Before the audience sees a ballet, a lot of work happens behind the scenes. Click the tabs below to learn who is involved, what happens leading up to a performance, theatre etiquette, ballet history and terminology.
The Artistic Director
The Artistic Director makes all the artistic decisions for the company. He or she chooses which dancers, choreographers, designers, etc. will be hired by the company, selects the ballets that will be performed and is actively involved in all aspects of company business.
The Ballet Master & Mistress
After the ballets for the season are selected, they are taught to the dancers by the choreographer, Ballet Master or Ballet Mistress. On average, one minute of choreography takes one hour to teach, but can take longer if the dance is particularly intricate. Once the steps are learned, the real work of perfecting them begins. This process is actually never ending, as no matter how many times a ballet is performed, there are always new things to learn or discover about the piece.
The choreographer is the artist who creates the dance piece. The choreographer chooses the music, steps, where the dancers stand on stage, order of the movements and makes many other decisions. Choreographing a dance is like making a painting or composing music. Sometimes a choreographer tells a story with the movements or creates an abstract work that is beautiful or interesting to both the artist and the audience.
Many years before seeking a job as a professional, a dancer begins to train to improve their strength, muscular control and flexibility. They must also learn how to make their movements appear effortless, develop techniques to communicate stories and emotions without words and develop an awareness of music. They train the same way an athlete does.
The Costume Shop Manager
Our in-house staff constructs most costumes for BalletMet dancers. The Costume Shop Manager is in charge of the construction of the costumes and also keeping them clean, in good repair and fitted to the dancers who will wear them.
The Production Manager
The Production Manager is in charge of coordinating all the technical aspects of the performance, including lights, scenery and sound. Although much advance planning is necessary, the few days in the theatre immediately before the performance are very busy for the whole production team. They must transform the bare walls of the theatre into whatever magical setting the Artistic Director has in mind.
The Lighting Designer
The Lighting Designer makes sure that all the stage is suitably illuminated for a performance. He or she also plays a pivotal role in drawing the audience’s attention to certain areas of the stage, creating a sense of time of day or location and designing a unifying look to all the elements on stage.
The Stage Manager
When it’s time to coordinate all the activities on stage, the Stage Manager takes control. He or she makes sure that everyone is in the correct place on stage, tells the backstage crew when to execute their instructions, lighting and sound cues and takes responsibility should an emergency arise. This is definitely a high-pressure job.
The art of ballet has a rich history beginning in the 16th century.
During the Middle Ages, the church in Europe claimed that dancing was sinful but, during the Renaissance of the 1400s, the popularity of dancing was returned. The true origins of ballet are found in the European courts of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Almost all contemporary ballet companies and dancers are influenced by Diaghilev’s Les Ballets Russes. The first visit by this company to North America in 1916-17 sparked great interest in ballet and dancers from the Ballets Russes were instrumental in furthering this excitement. One such dancer, George Balanchine, came to the United States and founded the New York City Ballet (originally the American Ballet). The United States proved to be fertile ground in the development of modern dance. Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Wiedman were pioneers in the field and had major impact on the dance world. Today, American choreographers and dancers create just as much interest and excitement in other parts of the world as we derive from developments in other countries.
Ballets were first performed at the Royal Court. In 1669, King Louis the 14th opened the first opera house in Paris and ballet was then viewed publicly in the theater as part of the opera. The first opera featuring ballet, Pomone, included dances created by Beauchamp. Women participated in ballets at court, but were not seen in the theater until 1681. As the number of performances increased, courtiers who danced for a hobby gave way to professional dancers who trained longer and harder. The physical movement of the first professional dancers was severely hindered by their lavish and weighty costumes and headpieces. They also wore dancing shoes with tiny heels, which made it rather difficult to dance with pointed toes.
Early in the 18th century, the ballerina Marie Camargo shocked the audiences by shortening her skirts – to just above the ankle. She did this to be freer in her movements and to allow the audience to see her intricate footwork and complex jumps, which often rivaled those of the men. At this time, female dancers began to dominate the stage over their male counterparts. Ballet companies were established in France to train dancers for the opera performances. The first official ballet company was based at the Paris Opera and opened in 1713.
In 16th century, French and Italian royalty competed to have the most splendid court. The monarchs would search for and employ the best poets, musicians and artists. At this time, dancing became increasingly theatrical. This form of entertainment, also called the ballet de cour (court ballet), featured elaborate scenery and lavish costumes, plus a series of processions, poetic speeches, music and dancing. The first known ballet, Le Ballet Comique de la Reine, choreographed by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, was performed in 1581 at the wedding of the Queen of France’s sister.
Is ‘ballet’ a French word?
Yes, but it actually comes from the Italian word “ballare,” from which we also get the word “ballroom.”
Why are so many ballet terms in French?
Simply because the French were the first to write them down. Many ballet terms are actually everyday words that just sound fancy to us. For example, “plier” is French for “bend.” Ballet dancers use french terms for the names of the steps. Learn the words and try a few steps yourself!
Corps de Ballet
Pas de bourée
Pas de Deux
Port de bras
Rond de jambe
on the ground
at ease or leisure, slow and graceful movements
with the leg behind
a dance pose based on the statue of Mercury
a horizontal bar that dancers hold onto for support during exercises
beating. A beating action of the extended or bent leg
linked. A chain of turns
to change, literally changing the feet in the air
a group of dancers that serve as background to soloists and principal dancers
the neck of the foot, or ankle
crossed or closed to the audience
behind or back
to the front
in the shape of the cross
in the air
movement of the shoulders
step of the bouree
a dance for two
to prick. Stepping onto the demi-point of the foot
whirl or spin
bent, bending. A bending of the knee or knees.
movement of the arms
to rise, can be done in any position
circle of the leg
the movement of the head during pirouettes
time raised. A hop on one foot
In general most Ballet classes follow a particular order. Some instructors may give time for students to warm-up during the class, while other instructors may ask students to take the time to warm-up before class time. Class begins with a series of exercises done at the Barre. Each exercise works on a particular skill. These exercises help the dancer to not only warm up their body but work on the elements or details that they will have to use in combinations without the barre. After barre work, many classes will have Adagio (slow, balancing movements) in the center of the room as well as other exercises such as turns. The students then move to lines at the side of the room so that they work on Petit Allégro, Grand Allégro (small and larger jumping movements) and traveling exercises across the floor. Towards the end of class the teacher will give students a fast paced coda or combination and finish with a short Reverence.
A classical ballet has certain rules that must be followed but a contemporary ballet has none. In a contemporary ballet there might not be music, costumes, scenery, story or footwear. A classical ballet has five specific ingredients that must be included.
1. It must tell a story – often a fairytale involving a boy/girl plot with a problem to be resolved by the end.
2. It must have costumes and scenery.
3. It must have music and the music must go with the story.
4. It must have a “folk” or “character” dance.
5. The female dancers must wear pointe shoes and tutus.
BalletMet performs their exciting repertoire of dance productions ranging from the classics to contemporary work throughout the year. Not only do they perform in their own Performance Space, but at the OhioTheatre and at the CapitolTheatre in the VerneRiffe Center in the Columbus community. When show week comes around the dancers have rehearsals at the selected venue on stage before the performance. No matter how well a rehearsal studio floor is marked out, the sense of dancing in a large open space like a theater is very different. Before a performance most dancers arrive about 2 hours before the show to prepare. Not only do they have to put on their make up and costumes but there is also the need to take a warm up class to prepare the body. As any athlete knows, nerves change performance, so mental preparation is also important.
The show is about to begin; the audience takes its seat to view the work of many professionals.
BalletMet dancers as well as audience members have expected ways of behaving or acting called etiquette.
What to Wear
Come dressed in casual but neat clothing. Although dressing up can be more fun! Usually, Opening Night of a performance is more formal that the other nights, since that is when the media and most loyal patrons attend.
Before you Attend
Learn about those who will be dancing in the performance by reading the Dancer Biographies.
Study the ballet that you plan to see.
Read the Ballet Notes on the BalletMet website and look at books related to dance and ballet!
Arriving at the Theatre
Arriving early and on time is very important and courteous. Late seating is sometimes not allowed. Make sure to use the restroom before the performance begins; it is improper to leave the theatre once the curtain rises. Talking should cease once the program begins, including whispering. Cell phones should be turned off before the performance begins. Use of cell phones is not allowed. Food and drink are not permitted in the theatre.
Clapping is welcome when the conductor enters, at the end of each piece, at some exciting moments during the performance, and of course at the finale! Except in cases of extreme injury, dancers’ work very hard to perform exciting choreography no matter what occurs in the audience or on the stage. The audience is an important part of the show, creating a partnership with the dancers. Dancers love to know that the audience is enjoying themselves, so it is quite exciting to hear the audience clapping at appropriate times during the performance.
Booing is unacceptable at any performance. Taking pictures with cameras and/or camera phones can be harmful to the dancers. Videotaping is not allowed as well. Most importantly ENJOY the experience!!