In Milan in 1820 Carlo Blasis first set down the technique of ballet as we know it today—with its stress on the turned-out leg, which permits great variety of movement. With the production of La Sylphide (1832) the romantic period formally began, ushering in a new era of brilliant choreography that emphasized the beauty and virtuosity of the prima ballerina. In this production Maria Taglioni first wore the filmy, calf-length costume that was to become standard for classical ballet. The great ballerinas of the era included Taglioni, Fanny Elssler, Carlotta Grisi, and Fanny Cerrito. In keeping with the literature and art of the romantic movement, the new ballet concerned the conflicts of reality and illusion, flesh and spirit. Love stories and fairy tales replaced mythological subjects.
At the same time dancing sur les pointes [on the toes] had come into favor. By the end of the century the blocked toe had appeared, and the tutu, a very short, buoyant skirt that completely freed the legs, had come into use. The male dancer functioned as partner to support the ballerina, the central focus of the dance and drama. Ballet declined progressively after 1850 with the ballet d'action giving way entirely to divertissements; finally the great stars had retired, and the sets, costumes, and choreography had become stereotyped and uninteresting. The naturalistic trend in the theater had all but destroyed the imaginative touch necessary to ballet.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.