Pierre Rameau (1674-1748)

The definition for ballet in Webster's Dictionary: An intricate group dance using pantomime and conventional movement to tell a story...Classical Ballet is defined in Gail Grant's Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet: "The traditional style of ballet, which stresses the academic technique developed through the centuries. The style and structure adheres to the definite framework established in the ninteenth century."

The reason I bring this up is because there were very strict rules on the decorum of the dance of that time when ballet was first taking form. Books were written on every aspect of the dance even to the way the hands were held. This is carried on to this day when we speak of classical ballet. The turnout and the five positions of the feet are all carry-overs from the style and structure of that same period. Arbeau accredited with Orchesography, Feuillet wrote Choreography and Rameau wrote Maitre a Danser.

Pierre Rameau, a French dancing master who wrote Dancing Master (1725), our best source of knowledge of the 18th century dance. Though mostly a guide to social dancing, it had considerable effect on theatrical dance and he used great stage dancers as models of perfection of form. He discusses posture and emphasizes the importance of the five absolute positions, attributed to Beauchamp by Rameau, but mentioned in Arbeau's Orchesography (1588).

In 1935 Lincoln Kirstein wrote and I quote, "We must be careful not to confuse his terminology (referring to Rameau) with indication for our contemporary positions employing the same names. In the long evolution of the 'danse d'ecole, terms remain conservatively the same, just as French has been kept its universal language. But under the blanket of the names, steps and gestures, the enlarged vocabulary of the developed classic dance has grown".

This sounds like it comes from me, but I quote Alexandra Danilova, "I give my pupils the pure classical technique as I learned it, according to Petipa, for the foundation, but I also try to keep up to date with the way the technique is changing. The emphasis shifts, the rhythm alters. When I teach classical variations, I try to adapt them to the way we dance today".

(First published February 1991)

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