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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).

Books
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. Read more…

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