Ballet is a formalized form of dance with its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries.Ballet spread from Italy to France with the help of Catherine de’ Medici, where ballet developed even further under her aristocratic influence. An early example of Catherine’s development of ballet is through ‘Le Paradis d’ Amour’, a piece of work presented at her daughter’s wedding, Marguerite de Valois to Henry of Navarre. Aristocratic money was responsible for the initial stages of development in ‘court ballet’, as it was royal money that dictated the ideas, literature and music used in ballets that were created to primarily entertain the aristocrats of the time. The first formal ‘court ballet’ ever recognized was staged in 1573, ‘Ballet des Polonais’. In true form of royal entertainment, ‘Ballet des Polonais’ was commissioned by Catherine de’ Medici to honor the Polish Ambassadors who were visiting Paris upon the accession of Henry of Anjou to the throne of Poland. In 1581, Catherine de’ Medici commissioned another court ballet, Ballet Comique de la Reine, however it was her compatriot, Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, whom organized the ballet. Catherine de’ Medici and Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx were responsible for presenting the first court ballet ever to apply the principles of Baif’s Academie, by integrating poetry, dance, music and set design to convey a unified dramatic storyline. Moreover, the early organization and development of ‘court ballet’ was funded by, influenced by and produced by the Aristocrats of the time, fulfilling both their personal entertainment and political propaganda needs. (“Ballet and Modern Dance”, Second Edition, Susan Au). In the late 17th century Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opera) within which emerged the first professional theatrical ballet company, the Paris Opera Ballet. The predominance of French in the vocabulary of ballet reflects this history. Theatrical ballet soon became an independent form of art, although still frequently maintaining a close association with opera, and spread from the heart of Europe to other nations. The Royal Danish Ballet and the Imperial Ballet of the Russian Empirewere founded in the 1740s and began to flourish, especially after about 1850. In 1907 the Russian ballet in turn moved back to France, where the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev and its successors were particularly influential. Soon ballet spread around the world with the formation of new companies, including London’s The Royal Ballet(1931), the San Francisco Ballet (1933), American Ballet Theatre (1937), The Royal Winnipeg Ballet (1939), The Australian Ballet (1940), the New York City Ballet (1948), theNational Ballet of Canada (1951), and the Delhi Ballet (2002).
In the 20th century styles of ballet continued to develop and strongly influence broader concert dance, for example, in the United States choreographer George Balanchine developed what is now known as neoclassical ballet, subsequent developments have included contemporary ballet and post-structural ballet, for example seen in the work of William Forsythe in Germany.
The etymology of the word “ballet” reflects its history. The word ballet comes from French and was borrowed into English around the 17th century. The French word in turn has its origins in Italian balletto, a diminutive of ballo (dance). Ballet ultimately traces back to Italian ballare, meaning “to dance”.