de cheval” and “pas marchĂ©”. Stupid steps, but none the less there. A few years ago I finally realised that these two steps were very important in those early days. It was how the dancers were able to get rid of the horse turds. The pawing and kicking moves.

It was not until the ballet moved to France that a stage was used.

Drama had taken place on a kind of stage as indeed had the opera. If it was the blending of opera and ballet that produced this I am not clear on. I do know that Louis X1V danced in ballets, and I have seen prints of him in costume, but also in a stage setting.

Opera buffs claim that ballet grew out of the opera situation, but that is not entirely true, ballet as a theatrical form existed on its own, for much music was written specifically for ballet. By some big names of the time.

When you start to dig back in the area of stage and early ballet, you almost need a book on that subject alone. It is large, and when it spread to other countries , each country had a starting point in the theatre that was added to the ballet.

There are things like the fact that the early ballet performances used gas lights to light the stage, which gave the whole thing a different, and I am sure , magical appearance.

Pointe work had a very different appearance when seen under gas lights, it would look like floating.

The jumps that were done with bent knees, such as assemblé, and beats, gave the impression of greater height, when seen under gaslight.

Flying Willis in Giselle would really look like they were unearthly.

With the Grande Exposition in Paris in 1897 Loie Fuller opened the doors to the stage lighting we now use. She was the first person to use electric lights and colour for a theatrical presentation.

It soon took over from the gaslights that had burned quite a few dancers to a crisp.

I personally have seen theatrical lighting go from very rough massive lighting boards, to very small and portable control panels. There have been a lot of very funny happenings along with the growing pains of lighting. The very expensive lighting computer control at Covent Garden, that used a drum as the storage means. On its opening night, it went through the 400 cues, that were to last three hours, in two minutes flat. Including of course, house lights out, house lights on.

I tried to work with a lighting board in Calgary that was very new and very expensive. Every time we said, “could I see that cue again” the level went down, two points. Yes, we achieved a blackout by calling the cue back several times. That board went back to the manufacturer. We used a manual board for the show.