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Marie Taglioni, Romantic Ballet and Tutus

27 Jan

1831. Marie Taglioni as Flora in Didelot's Zéphire et Flore. London1831. Marie Taglioni as Flora in Didelot’s ‘Zéphire et Flore’, London

Romantic ballet is an era in ballet in which Romanticist ideas started to influence ballet. The era is considered to have begun with the 1827. debut of Marie Taglioni in ballet La Sylphide performed in Paris. The era reached its zenith with the premiere of the Pas de Quatre staged in London in 1845. Ballet Coppelia performed in 1870. is considered to be the last work of Romantic ballet.

Romantic ballet came as a reaction against neoclassical ballet and 18. century art and literature. Stories about ancient legends and Greek and Roman gods were dull and old-fashion and the public along with artist wanted something fresh and new, something they could relate to. Romantic ballets have four things in common; 1. stories are about real people and real places, 2. usage of national colours and symbols in costumes and setting, 3. fantastic, exotic and spiritual elements, 4. prominent ballet technique such as pointe work.

1845. Carlotta Grisi (left), Marie Taglioni (center), Lucille Grahn (right back), and Fanny Cerrito (right front) in Pas de Quatre, London

1845. Carlotta Grisi (left), Marie Taglioni (center), Lucille Grahn (right back), and Fanny Cerrito (right front) in the Perrot/Pugni Pas de Quatre, London.

Marie Taglioni, praised highly for her lyricism, was perhaps the most influential and the most famous Romantic era ballerina. Born on 23. April 1804. to artistic family (her father was a choreographer and her mother was a dancer). She rose to fame in 1832. when her father created ballet La Sylphide for her.

Important Romantic era ballerinas, besides Marie Taglioni, were Carlotta Grissi (first Giselle), Lucille Grahn, Fanny Cerito and Fanny Elssler. The movement style in this era is characterized by rounded and soft arms and a forward tilt in the upper body and this helped ballerinas to look flowery and willowy. Leg movements also elaborated due to new tutu styles. Also, Romantic era was the first era in ballet in which women became central parts in ballet, while previously man dominated the performances.

1830s Marie Taglioni wears the first tutu in 'La Sylphide'

1832. Marie Taglioni wears the first tutu in ‘La Sylphide’

Romantic tutu, along with Degas tutu, is my favourite style of tutu. It looks so flowing, free and charming. Parisian fashion editors praise Marie Taglioni’s costume which made it look like she flew. Romantic tutu is a three-quarter length bell-shaped usually white skirt made of tulle. The hemline is specific for it falls between the knee and the ankle.

For her performance in La Sylphide, Marie Taglioni wore layered cotton gauze with puff sleeves, she had flowers in her bodice and crown made of wild flowers in her hair. To accompany the tutu, she wore a pair of transparent wings. On her feet she wore thin, white satin slippers which were, at the time, considered to be an evening shoes.

1840. The Three Graces, Marie Taglioni as the Sylph in La Sylphide,

1840. The Three Graces: embodiment of the Romantic ballet. The lithograph depicts what is considered to be the three greatest ballerinas of the era in their most celebrated roles:Marie Taglioni as the Sylph in La Sylphide, Fanny Elssler as Florinda in the dance La Cachucha from Jean Corelli’s 1836 ballet Le Diable boiteux and Carlotta Grisi as Béatrix in the Grand pas de Diane chasseresse from the 1842 ballet La Jolie Fille du Gand. 

Ballerinas started wearing pointe shoes which gave them the effect of floating. Romantic tutu looks so innocent, charming and dreamy but in the 19. century it was seen as provocative. When Marie Taglioni first shortened her skirt for ballet La Sylphide, it was seen as scandalous. Her father approved the shortening of the skirt because he also wanted everybody to see how good his daughter was en pointe.

1830s Taglioni, queen of the tutu and Romantic ballet.

Marie Taglioni, Queen of the tutu and Romantic ballet.

1841. ballerina Carlotta Grisi in the tite role of Adam's Giselle, Paris1841. ballerina Carlotta Grisi in the tite role of Adam’s Giselle, Paris.

In case you didn’t know, Tchaikovsky’s ballets The Swan and The Nutcracker are also considered Romantic ballets in style.