Classical ballet is known for its rigorous technique, its graceful, flowing and precise movements and ethereal qualities. A theatrical and codified form of dance, it originated in the Renaissance courts, blossoming during the reign of Louis XIV in France, where the world’s first ballet school, the Académie royale de danse, was founded in 1661. There Pierre Beauchamp invented the five positions of ballet, to which the corresponding arm positions were added in the 19th century. The five foundational positions, all performed with “turnout” (outward rotation of the thighs from the hip), are based on the principles of aplomb (stability), rigour and clarity. Around 1820, ballet was enriched with the pointe technique, which opened up a new range of possibilities.
Neoclassical ballet is the style of 20th century classical ballet exemplified by the works of George Balanchine. Opening up ballet to modernist tendencies, neoclassical ballet was first developed in the 1920s by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. It draws on the advanced techniques of academic ballet, exploring its content and respecting its codes, but extends its boundaries with new concepts and innovations. Today, such choreographers as William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián and Jean-Christophe Maillot are creating neoclassical works of remarkable beauty and virtuosity. A living art, neoclassical ballet is rooted in modern reality.
Contemporary ballet incorporates elements from both classical ballet and modern dance. It takes its technique and use of pointework from classical ballet, although it permits a greater range of movement that may not adhere to the strict body lines of classical technique. Many of its concepts stem from the ideas and innovations of 20th century modern dance.
Modern dance, from a technical perspective, unfolds more on the floor than in the air, refusing classical ballet’s stress on the feet as the primary catalyst for dance movements. Instead, it lays stress on the torso, on the flexibility of the spine, as well as on contact with the floor, and is usually performed in bare feet. Emotion is the wellspring of the expressive gesture in modern dance, in contrast to the aestheticism and virtuosity of classical ballet.
Contemporary dance originated in Europe and the United States after World War II, appearing on the heels of modern dance. For some, it grew from the seeds of postmodernism. Contemporary dance is the exploration of the total movement potential of the body. Unlike other forms of dance, it is not bound by set standards or defined styles. Instead, it seeks to express a personalized vision, often through experimentation and collaboration, in exploring new choreographic possibilities. It derives its techniques from both classical and modern dance, either updating or distorting them, resulting in a hybrid form derived from literature, architecture, visual arts, circus and other artistic disciplines.