Ballet dates back to the royal courts of 17th-century Europe. Styles of choreography have changed radically over the years, through the Romantic, Classical and 20th-century ballet periods. The V&A holds a large collection of ballet-related items in its Theatre & Performance collections including set designs, costumes, production photographs and orchestral scores.
In the early 19th century the Age of Reason gave way to the age of the imagination and the Romantic Movement. Young artists, writers, poets and dancers wanted the freedom to express themselves in a spontaneous and individual way. Rejecting the classical ideas of order, harmony and balance they turned to nature as a source of inspiration.
The Establishment of British Ballet
Ballet in Britain was established by two former Diaghilev dancers, Marie Rambert and Ninette de Valois. They ensured that ballet was a viable career for British dancers and challenged the myth that the British could not dance. Marie Rambert formed the Ballet Club later to be known as Ballet Rambert. Ninette de Valois started the Vic-Wells Ballet which later became The Royal Ballet Company. These two companies made a major contribution to the development of British Ballet.
Diaghilev & the Ballets Russes
Sergei Diaghilev (1872 - 1929), was a Russian ballet impresario and founder of the revolutionary Ballets Russes dance company. The work of the Ballet Russes influenced 20th-century art, theatre, fashion and interior design. In 2010, the V&A hosted the major exhibition ‘Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballet Russes, 1909 - 1929’.
Monica Mason is the Director of the Royal Ballet. She joined the Royal Ballet at 16 and became a principle dancer in 1968. She created many major roles, including the Chosen Maiden in The Rite of Spring by Sir Kenneth MacMillan. In 2008 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Interview with Lez Brotherston, Costume Designer
Lez Brotherston is one of the UK’s most dynamic and innovative designers, working extensively in dance, theatre, opera, musicals and film. Best-known for his work with Matthew Bourne and the dance company 'Adventures in Motion Pictures', for which he designed the award-winning ‘Swan Lake’, In 2008 the V&A interviewed Lez about his working process and the issues he encounters as a production designer.
Born William Charles Pitcher in England, 1858, Wilhelm was one of the most prolific stage designers of his day. He worked on nearly 200 productions including pantomimes, musical comedy, Shakespeare, burlesques, ballets, light opera and plays, and raised the standards of design in popular theatre.