Ballet Comes to Britain

Bring on the tutus! On March 2, 1717, England finally got on the ballet bandwagon with a performance of The Loves of Mars and Venus.

England was a little late to the party on this—ballets were being performed back in the Renaissance, when they formed a part of aristocratic weddings (though they didn’t usually have a narrative angle to them as they do today, women dressed in full-length gowns, and audience participation was encouraged). Ballet then moved on to France, where the ballet de cour was founded and encouraged by Catherine de’Medici, wife of Henry II. The first ballet de cour was the Ballet Comique de la Reine, performed in 1581. It lasted more than five hours and included twenty-four dancers.

Louis XIV was a passionate dancer and was trained and partnered by Pierre Beauchamp, the man who codified the five positions of the feet and arms. Louis also established the Académie Royale de Danse, naming Beauchamp director of the academy. Louis gained his title of Sun King from a role he had in the Ballet de la Nuit. Just 14 years old at the time, Louis danced five roles during the 12-hour performance. During Louis’s reign, he also supported Jean-Baptiste Lully, a violinist, dancer, choreographer, and composer who would help bring together music and drama with both Italian and French dance elements.

By the turn of the 18th century, ballet had become a serious dramatic art on par with the opera, and England couldn’t ignore it forever. Dance had come to the U.K. to stay and today the Royal Ballet, based at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, is one of the most famous ballet companies in the world.



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