Ballet and Modern Dance Comparison Essay Sample

Dancing is an activity that benefits people in various ways including the provision of employment, physical fitness, entertainment, business venues and cultural exhibitions among others. The origin of dance dates back to many years ago and thus it has a very interesting history. This art may vary across cultures, but most contemporary dances are becoming cross-cultural due to their association with the modern culture. Different forms of dances have varying history, and below is presented an examination of the origin and development of dance in general as well as the history and development of ballet in particular. Dance refers to an art form of performance that entails a chosen trend of movement. It possesses a symbolic as well as aesthetic value, which is transferred from performers to observers (Fraleigh, 1987). Its categories are based on the body movements, the original place of invention and the period in history. Participatory and theatrical dances may have different contexts, but some similarities exist in their functions, which include ceremonial, social, erotic, competitive, sacred or martial (National Arts Centre, 2015). The former entails a dance performance on stage, while the latter entails a group dance whereby a large crowd is engaged in an uncoordinated dance. Some activities such as gymnastics, skating, martial arts and swimming as well as other athletic forms also tend to possess attributes that resemble dancing.

Dance is an art form, in which artistic manners are found by the means of rhythmically precise and plastic movements and continuous changes of expressive provisions of the human body. Dance is indissolubly connected with music, the emotional and imaginative content of which is embodied in its figures, movements, and choreographic composition. Dance originated from different gestures and movements connected with emotional experiences and labor processes of a person from the outside world. All significant occurrences in the life of a primitive man were marked with dancing – death, birth, and wars. In modern days, dance has not lost its importance. Nowadays, there are various styles of dances. However, many dancers consider ballet the basis of all dances. Modern dance takes its roots from classical ballet.

Therefore, the aim of current paper is to analyze ballet styles and its movement peculiarities, and to distinguish similarities and differences of classical ballet and modern dance.

Ballet as Multicultural Dance

The origin of dancing dates back to many years ago, for instance, some paintings in Egypt dated 3300 BC and in India dated 9,000 years ago are some of the archeological proof of the early existence of dancing. The art predates writing, as it has been used to pass information across generations (Dewald, 2004), and, thus, it has educational functions. Dance is usually but not always accompanied by music, and some dances may have their own tunes other than songs. Competitions may be involved whereby performers execute their dancing in front of a panel of judges who determine the winner of an award. Such competitions may be in the form of single style, sport that is restricted to the ballroom, a Latin dance, or an open and competitive dance that allows many styles to be acceptable. The latter requires the performers to be physically fit due to the rigorous body movements involved. A multicultural dance may feature different traditions that include different styles, techniques as well as of performers. Dance can be divided into the ballroom, folk dance, ballet, Bournemouth and Ringwood among others. Some dances have originated in different countries and later spread to the rest of the world. Below is a description of the history of the ballet style of dancing.

The style traces its origin to Italy during the era of cultural change of 14th -16th centuries, but it later developed in Russia and France. The dance was introduced in France by Catherine de’ Medici and it used to be performed by untrained dancers. However, from the 17th century, it began transforming into an art that entailed acrobatic skills. The term ballet originated in Italy, later spread to France and was later used in England in 1630 (Chantrell, 2003). The contemporary or modern classical ballet was established in France during the youthful time of Louise XIV, who was a dancer. He founded the Royal Dance Academy, or Academie Royale de Danse, in 1661 with the purpose of transforming ballet into a discipline and setting the qualifications as well as certifications of dancer trainers. Louise retired from dancing in 1672 and the Paris Opera Ballet was formed as the pioneer company for professional ballet dance (Craine & Mackrell, 2000).

The current domination of French in ballet dance signifies the high level of its development in this state. In its developmental period, the dance was executed in large chambers whereby the audience occupied three sides of the stage floor, but later, a stage surrounded by a public gallery was invented. The ballet’s popularity in France was crushed in 1830, though it continued flourishing in such countries as Russia, Italy, and Denmark. However, towards the World War I, the dance was revived in the Western Europe by a company from Ballet Russes that attracted many Russian dancers who fled from the turmoil of the Bolshevik revolution. Later, when the dancers returned home, they brought back the skills that made this dance popular. From the 20th century, the ballet was incorporated into the concert dancing, which inspired the development of neo-classical, contemporary as well as the post-structural ballet types (Wulff, 1998).

Since the Italian cultural transformation of 14th -16th centuries, differences in ballet styles have developed, and they are associated with their places of origin, for instance, French, Russian and Italian ballet types exist now. Other differences are based on the techniques of movement, and they include neo-classical and the modern ballet styles. These styles are described below in further detail.

Romantic ballet involves female dancers in special shoes that enable them to balance their bodies on their toes and make sequenced movements of posture (Barringer & Schlesinger, 2004). This style traces back to the period between the early and mid-19th century and emphasizes emotions, particularly in men, whose hearts and minds are in the captivity of ghost women. The first version of this style was called La Sylphide, while its last version was the Coppelia. It involves a motion that resembles floating in the air, though it may include other movements, such as rapid turns and high kicks.

Classical ballet is based on the particular locations as well as techniques. This style differs by the places of origin, which include Russian, Italian, and French ballet. These forms may differ in locations, for instance, Russian ballet is characterized by high extension and rapid turns, while the Italian style focuses more on the movements on the ground (Au, 2002). Various styles possess particular methods of training that are named after their founders, for instance, the Cecchetti method whose name is derived from Enrico Cecchetti and the Vaganova method named after Aggripina Vaganova (Ballet Fantastique, 2006). These methods depict dancing as a formally accepted discipline as opposed to a mere from of art.

The neo-classical ballet was prominent in the 20th century and it shares techniques with the classical method. However, unlike the former, it lacks clear scenery, plots and costumes. George Balanchine, Robert Joffrey, Glen Tetly and Gerald Arpino are some of the contributors to the neo-classical style. It lacks formal procedures and thus facilitates the improvement of designs due to flexibility as well as an unlimited choice of music. According to Au (2002), this style focuses on movement, which explains its flexibility. It is the intermediary between the classical and contemporary dance styles, and, thus, its founders are praised for laying the foundation for the contemporary ballet dance.

Contemporary ballet is a flexible form of dance that allows room for any style that would improves the ballet techniques. The innovations of the 20th century form the concept of modern ballet include the movement of legs and other floor works. It encompasses the elements of classical and modern dance (Au, 2002), which is the basis for its name. The foundation of this style is attributed to Balanchine due to his establishment of the neo-classical ballet, which is an intermediary between the classical and contemporary dances.

Dance has not been invented recently, because it has a long history that stretches back to thousands of years ago, and it even predates other methods of transmitting information, such as writing (Dewald, 2004). The history also features prominent persons like the King Louise XVI of France, Balanchine Arpino and Robert Joffrey, who have contributed to the discovery as well as the development of various styles and techniques thus making ballet an academic discipline that has led to the establishment of the Royal Dance Academy. Its popularity among different countries is also an exciting Fact, and thus there is great urge to study its history of origin and development. Dancing is not haphazard, as research shows that there are different styles, which are based on varying techniques, places of origin as well as the historical times. This art also has different functions, which include ceremonial, erotic, social, competitive as well as sacred. This art also has different forms, which include ballroom dance, ballet dance, folk dance, Ringwood dance, etc. All these attributes distinguish dance as a formal discipline that requires proper training and mastery of particular skills.

Dance Comparison

Dancing has also acquired the status of a profession, because it provides employment for various people, including trainers and dancers. Thus, it is a field on its own. Due to the dynamism of the modern world coupled with the wide literature and the study of drama and dancing, this discipline may not have reached its climax, as there might be room for more chances for its improvement in the future as well as the discovery of new dancing styles.

Ballet

Ballet is a kind of a theatrical art, where the main means of expression is the so-called classical dance. This kind of dance is a historically subordinate to a strict code of rules. Rinaldi claims, “Ballet is a very specific sort of dancing” (13). The plot of any ballet is set out in the libretto, or the script. Based on the libretto, music is written. It expresses an emotional semantic content of the work. Then, dance routines, pantomime, scenery, and costumes are created. Screenwriters, composers, choreographers, and artists participate in the creation of a ballet. Ballet can also be without the plot where choreography expresses exclusively music content. Dance is a major component of any ballet. As a theatrical form of art, ballet originated in the princely courts of Italy in the Renaissance. A prerequisite for the emergence of ballet was the new way of thinking and the philosophy of the Enlightenment. At that time, a person became the center of the universe and could manage the existence by means of the arts and sciences. By the end of the XVI century, court ballet reached prosperity. It was fully funded by the Italian monarchy that used it for the exaltation of its greatness. Ballet became part of the luxury and huge festive extravaganzas. As its popularity grew, the technique of the dance improved as well. Popularity of ballet spread throughout Europe. Eventually, it became extremely popular in the North and South Americas, Asia, and Australia. In the XVIII century, ballet developed mainly in Italy. However, in the early XIX century, France and later Russia became famous for their ballet companies. At the beginning of the XIX century, the epoch of romanticism marked the beginning of ballet on pointe shoes. In the XX century, ballet occupied its constant place on the stages of the United States, especially New York, as well as the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.

Modern Dance

The XX century greatly influenced the development of ballet art. The classical style gradually started growing into new elements of dance. The image of a dancer changed as well. The modern dance originated because of society’s response to the strict, hard, and formal constraints of classical ballet. As Scheff, Sprague, and McGreevy-Nichols write, “Modern dance is an all-encompassing phrase that has come to mean a dance form where self-expression is at the very core” (29). Dancers started taking into account the quality of a person, ritual and religious aspects, as well as primitive expressiveness and emotionality. In this atmosphere, emerged a boom in contemporary dance.

The concept of modern dance lays in freedom and expressiveness of movements that give a terrific opportunity to express feelings in the most vivid colors. Modern dance is radically different from its predecessor classical ballet that focuses on strictly defined rules and regulations. Nevertheless, in modern dance, the basics of steps and moves are taken from classical ballet. In the 1960s, dance culture experienced real revolution. The course of the development of dance changed. It became aimed at the simplicity of movements, the beauty of small details, and naturalness. Feelings taken from life became the main concept of dance. Modern dance developed and improved extremely quickly. By the 1980s, it turned in the dance action impressing by its beauty, a high level of technology, and perfection of movements. Modern dance was a stunning composition in combination with the appropriate music that developed as rapidly as modern dance. It is worth noting that it has become fashionable to combine modern choreography with classical dance. The combination of classical ballet and contemporary dance forms contributed to the development of new styles and types of dance. The middle of the XX century was a time of dynamic development and a period of improvement for dance culture. During these years, modern dance almost completely moved away from the concept of ballet. It became a full-fledged self-sufficient art that was based on the movements taken from classical ballet cleverly disguised as a new manner. A great number of dancers and choreographers of the early XX century had an unfavorable attitude towards ballet. For choreography, the XX century was the creative breakthrough and a certain revolution in the culture of dance.

Differences and Similarities

The first major difference between ballet and modern dance is apparel and appearance of the dancer. Ballet dancers wear ballet shoes. Many modern dancers often dance barefoot. Ballerinas also tend to wear tights, whereas modern dancers do not usually wear them. In modern dance, it is quite accessible to dance barefoot and sometimes completely naked or without music. Finally, the traditional ballerinas pin their hair in a bun. Modern dancers usually have loose hair while dancing to allow it to flow more naturally. Quite often, modern dance is based not on solo performances of individual dancers but on the dual performances. The basic principles of modern dance are a rejection of the canons as well as the embodiment of new themes and subjects with the help of the original plastic means. In modern dance, there is no place for classical positions of arms and legs. Modern dance often rejects complex eversion of feet, high jumps, and stretching of arms and legs. Classical ballet is manifested by airiness, weightless, and lightness. In classical ballet, it is simulated as if a dancer is light as a feather. It seems that the ballet dancers can float in the air being very subtle. However, in modern dances, everything is different. Every dancer knows the weight of his arms, legs, and head. Dancers clearly demonstrate that the movements are sharp and heavy. Anna Paskevska in her book Ballet beyond Tradition affirms that “The differences between ballet and modern dance are often characterized by the claim that ballet is “up” while modern dance is “down” meaning modern dance works with gravity while ballet defines it” (3). Unlike classical ballet, in modern dance, it is very easy to express heartache, the severity of a life trauma or some experienced events. In such a way, heavy bursts of hands and feet or a sharp drop of a hand that is strung like a string allow a dancer to express different emotions. In modern dance, there is a variety of movements, facial expressions, and gestures.

In ballet, facial expressions are almost not involved. With the language of ballet, it is impossible to express the range of feelings and emotions filling a modern man. Ballet is an extremely technical dance. There is no place for improvisation in it. However, modern dance is open to interpretation, suggestions, and changes. As Paskevska asserts, “All dance forms use the body as the instrument” (7). Ballet is a way to speak with the help of the body. Modern dance is a way to think with the help of the body. Associativity is one of the main features of the modern dance. Different people have various opinions and emotions towards modern dance. It is the most abstract form of art. In modern dance, there is the great scope for independent interpretation of the performance. It gives the opportunity to be an equal participant in the artistic process. Classical ballet has a precise and direct style. At the same time, modern dance can combine several styles of dance. Modern dance combines many different things – contemporary dance, the theater of dance, conceptual dance, neoclassic, and art nouveau. Neoclassic is still the ballet. However, it is created by the modern choreography that keeps classical ballet as an ideal. The difference is that in contrast to classical ballet, for example, Romeo and Juliet or The Sleeping Beauty, in neo-classical dance, there can be no plot. Choreographers cover their dances in an abstract form as “today, the varying dance techniques show the exacting demands of the choreographer” (Scheff, Sprague and McGreevy-Nichols 29). If the principles of ballet are harmony, attraction to the ideals of beauty and proportion, the principles of modern dance are sometimes disharmony, the lack of standards, and questions without answers.

In recent years, modern dance has become extremely widespread. Various elements of classical ballet exist in harmony with the new dance movements. This fact gives freedom of variations and combinations. It gives the special expressiveness. Modern dance is the dance of the experiment. At the same time, classical ballet is a strict kind of dance. However, in the art of dance, there is charm and beauty. Both classical ballet and modern dance strike with incredible possibilities of the human body and professionalism of dancers.