- One must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Machiavelli Niccolo
Ballet is a formalized form of dance with its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries. Ballet spread from Italy to France with the help of Catherine de' Medici, where ballet developed even further under her aristocratic influence. An early example of Catherine's development of ballet is through 'Le Paradis d' Amour', a piece of work presented at her daughter's wedding, Marguerite de Valois to Henry of Navarre. Aristocratic money was responsible for the initial stages of development in 'court ballet', as it was royal money that dictated the ideas, literature and music used in ballets that were created to primarily entertain the aristocrats of the time. The first formal 'court ballet' ever recognized was staged in 1573, 'Ballet des Polonais'. In true form of royal entertainment, 'Ballet des Polonais' was commissioned by Catherine de' Medici to honor the Polish ambassadors who were visiting Paris upon the accession of Henry of Anjou to the throne of Poland. In 1581, Catherine de' Medici commissioned another court ballet, Ballet Comique de la Reine, however it was her compatriot, Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, who organized the ballet. Catherine de' Medici and Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx were responsible for presenting the first court ballet ever to apply the principles of Baif's Academie, by integrating poetry, dance, music and set design to convey a unified dramatic storyline. Moreover, the early organization and development of 'court ballet' was funded by, influenced by and produced by the aristocrats of the time, fulfilling both their personal entertainment and political propaganda needs.
“Ballet dancers define themselves above all as artists, feeling alienated among people who go to ballet performances for social prestige and not out of interest.” (Wulff, 1998)
Wulff’s notion perpetuates the concept of ballet subsisting as an aristocratic and socially profound art form designed for the upper class individual. Ballet, like opera and other opulent occasions were a lavish event among nobility. To give a historical account, this idea dates back to the 15th century of the Italian renaissance, where ballet founded its first steps. Catherine de Medici, the Queen of France from 1547 to 1559, was a great patron of the arts and she funded ballet in the French courts in the 16th century. The aim here was to express social superiority by hosting magnificent, artistic spectacles for the noblemen of the court.
Following this King Louis XIV of France assisted in disseminating ballet as an art form and he would partake in various productions. This includes the role of ‘The Sun King’ in Ballet de la Nuit. In an article A Brief History of Ballet it states “His love for ballet fostered its elevation from a pastime for amateurs to an endeavour requiring professional training”(Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, 2010). In 1673, by affiliates of the King’s ménage, the Paris Opera Company was established and the aristocracy no longer performed in the ballets. From then dance was considered a profession, rather than a hobby, based on specialized training.
This social dominance of the upper class continued into the 19th and early 20th century. There was talk of the opulence and snobbery of the upper crust theatre fanatics. Jean Cocteau once said “the smart audience in tails and tulle, diamonds and ospreys, was interspersed with the suits and bandeaux of the aesthetic crowd. The latter would applaud novelty simply to show their contempt for the people in the boxes… Innumerable shades of snobbery, super-snobbery and inverted snobbery were represented.”