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Ballet: About

The history and ongoing legacy of ballet and famous works.

The Origins of Ballet

Can you imagine a party where every movement and every visual detail were governed by a complex system of rules and procedures? For centuries, such rituals were commonplace for European nobility. And while they’ve gone out of fashion, we recognize the components under a familiar label: ballet. Jennifer Tortorello and Adrienne Westwood outline the history of this graceful and precise dance. Lesson by Jennifer Tortorello and Adrienne Westwood, animation by Moran Barak Studio.

Ballet Styles


Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova of the Bolshoi Ballet

Classical Ballet: This is the most familiar style to the public. It goes all the way back to the times of Louis XIV's court. It emphasizes on story ballets and a narrative structure while adhering to traditional ballet technique. It focuses on graceful, flowing movement as well as balance and symmetry. It features elaborate sets and costumes.

Photo: Wendy Whelan and Nils Martin in George Balanchine's Concerto Barocco 

Neoclassical Ballet: This style was created in the twentieth century. It emphasizes the athleticism aspect of ballet as well as the speed and technical aspect. It keeps minimal sets and costumes and does not contain a narrative element. Often, these ballets are one-act. George Balanchine, a famed choreographer, was a great influence on this style and his name is often associated with this style. 


Photo: Performance by Complexions Contemporary Ballet as homage to David Bowie

Contemporary Ballet: This style incorporates both classical ballet and modern dance. There is a greater range of movement and body line compared to other styles. It features much footwork. Dancers can wear pointe shoes or go barefoot in this style. There is no focus on a narrative.

Ballet Dancer Spotlights

Ballet Dancer Spotlight: Wendy Whelan

Wendy Whelan's ballet career spanned three decades at the New York CIty Ballet. Quite a feat in an industry which makes high demands of the body. In the words of her surgeon "ballet dancers are God's athletes". In 2012, after an injury free career, Whelan was crippled by a hip problem and underwent intensive surgery causing her to have a two year break for rehabilitation. Upon her emotional return in the Fall of 2014 she decided to announce her retirement at the end of the season. This short montage shows an excerpt from that performance. The pieces performed were created uniquely for her final farewell performance by two of the choreographers, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky who were most influential in her career. The excerpts are taken from the documentary Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (2016). The pieces performed are This Bitter Earth choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and By 2 With & From choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky.

Ballet Dancer Spotlight: Misty Copeland

Copeland is an American ballerina for American Ballet Theatre (founded in 1939), one of the top three classical ballet companies of the United States. She is the first black woman to be promoted to principal dancer in the company's history. 

Ballet Dancer Spotlight: Carlos Acosta

Hailing from Havana, Cuba, Acosta has been an international sensation. He has worked with the Paris Ballet, the Russian Ballet, the National Ballet of Cuba, the Houston Ballet, and the Royal Ballet of London. In 2015, he celebrated his farewell by starring and choreographing Carmen. 

Ballet Dancer Spotlight: Sergei Polunin

Originally from Ukraine, Polunin, at the age of twenty, was the youngest principal dancer in the renowned Royal Ballet of London. In 2014, he resigned from the company and is a freelance dancer and guest artist on multiple projects. 

Ballet Dancer Spotlight: Misa Kuranaga

At eighteen years old, Kuranaga left Japan to be an apprentice with the San Francisco Ballet. She did not get hired at the company and struggled auditioning elsewhere. She enrolled in the School of American Ballet in NYC to retrain. Since then, she is hailed as one of the best dancers today. She is the first Asian dancer to be appointed as principal ballerina in the Bost Ballet. 


Ballet Dancer Spotlight: Alessandra Ferri

Italian ballerina, Alessandra Ferri performed with the American Ballet Theatre for around twenty-seven years. In her early fifties, Ferri has come out of her retirement to continue dancing. She is ranked Prima ballerina assoluta, a rare honor given only to the most exceptional dancers of their generation. The title is rarely used to this day.