Let’s take a closer look at the Romantic Ballet Era and two of the great choreographers of romantic era ballet productions.
There were two great choreographers of the romantic ballet era that stood out from the others. The one was August Bournonville and the other was Jules Perrot.
Out of the two, Bournonville’s work has been preserved the most accurately and it is the best guide today of the style and quality of a movement that revolutionized choreography in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Romantic Ballet Era
August Bournonville (1805 – 1879)
August was born in Copenhagen and trained there first by his father, Antoine and then by Galeotti. They were both pupils of Noverre.
In 1820, he became a student of Auguste Vestris in Paris. Here he inherited the best classic traditions of the eighteenth-century French and Italian schools.
Vestris was born in Paris in 1760 and was a premier danseur at the Paris Opera for thirty-six years and even partnered Marie Taglioni aged thirty-one at the time and he was seventy-five.
He became the undisputed master and guardian of the best traditions of romantic ballet.
It was during this time that exploration of all kinds of jumps were invented and unprecedented lightness was achieved with the female dancers through the new skill of dancing on pointe. The qualities of the Port de Bras (arm movements) were worked on to give the arms grace of movement.
The French tradition was one of grace and style, epitomized in the ballets of Pierre Gardel, chief ballet master at the Paris Opera from 1787 to 1827. The Italians, on the other hand, contributed virtuosity in performance, the invention of steps and a more thorough academic approach to classical ballet.
By 1820 many of the exercises and training methods were there already and the flowing empire line and new kinds of shoes had come into fashion. These costumes freed the body and feet for a much wider range of movement than was possible before.
Filippo Taglioni started a harsher regime of training of six hours a day, which by 1832 produced in his daughter, Marie, the new image of ballet which has lasted to our own day.
It was then that choreographers of the romantic ballet era like Taglioni, Bournonville, Coralli, and Perrot, gave the movement directions which have been passed through history.
Bournonville in Copenhagen is unique for the balance he maintained between the male and female dancer, where all other choreographers of romantic ballet emphasized the woman at the expense of the man.
Bournonville’s work has survived not only because of the isolation of ballet in Denmark but because all his ballets challenge male dancers as strongly as they challenge the females.
To this day his choreography remains the basis of the style and school of Danish dancers.
He became a soloist at the Paris Opera in 1826 and danced a season in London before returning to Copenhagen in 1829. Here he created his first ballet and was appointed ballet master soon after until 1877.
In his half-century of life-work, he created the Bournonville style, based on the style of Vestris.
It was evolved through methods of teaching whose principles are described in his technical notes, Etudes Choregraphiques published in 1861, and through the creation of thirty-six ballets and divertissements, a valuable group of which remain in the Danish repertory.
His ballets from the romantic era include:
- La Sylphide
- The Fisherman And His Bride
- Konservatoriet (The Dancing School)
- La Ventana
Jean Coralli (1779 – 1854) and Jules Perrot (1810 – 1992)
These two were the joint creators of Gizelle and together in this ballet, they show all the ambitions and weaknesses of the romantic ballet era.
Coralli (pictured on the right) was born in the early years of Louis XVI and trained at the Opera in what was then the best school in Europe. He never acquired distinction as a dancer, but he always aimed at choreography.
In this, he displayed competence with occasional distinction as seen in Gizelle. He never showed that creative originality which distinguishes an important artist, but his strength lay in the arrangement of the corps dancers. He had a gift for knowing what the public enjoyed at a particular moment.
Perrot, (pictured below) who was the son of a carpenter who became chief machinist at the Grand Theater, Lyons, began to study dancing there, then he worked in the boulevard theaters and the Porte-Sainte-Martin of Paris.
Later through his own ambition, he became a pupil of Auguste Vestris, who instantly recognized his talent.
Thus Giselle jointed two opposite talents – Coralli, by that time maitre de ballet en chef at the Opera, achieving through Giselle his small place in history, and Perrot, self-made, a natural theater man of enormous talent.
Perrot loved the dancing of Carlotta Grisi, and she became the first Giselle. The ballet was written around her.
He left the service of the opera in 1835 after a disagreement with Veron, the director. It was a great loss to the Opera, which became clear after 1841 when Perrot was ballet master at Her Majesty’s Theater, London, where he created most of his greatest works.