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History of Ballet: A Multimedia Bibliography

Photo Credit: Joannajuki on flickr.com

Photo Credit: Joannajuki on flickr.com

The history of ballet spans six centuries and includes numerous notable figures, works, and trends vital to the study of the fine arts. This multi-media bibliography is designed to aid classroom teachers in their lesson planning, possibly if the class was focusing the fine arts or taking a field trip to the ballet, or physical education/fine arts teachers if they were teaching a unit on ballet. The guide will include items appropriate for use in the middle grade (3-6) classroom as well as items for the edification of the adult in charge of said classroom. The focus will be on classical ballet forms (not modern or popular dance) and will include material that deals with both the origins of ballet in Europe—it was observed in Italy as early as the fifteenth century and reached its zenith in Russia—as well as the more recent history of ballet in America with its beginnings in the 1920s.

Audio Recordings
Shostakovich, Dmitri. “Ballet Suites 1, 2, 3” (compact disc recording). Scottish National Ballet, 1949-1952.
Three suites of “light music” from ballet scores composed by Shostakovich during the Soviet Regime.

Tchaikovsky, Petyr Illyich. “The Nutcracker Suite” (LP recording). Jazz adaptation by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, 1960.
Jazz variations of Tchaikovsky’s classic “Nutcracker Suite” performed by the iconic Duke Ellington. It would be excellent for showing students variation within ballet and ballet scores and would also make a fun choreographic project.

Tchaikovsky, Petyr Illyich. “Swan Lake” (compact disc recording). Philadelphia Orchestra, June 1, 2004.
The entire score of what is perhaps the best-known classical ballet (only “The Nutcracker” is performed more often).

Greenberg, Jan and Jordan, Sandra. Ballet for Martha: Making “Appalachian Spring”. Illustrated by Brian Floca. New York: Flash Point, 2010.
A picture book retelling of the creation of Martha Graham’s modern ballet Appalachian Spring with music by composer Aaron Copland and sets by artist Isamu Noguchi, this book contains the story of the ballet itself as well as the unique collaboration between the artists who came together to make it. The vivid watercolors bring to life both the exuberance of Graham’s dancers and the modernity of Noguchi’s sets. Excellent for classroom use.

Haskell, Arnold Lionel. A Picture History of Ballet. New York: Macmillan, 1954.
A highly illustrated visual history of ballet, beginning with its origins in the 15th century courts of Italy and going all the way through the mid-1950s. Includes both illustrations of notable dancers from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as ballet photography from the 20th century.

Homans, Jennifer. Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet. New York: Random House, 2011.
Former professional dancer Jennifer Homans chronicles the history of ballet from its beginnings in Renaissance Italy through its explosion in America courtesy of George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. Apollo’s Angels focuses its attention on the cultural importance of ballet and its evolution through different times and places. Wonderful background resource for putting ballet into a larger social context.

Rubin, Susan Goldman. Degas and the dance : the painter and the petits rats, perfecting their art. New York : H.N. Abrams, 2002.
Considered a definitive picture book biography of the most famous painter of ballerinas, Edgar Degas, this book provides insight into Degas’ life as well as that of the dancers (the “petits rats”) he painted. It contains full-color illustrations of over 30 of Degas’ works and would be perfect for sharing in a classroom setting.

Untermeyer, Louis. Tales from the Ballet. New York: Golden Press, 1968.
This book contains a brief history of ballet as well as synopses of notable works of classical ballet from the 19th and 20th centuries including: The Wood Nymphs, Ondine, Billy the Kid, Graduation Ball, The Firebird, The Sleeping Beauty, Petrouschka, Children’s Games, Bluebeard, Swan Lake, Prince Igor, Coppélia, Giselle, Rodeo, The Golden Cockerel, The Rite of Spring, Le Spectre de la Rose, The Nutcracker, Scheherazade, and Fancy Free.

The Adolescence of Ballet.” Tuscon, AZ: Hal Bergsohn Associates, 1993.
This documentary traces the general history of dance and ballet, and it highlights the developments in ancient Greece and Rome as well as the burgeoning art form in Renaissance Italy, France, and England. It focuses on the transformation of court dance to ballet and includes still shots of reproductions from the Renaissance and modern danced reproductions of court dances such as the pavane and the galliard.

Ballet 101: A Beginner’s Class.” Long Beach, CA: Russ in Vison, 2000.
An instructional film that “brings a beginning ballet class right into your [classroom]” with its presentation of the structure of a ballet class, from the barre warm-up through simple center of the floor combinations. This film would be an excellent introduction to the basics of ballet and could also be used as a whole-class instructional tool.

Ballet for All.” London: Thames Television International, 1972.
A seven-part documentary chronicling the development of ballet from the court of Louis XIV to the 1970s. This film was designed to promote a better general understanding of ballet as an art form and an appreciation for both the historical and contemporary ballet.

Ballets Russes.” Zeitgist Films, 2005.
This film details the history of the famed Ballets Russes troupe (of which the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky was a member) from 1929 until its dissolution in 1962. It contains commentary, as well as information on ballet aesthetics, backstage gossip and numerous clips of rare footage. Also provided are profiles of the surviving dancers who are the source of much of the film’s dialogue. Beginning with a brief review of the company under its original artistic director, Serge Diaghilev, from 1909-29, it then tells the tale of the company after his departure—the renaming of the company, its split between two directors, and the push and pull that led to its demise.

Bringing Balanchine Back.” NVC Arts, 2004.
A documentary that chronicles the 2003 trip the New York City Ballet, under the direction of Peter Martins, took to St. Petersburg, Russia where they danced at the renowned Mariinsky Theater, the first theater home of NYCB co-founder George Balanchine. The trip was the first for the company since 1972, and the film includes performance and behind-the-scenes footage as well as interviews and a tour of the Mariinsky.

The Children of Theater Street.” Kultur Films, 1977.
This Academy Award-nominated film, narrated by Princess Grace of Monaco, follows a group of children at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute, the school for the world-renowned Kirov Ballet in Russia, through one year of their life. Beginning with auditions for the youngest school children and culminating in the graduation performances of several older dancers, the film details the interactions, instruction, and daily routine of the child dancers as well as including some history of the Kirov Ballet itself.

The Glory of the Bolshoi.” Kultur Films, 1999.
A partnership between a St. Petersburg documentary film company and NVC Arts, this documentary mines state archives, museums, and private collections to present a full portrait of the Bolshoi Ballet, one of the great ballet companies of all time. The two companies spent five years conducting the research used in the creation of this film.

Great Pas de Deux.” Kultur Films, 2004.
Iconic performances of the great ballet partnerships of the twentieth century are presented in this collection of performance footage. Audiences are treated to the drama and poignancy of classical ballet in these duets danced by Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Anthony Dowell, Darcey Bussell, and others. Includes pas de deux ballets such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Le Corsaire, The Nutcracker, to name but a few.

The Nutcracker”. Kultur Films, 1977.
This version of the classic Christmas ballet was the first choreographic effort from Mikhail Baryshnikov, commonly believed to be one of the greatest dancers of all time. In this production, the typically lighthearted story of young Clara’s dream on Christmas Eve becomes a more complex work of psychological theater. Performed by the dancers of the American Ballet Theatre, it stars Gelsey Kirkland as Clara, and Mikhail Baryshnikov as the Nutcracker/Prince, both at the height of their artistic and technical abilities.

A Portrait of Giselle: a History of the Ballet with Sir Anton Dolin, host.” New York: Mr. Tape, 1984.
The ballet Giselle, widely considered the most difficult role for classical ballerinas in terms of both technique and acting ability, is presented in excerpts from previously recorded footage with narration by Sir Anton Dolin of the Royal Ballet, London. Rare footage of Alicia Alonso, Yvette Chauviré, Carla Fracci, Tamara Karsavina, Natalia Makarova, Alicia Markova, Patricia McBride, Olga Spessivtzeva, and Galina Ulanova is included.

Classic Ballet News
A website devoted to all things ballet. Includes the general history of ballet as well as specific histories of individual ballets themselves. Also has videos, famous quotes from dancers and choreographers, current events in the ballet world, and a entire section devoted to the pointe shoe.

Gaynor Minden Pointe Shoes
The website of the Gaynor Minden dance apparel company has extensive histories of ballet in general, specific ballerinas, and the history and development of the pointe shoe.

Andros on Ballet
“Andros on Ballet” is a collection of articles written by Dick Andros, a New York City-based ballet teacher and writer, primarily concerned with ballet history and classical ballet technique. It includes biographies of notable dancers, choreographers, and composers as well as pages dealing with the history of specific ballet companies, information about technique, and the life of Dick Andros himself.

Tracing Ballet’s Cultural History over 400 Years
Audio and transcript of an NPR interview with Jennifer Homans, the author of Apollo’s Angels, concerning the cultural history of ballet. Includes interesting insights into the world of the dancer (Homans was a professional ballet dancer) as well as information about how she conducted research for the book.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theater – Community Engagement and Education
An interactive website with pages devoted to the different styles of ballet, the history of ballet, the history of the pointe shoe, basic ballet positions, ballet terminology, and specific activities for educators to get students up, moving, and learning about ballet all at the same time. Easy to navigate and full of excellent information.

Washington Ballet – Ballet 101
Basic information for the ballet-goer about ballet history, technique, “must-see” ballets, and tips for enjoying ballet. This is an excellent resource teachers could use to prepare students for a trip to the ballet.

Wish Upon a Ballet
A website compiled by a ballet teacher that contains information specifically for parents and educators interested in learning more about ballet. Extensive information is available regarding ballet history, important ballet companies, seminal ballets and their choreographers, ballet terms, and other suggested ballet media.

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