What Was the First Ballet?

Ballet dates back about 500 years

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The first ballets were performed about 500 years ago in Italy and France. They were usually exciting shows of dancing and singing performed for royal families and their guests.

'Le Ballet Comique de la Reine'

The first real ballet on record was staged in the year 1581. The grand performance was called "Le Ballet Comique de la Reine," meaning "The Comic Ballet of the Queen."

The inspiration of the story: Circe, a character in the famous story, “The Odyssey,” by Homer.

Catherine de' Medici, the French queen at the time, arranged the ballet performance to celebrate the wedding of her sister. Not only did the queen arrange the performance, but she, the king and a group of her court all also participated in it. 

The ballet was elaborate, expensive and lengthy, performed in a ballroom adjacent to the Louvre Palace in Paris. The ballet started at 10 p.m. and lasted nearly five hours, until 3:30 a.m. About 10,000 guests were in attendance.

Was 'Le Ballet' Really the First?

While "Le Ballet" is widely thought of as the first real ballet, historians say there were other similar productions before it. 

The Queen of the Arts

Queen Catherine de' Medici was known for her elaborate, pricey parties and events. She had a well-known love of the theater and arts, which she considered an avenue for political messages, as well as a means for her own creative self-expression. She brought together some of the most talented artists of her time and is today respected for her major contribution to the French Renaissance.

The Roots of Ballet

Although the first recognized ballet performance was in France, ballet’s roots are in the Italian Renaissance court, at elaborate weddings of aristocrats. Dancers performed regular court dance steps to the music of court musicians to entertain the wedding guests. Guests were invited to join.

Back then, what would become ballet wasn’t as theatrical and the costumes were quite different. Instead of fluffy tutus, leotards, tights and pointe shoes, the dancers wore long, formal dresses, which were standard attire in society.

It was the French influences that helped form the ballet that we know of today. The so-called ballet de cour brought together music, singing, dancing, talking, costumes and a much fuller production.