We have said it before and we are going to say it again, without singers there would be no opera, so it makes sense that without dancers, or without ballerinas, there would be no ballet. Our blog posts have covered many different ballet dancers that have wowed audiences with their leaps and bounds. Here are a few more of the female persuasion.
(And, by the way, before we jump into the ballerinas, the cover photo shows Chaplin, a German ballet about the iconic American character.)
Born in Paris, this first ballerina came into the world at the beginning of the 18th century, so ballet was much different than we know it today. The costumes were bulky and heavy, not like the streamlined graceful tutus ballerinas wear today. In fact, en pointe didn’t even become a thing until seventy-six years after Sallé passed away.
Yet, at this time in ballet history Paris was the place to be and that’s where this dancer was born. Sallé was a big influence on changes that were seen during this stretch of ballet history. She was one of the first to assimilate the styles of dance, costumes, and music to convey one theme.
Sallé debuted with the Paris Opera at the age of fourteen with the help of her sponsor, Françoise Prévost. When she was twenty-two, Sallé challenged the status quo by not wearing the traditional masks worn during the dance so that she could utilize her facial expressions to tell the story. This style was groundbreaking in the world of ballet.
One of her most notable victories was when she choreographed her own solo dance in Les Caractères de l’amour in 1734 in London. Along with the ballet Bacchus and Ariadne, Sallé displayed her true talents as a dramatic actress of the tragedies. Sallé was also innovative when she created the lead role in Pygmalion that same year. The famous ballerina opted for a dress not typically seen. A much lighter Greek inspired tunic. Sallé also kept any ornamentation out of her hair, which was also a first.
This next ballerina is from the Brussels and was born only a few years after Sallé. Camargo is also renowned for her mechanical originations that helped shape ballet into the art form we know today. Her first appearance in a ballet was with the Paris Opera in Les Caractères de la danse.
Yet Françoise Prévost was not as benevolent with Camargo as she was with Sallé. Camargo was put with the group dancers no matter how much talent she displayed simply because the instructor was growing older and felt threatened. It seems that Prévost was not the only rival of Camargo, Sallé also had a competition going with the young dancer.
While Sallé made some advancements in ballet fashion and technique, it was Marie Camargo who was the first ballerina to wear shorter skirts to allow for better mobility. She was also the first to remove the heel that had adorned all ballet shoes at the time and wear them flat so her jumps were more precise. Camargo was known for her nimbleness and ability to perform jumps that were only done by men before her.
Ove the span of her career, Camargo performed in nearly one hundred operas and ballets. There are several versions of her portrait painted by Nicolas Lancret, one of them hangs in London as a part of the Wallace Collection while another is in Washington, D.C. in the National Gallery of Art.
The first African-American on our list, Copeland is also the first Female Principle Dancer of African-American heritage to hold this position with the American Ballet Theatre. Born of less than pleasurable means, this dancer is truly the textbook story of the American Dream. Her family was so poor at times they would live in a motel rooms looking for a space to sleep.
Copeland was born in Missouri but spent her childhood in San Pedro, California. It was at the age of thirteen that she began to train for the ballet. Two years later Copeland won the first-place prize in the Music Center Spotlight Awards, which prompted her to take her dancing to the next level. Copeland went onto train at the San Francisco Ballet School and spent summers in the Intensive Training Program at the American Ballet Theatre.
In the year 2000, Copeland became a member of the Studio Company affiliated with the American Ballet Theater and in seven years she moved her way up to becoming their first African-American soloist in twenty years. Copeland is only the second African-American soloist in the company’s seventy-five years. In 2015, Copeland made ABT history again when she was promoted to principal dancer, a spot that has never been held by an African-American woman.
She was given the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Arts in 2008, Copeland performed her most vital role to date in Firebird, which was choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. In 2014 she was the company’s first African-American female to dance the role of Odette in Swan Lake and in 2015 she danced at the Metropolitan Opera House in Romeo and Juliet.
The media cannot get enough of this dancer having appeared in publications like Vogue, Ebony, People, and Essence magazines. Copeland has made numerous television appearances including This Week with George Stephanopoulos, The Today Show, 60 Minutes, and CBS Sunday Morning. In 2012 she was given honors by the Boys & Girls Club National Hall of Fame and was awarded by the Council of Urban Professionals. In 2013 she was given the title of National Youth of the Year Ambassador of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Our final ballerina for today’s list hails from Milan and was born there in 1963. She began her studies at the La Scala Theatre Ballet School until she was fifteen and then moved to London to further her training at the Royal Ballet School. She won the Prix de Lausanne in 1980, which enabled her to continue her studies.
In 1982, Ferri won the Sir Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Individual Performance of the Year in a New Dance Production. In addition to those awards, Ferri also won the Benois de la Danse Prix, the Cavaliere della Repubblica Honoris, and the Dance Magazine Award. During her career as a ballerina, Ferri has performed with The Royal Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre (with a personal invitation from Mikhail Baryshnikov), the Ballet National de Marseille in France, the National Ballet of Canada, and the La Scala in Milan.
Ferri has also taken on new roles while reinventing dated ones. Some of the works she created fresh included Different Drummer, Consort Lessons, Isadora, Valley of Shadows, and L’Invitation au Voyage. Roles in classics like The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, and La bayadère, were given a fresh breath when Ferri danced.
In 2007 Ferri chose to retire and take on programming the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina but she didn’t put her en pointe shoes away for good. In 2013 she came back to dance at the very festival she was running. From there she has made several appearances with The Royal Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre.