17 August 2015 at 4.09pm | 4 Comments
Former Ballet Mistress Ursula Hageli recently explored the development of ballet pointe work as part of a Ballet Evolved Insights event.
Hageli explained how Marie Taglioni was the first dancer to experiment with dancing on the tips of her toes, in the ballet of the opera Robert le diable: ‘She floated across the stage in the gaslight on her toes. It caused an absolute sensation because people didn’t know how she did it.’
Taglioni used ordinary dancing shoes, prepared only by darning the tips and inserting some wadding. Modern pointe shoes have a block in the tip, an innovation introduced by Italian shoemakers. This allows dancers to stand up on their toes, and led to the development of extensive pointe work in Russian Classical ballet.
The shoes weren’t the only part of ballet dress that changed. As the choreographic focus moved to the feet, the tutu became shorter and shorter – from the knee-length tutu worn by Taglioni, to the Classical tutu we know and love today.
Hageli was joined by two Royal Ballet dancers who provide demonstrations: First Artist Gemma Pitchley-Gale showed the minimal pointe work employed by Taglioni and Romantic dancers; while Soloist Fumi Kaneko demonstrated the development of pointe-work exercises by Italian dancers, and finally shows the culmination of pointe work in Russian Classical ballet, with the Queen of the Dryads solo from Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote.
Our Ballet Evolved YouTube playlist traces the history of ballet through the centuries from its origins at the French court:
Watch more films like this by subscribing to the Royal Opera House YouTube channel:
ROH Insights are generously supported by The Paul Hamlyn Education Fund.