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To the Pointe of Perfection

Mar 23, 2016



This book unravels the secrets behind the mysterious world of ballet. Covering both basic and in depth details about the classical dance, this book will teach you everything you need to know.

  • 1Pointe of


    to the

    Becca hersey

    Discover the amazing details that make up the mysterious world of ballet.

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  • Pointe of


    to the

    Written By Becca herseyPhotograPhy By adam hersey










    Anna PavlovaMargot FonteynRudolf NureyevMikhail BaryshnikovDarcey BussellCarlos Acosta



    First Time at the BalletSuperstitionsHierarchy

    Step-by-StepStory SynopsesThe Language of Mime

    Pointe ShoesTutus

    The Life of a DancerBallet: A Rite of Passage?






  • introduction

  • Ballet is so much more than just little girls in pink tutus. Chances are that if youve picked this book up, you might well agree with this statement. Whether you have been introduced to the dance world by a friend, or merely have a curiosity to find out more about a complex art form, this book will provide an insight into ballet by someone who cant imagine their life without it. The details will refer classical ballet, the most rigid of the various styles to be encompassed under the greater heading of ballet.

    From covering basic steps and history, through to delving deeper into the detailed but more unknown side of ballet, this book will take you on a journey through all of the essentials for understanding a little bit more about classical ballet.

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    1581Ballet as we know it was born

    in Paris. The performance was Ballet Comique De La Royne, and attracted an

    audience of 10,000. It lasted from 10pm until 3am.

    Fabritio Caroso published Il Ballarino, a technical guide

    to ballet at the time.

    Ballroom and ballet were recognised as

    separate dance forms.

    Turnout was acknowledged as a key aspect of classical ballet.


    John Weaver created ballet daction, which had no

    spoken word.

    1738The Russian Monarchy

    established The St Petersburg School, making it the 2nd oldest

    ballet academy in the world.

    1821Marie Taglioni was the first female dancer en pointe.

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    1725Pierre Rameau published The Dancing Master. This was the first time that the 1st through

    to 5th positions of the feet had been documented.


    Paris Opera established its own dance school.1661

    Louis XIV established the Acadmie Royale de Danse

    (the worlds first ballet school) in a room in The Louvre.

    Marie Camargo, the first noted ballerina debuted at

    the Paris Opera.


    1832Taglionis father choreographed

    La Sylphide. 1841

    First staging of Giselle.

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    1870Copplia first choreographed

    by Arthur Saint-Lon.

    1934Balanchine established the School of American Ballet.

    1877Swan Lake choreographed by Wenzel Reisinger. It was the first of the Big Three to be composed by Tchaikovsky.


    Ninette de Valois opened the Academy of Choreographic Art (which would become

    The Royal Ballet).

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    1961Rudolf Nureyev partnered

    with Margot Fonteyn for the first time.

    2012The Royal Ballet first performs

    Alices Adventures in Wonderland, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.


    The Sleeping Beauty was choreographed by Marius Petipa (the 2nd of the Big Three for Tchaikovsky).


    The Nutcracker (the 3rd of the Big Three for Tchaikovsky) was choreographed by Marius Petipa.

    1909Sergei Diaghilevs The Ballet Russes were first danced.

    1920Edouard Espinosa and Philip

    Richardson founded the Association of Operatic

    Dancing (became known as the Royal Academy of Dance

    in 1936).

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    dancersThere are many people in the ballet world that have made this dance form what it is today. In the following chapter, read all about the legends that are remembered for their extraordinary dance careers.

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    names in Lights


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    Anna Pavlova was born on the 12th February 1881 in Russia. At the age of eight, she was taken by her mother to audition for the Imperial Ballet School, having been inspired by a production of Marius Petipas The Sleeping Beauty in Russia. She was at first turned down, but was then accepted in 1891 aged just ten years old.

    Classical ballet was a struggle for Pavlova, as her body was not considered ideal for ballet at the time (small and compact dancers were favoured over those with longer limbs, and Pavlova was regularly taunted for her severely arched feet and small ankles). To combat her disadvantages, she took extra lessons to improve her technique. She graduated from the Imperial Ballet School aged eighteen, and was allowed to enter the Imperial Ballet at a level higher than corps de ballet.

    She progressed up the ranks quickly, finally becoming prima ballerina in 1906, aged twenty five. In spite of her small ankles and lithe legs, Pavlova was praised for her frail, ethereal look. She was however criticised for strengthening her pointe shoes with extra hard wood. Ballet dancers of the time were taught, as they are now, that the strength comes from the person, not the shoes. In hindsight, her modifications led to the design of the modern pointe shoe, and allowed dancers with different shaped feet to be able to dance en pointe.

    Pavlova joined the Ballet Russes in its early years, and worked for a brief time with Sergei Diaghilev. She was offered the lead role in Firebird in 1905, but refused it, saying she couldnt come to terms with Igor

    Stravinskys avant-guarde score. By the mid twentieth century, she had founded her own company and performed around the world. In 1912, Pavlova moved to London, where she lived for the rest of her life.

    Whilst on tour in the Netherlands, she was diagnosed with pneumonia, and was told that she needed to have an operation that would result in her being unable to dance again. Her response to this was to refuse the operation, saying If I cant dance then Id rather be dead. It is believed that she was holding her costume from The Dying Swan (a role she made famous) when she died, and her last words were play the last measure very softly. She died of pleurisy on January 23rd 1931, three weeks short of her fiftieth birthday.

    names in Lights

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    names in Lights


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    Margot Fonteyn DBE was born Peggy Hookham on 18th May 1919. Her childhood was divided between living in England, and China. Aged fourteen, she auditioned for the Vic-Wells Ballet (what is now The Royal Ballet School), and made her debut as a Snowflake in The Nutcracker. By sixteen, it was clear that Fonteyn was set to be a huge success. By the time World War Two broke out in 1939, Fonteyn had danced many of the classical lead roles (Aurora, Giselle, and Odette/Odile) as well as half a dozen roles specifically choreographed for her by Frederick Ashton. The partnership endued twenty five years, over which most of Fonteyns greatest roles and Ashtons greatest ballets were produced.

    The end of the Second World War also saw the company take up the offer to reside at Covent Garden, where The Royal Ballet has been at home ever since. The opening night performance of The Sleeping

    Beauty saw Fonteyn display how far she come in order to achieve Principal status within the company. Following the success of the companys opening night in New York on tour, in 1949, Fonteyns standing as international star was set in stone. The 1950s presented the opportunity to dance the lead role in Firebird, along with creating Ondine and Chloe with Ashton.

    In 1956 she married Roberto de Arias (known simply as Tito to Fonteyn), a diplomat from Panama. Fonteyn divided her loyalties between being a ballerina and an ambassadors wife. However, by 1960, aged 41, talk of possible retirement was becoming more frequent. This soon proved not to be the case, as after his famous barrier jump at Paris airport in 1961, Rudolf Nureyev burst onto the ballet scene, and prolonged Fonteyns near retirement. Their partnership is possibly the most famous of all ballet pairings; the twenty year age

    gap was a revelation, and coupling their opposing temperaments with their diverse background led to a chemistry between them on stage that cannot be forced. Their first performance together was Giselle, and it set the bench mark for every performance to follow, with their most famous duet being Ashtons Marguerite and Armand. Not only did Fonteyns partnership with Nureyev extend her career by some fifteen years, it caused her technique to improve, and to also push the choreographical boundaries of what the pair could achieve.

    Fonteyn gave her final performance in 1978, aged 59, an old age for a ballerina by any standards. Dancing with Nureyev had given her a new lease of life, but this sadly did not stop her body aging. She retired to Panama to live with her husband. Fonteyn died of cancer on 21st February 1991.

    names in Lights

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    names in Lights


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    Rudolf Nureyev was born on the 17th March 1938; this was his given birthday, as he was born on a train in Siberia, in the Soviet Union, so the actual date is unsure. He fell in love with ballet when his mother took him and his sisters to see a performance of Song of the Cranes. He was encouraged to train in Leningrad by dance teachers who soon noticed his potential. Nureyev auditioned for the Bolshoi