Classical Ballet - Then and Now
For hundreds of years, choreographers have held to standard dance steps in classical ballet. Some, in fact, like Legnani's 32 fouette turns in the classical ballet, "Cinderella" were considered a tradition. Audiences looked for the Grand Pas in Cinderella where prima ballerinas would perform 32 revolutions on pointe. What began with Pierina Legnani in the early 1900s, extended to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake where those 32 fouette turns were also entered into the Black Swan sequence. Today's modern choreographers prefer not to emphasize this once amazing feat and instead have their own vision of how classical ballets should be choreographed.
The Changing Vistas of Ballet Choreography
Perhaps, the vision of classical choreography began to change when the former master ballet choreographers like Balanchine passed on and Baryshnikov began choreographing classical ballets with his Kirov Ballet Company's signature style. Note that Russian Ballet does not employ the use of the Cecchetti syllabus as the original ballet syllabus prior to the 1900s. In Kirov choreography, the accent is on strong, punctuated arm and leg movements. In Cecchetti syllabus, the movements and ballet steps are intentionally fluid. Today's classical ballet choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon and Christopher D'Amboise have begun to emphasize modern dramatic themes into dance movement. This is not unlike American classical ballets like Fall River Legend, An American in Paris, Piano-Rag-Music choreographed by Peter Martins and Agnes de Mille's, Rodeo.
Classical Ballet has always focused on a story line set to music mime and dance movement. Modern classical ballets extend beyond the reliance on mime and choreographed movement to a level of powerful technique that creates virtual reality-style images for lovers of ballet. Viewing classical ballets choreographed by today's choreographer offers the challenge of multi-tasking through dance visualization. All predictability in choreography is gone when the geometric patterns created by the corps de ballet become a welcome treat to the eyes. For example, in the older styles of choreography, predictably, there was a corp de ballet sequence that highlighted the prima ballerina, followed by a pas de deux with the ballerina and her partner.
The incorporation of full dance embodiment by all dancers essential to the geometric design of choreography creates a deeper sense of audience involvement in the dance action on stage. The best example of this is Christopher Wheeldon's Rococo Variations where the audience, musicians and dancers unite with cello, woodwinds, strings and horns in a splendidly choreographed work of art.