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From an Italian word balletto which means a little dance or to dance a little, ballet is one of the known types of performance dance nowadays. It originated back in the 15th century during the Italian Renaissance and was broadened by Russia and France as a kind of concert dance. Ballets are thoroughly choreographed dance works that are performed by skilled and competent artists. It takes hard work and a lot of practice in order to master this form of art. It combines basic technique of several other dances but once incorporated ballet showcases a composed type of dance. The most popular kind of ballet is the one wherein a female performer is in focus executing accurate acrobatic moves, pointe work, while wearing a French tutu (Lee 90). This type of ballet is known as Ballet Blanc or Romantic Ballet. It was during Catherine de Medici’s French court that the ballet dance was quickly developed. Catherine de Medici had a huge influence in spreading and expanding this dance to the people. If not for Catherine, people today may not have been familiar with ballet. The queen’s love and admiration for this art triggered the enormous development of this type of dance.
Catherine de Medici, born on April 13, 1519, was an Italian lady who became Queen of France and wife of King Henry II. During his ruling, King Henry gave Queen Catherine little to almost none political power as his wife (Knetch 45). Her powers as a political monarch were firmly minimal. Queen Catherine was known for her patronage for arts. She was a supporter of the humanist paradigm of the Renaissance prince whose power relied on letters and arms. She was widely influenced by King Francis I, her father in law, who had held the prominent performers of Europe at his court. She thought of strengthening the royal stature through extravagant cultural presentation to disregard the wars and decline of admiration for the monarchy during her times. The program that she began for artistic support continued for three decades. She led over all divisions of art in the French Renaissance culture. Until the death of King Henry II, she suffered from the control and command of his husband’s mistress Diane de Poitiers. Three of King Henry II and Catherine’s sons eventually became kings of France.
It was in the Hotel de la Reine that it was seen the collectors’ sense that Catherine had. Some artworks she collected included hand drawn maps, rich fabrics, ebony furniture inlaid with ivory, sets of china, Limoges pottery, and tapestries. Several paintings made by Jean Clouet (1480 – 1541) and his son Francois Clouet can be found in Catherine’s collection. Catherine was very much into architecture (Knetch 79). When her husband died, Catherine made sure that she’ll immortalize the memory of King Henry II through building several projects that also improved the magnificence of the monarchy. Catherine was thoroughly part of the planning and overseeing these architectural structures. Carvings in the stonework of the structures were symbols of Catherine’s love and sorrow when King Henry II died. The tomb of King Henry II was laid at the basilica of Saint Denis as a showpiece or centerpiece of the new chapel (Frieda 131). German Pilon, the one who sculptured King Henry II’s tomb was also the one who carved a marble figure of Henry’s heart as ordered by Queen Catherine. She loved supervising all her projects directly. She was dedicated to each and every structure that she planned and ordered to be made/built.
The investments in entertainment that Catherine made were also part of her political scheme. She made sure that the monarchy was physically vigorous yet at the same time continuously entertaining. Catherine adopted a program of sidetracking her peers from battling among them by arranging desirable and appealing sports and entertainments for them at her court (Yates 120). In line with her royal festivities, Catherine provided different amusing entertainment every day. Frequently, members of the noble family were in charge in the preparation and arrangement of the performances. Romantic and mythological themes were almost always the subject of their entertainment.
Catherine was really inclined to different forms of arts including musical shows. It allowed her to better express her creativity through the different themes, music, drama, and effects for such events. Catherine was known to be someone was a fantastic imaginative and artistic artist when it comes to festivals. Catherine then progressively presented some changes to the traditional performances through the showcase of more dances in shows. Ballet de cour, a distinguishing and unique new form of art emerged from the imaginative advances influenced by Catherine. The mixture of setting, verse, music and dance led to the making of Ballet Comique de la Reine around 1581 which was said by intellectuals to be foremost genuine ballet. The influence of Italian in ballet was brought by Catherine since she was an Italian and she grew up in Florence. Italian entertainment forms included arts with themes, choral dances, and masquerades. Catherine made sure that these creative innovations found in Italy can also be reproduced in France. She urged and supported Italian dancing leaders and instructors like Pompeo Diobono and Cesare Negri to teach dance to his sons and teach figure dancing in France respectively. Catherine also encouraged Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, an important figure, whom was in charge of teaching and coaching dancers. Balthasar was also given the responsibility of producing the performances at Catherine’s court (Frieda 105).
The dance performances at Catherine’s court particularly ballet were regarded on a big scale, elegantly choreographed and performed by significant performers. It was also during these times that the ballet attire known today as a tutu was conceived. During the Renaissance times however, tutu were very long skirts, and dancers wear them with corsets together with firmly laced bodices. Accordingly this set of attire made it quite difficult for the dancers to move freely. Performers also wore high heels which made their performances even harder. Tutu costumes developed over the years and exposed more of the performer’s legs and feet. Those costumes eventually transformed to the tutu we know of today which is modern and Russian-inspired (Lee 56).
Through the years Catherine continued increasing the dance portions in her festivities. Ballet became the climax performance of each of her festive entertainments. Catherine influenced the production of Ballet Comique de la Reine in observance of the Joyeuse Magnificences (Knetch 94). This is where ballet became a distinct art form. The idea or theme of this performance was a charm of universal forces to help the monarchy which during that time was under the threat of an uprising. This served as the concluding transformation of court dance as a solely personal as well as social interest into an integrated theatrical presentation with a theoretical and political program.
Catherine was dubbed by Frances Yates, a historian, as the leading light of ballet (Yates 78). Many artists, choreographers, musicians, and performers contributed to the development of ballet but it was Catherine de Medici who was the architect of it all. It was her plans of training and performing ballets in her court that led to the enhancement and progress of the dance. By the 20th century, different styles of ballet have emerged and developed into a wider form. There are now known as contemporary ballet, neoclassical ballet, and post-structural ballet. There are now numerous ballet schools worldwide that teach this classic and elegant form of dance.
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