Romantic Ballet

19th Century Ballet

The Romantic era of ballet developed during the 19th century. Romanticism was characterized by a passionate striving to discover meaning in human events. It began the interest in supernatural, spiritual creatures, and mythical places. It provided an escape from the drudgery of daily living. Female dancers took the central roles, while men served the supporting role. Romantic ballet often told stories about a love triangle through dramatic action and pantomime. The ballet form was performed in two acts; In Act I the female dancers were usually portrayed as a villager but in Act II the dancers are transformed into spirits or ethereal beings.


Meet the Cast of "Pas de Quatre"

The four famous ballerinas of this time period were Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Lucile Grahn, and Fanny Cerito. The rivalry between these dancers was intense because they were each so very different. Jules Perrot choreographed "Pas de Quatre" on the four ladies using each of their strengths within his choreography. However, temperaments flared over the question of who would perform the last variation, as this was the most honored spot. It was decided that the ladies would perform in accordance to age, the youngest going first, and suddenly each was courteously offering to lead.

Marie Taglioni (1804-1884)

Marie Taglioni was an Italian dancer trained by her father. She became the star at the Paris Opéra in the ballet "La Sylphide." "La Sylphide" became her signature role, which she premiered in Paris in 1832. She wore the romantic style tutu, a long white tutu with tight bodice that inspired female fashion of the period. In this ballet she received wide acclaim for her ethereal grace while dancing on pointe. She stitched around the toes of her soft ballet slippers to help give her support as she rose on to her toes. It wasn't until later that dancers started using boxed slippers, similar to was dancers use today.

Another production that Taglioni is known for is "Pas de Quatre," a ballet created to showcase four of the foremost ballerina of the era.

Marie Taglioni retired in 1847 but continued to teach dance, and later opened her own school. Taglioni is still considered to be possible the greatest ballerina of the romantic era. Her technique and elevation contributed to her renowned airy grace.

Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899)

Carlotta Grisi was an Italian dancer who studied with and became the partner of Jules Perrot. She performed her greatest role as the lead in the ballet "Giselle" with Perrot's choreography. "Giselle" was created by a group of the most talented writers, musicians, scenic designers, and choreographers of the era.

Grisi was considered a technically strong dancer. In her career she danced many other leading roles in the romantic ballets and was one of the four stars in "Pas de Quatre."

Grisi and Perrot traveled all through Europe together creating new works. She retired in 1854 at the height of her career and settled in Paris.

Lucille Grahn (1819-1907)

Lucille Grahn was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and studied dance at the Royal Danish Ballet. Auguste Bournonville took notice in her talent and arranged for her to study in Paris. After dancing with the Paris Opera she traveled to Russian appearing immediately after Taglioni's performance in the role of "La Sylphide," she was well received by the Russians as a more appealing Sylphide, and was labeled the Danish Taglioni.

In 1845 Grahn moved to England and performed as the youngest of one of the famous four in "Pas de Quatre."

Grahn retired in Germany and married. She continued to teach dance and choreography while taking care of her husband.

Fanny Cerito (1817-1909)

Born to a simple Italian family, she brought her talent and drive to the Ballet School of the Royal Theaters. Cerito's performances were quite successful and led to tours in Rome, Florence, Naples, and Vienna. Yet in 1840, Cerito moved to London where she met and married Arthur Saint-Léon. In London, she was paired with other leading ballerinas in a unique ballet called "Pas de Quatre," choreographed by Jules Perrot.

Cerito and Saint-Léon made their last appearance together on tour in 1851. After that, Cerito moved to Russian while Saint-Leon continued his career in Paris.

Past her prime, Cerito made an appearance in Russia and was upstaged by a young Russian ballerina who had been Saint-Léon's pupil in Paris. Disillusioned by that and by the Russians' nationalistic non-acceptance of things foreign, Cerito left for England in 1857 to retire.

Pas de Quatre

This historic ballet is famous for presenting four of the greatest ballerina of its time dancing on stage together. Perrot was given, possibly, the most formidable task ever expected of a ballet master. He was charged with inventing an ensemble piece for these rival ballerinas and devising solos for each one that would display their individual artistry, without any one upstaging the other. The only major problem was the order they would perform their variations. It was finally settled according to age. They would perform starting with the youngest.

Their costumes were of the Romantic style made famous in " La Sylphide." They wore long billowy muslin dresses with circlets of flowers on their heads. However, Cerito wore her flowers beside the low bun at the back of her head and Tagliono wore her pearl jewelry around her neck.