All About Pointe > History of Pointe



[Balancing on a Flower] Before we consider what Taglioni did and how she did it, let's look at why she rose on pointe at all. The 1830's were the heart of the Romantic Age. The artists and poets of this era-- Keats, Byron, Shelly and Chopin-- were often concerned with beauty, passion, with nature and with the supernatural, with the power of love.

The great Romantic ballets of the time are almost always passionate but tragic encounters between a mortal, terrestrial man and supernatural female. The ballerina's characters are usually inhabitants of the supernatural world: The sylph in La Sylphide, the wilis in Giselle, the water nymph Ondine, the fairy in La Peri, and in later 19th Century ballets the swan maidens in Swan Lake, more fairies in The Sleeping Beauty, the Shades in La Bayadére. Swanhilda in Coppélia is just about the only healthy flesh and blood female around. This supernatural woman is the symbol of beauty, nature, love, the supernatural, immortality. The ballerina is always depicted as a woman not bound to the earth, so dainty she can balance on a flower. Taglioni even had a piece of scenery that looked like a flower made strong enough to support her weight so that she could create this illusion.

[Floating above the water]

In her long white billowy Romantic tutu, starkly simple compared with the ornate costumes of the previous century, she is all feminine purity and virtue. When she rises on pointe she achieves an ethereal lightness, an otherworldly grace. She enters the realm of the spirit. She appears to hover and skim the stage weightlessly. Picture the sylphide, floating on the windowsill then flying up the chimney. Pointe dancing was not just another virtuosic feat like the first entrechat quatre was, it was a means of enhancing the drama by extending the female character. Lincoln Kirstein called it "the speech of the inexpressible." Our poor earthbound male is enraptured by the beauty, purity, grace etc. of this idealized female, but messing around with the supernatural usually ends badly. Except of course in Giselle, one of the most popular and enduring ballets of all time, in which love triumphs over everything, even death.


©1998 Gaynor Minden, Inc.