Marie Taglioni Image via dancer.com Marie Taglioni
Image via dancer.com

Whereas historically men had dominated ballet performances, the Romantic era (which occurred during the early to mid 19th Century) saw the rise of the ballerina which called for a flowery, willowy look and became defined by the ballet dancer Marie Taglioni.

Marie Taglioni as Bayadère, coloured lithograph, 1831. V&A Museum. Marie Taglioni as Bayadère, coloured lithograph, 1831. V&A Museum.

The real defining element of the Romantic ballet era was the new romantic tutu. This milti-layered skirt was made of tulle and a new tutu length which allowed for more elaborate leg movements. The era also saw the rise in pointe shoes which helped give the effect of floating in these whimsical ballets where the ballerinas were often playing spirits and mysterious characters.

La Sylphide La Sylphide
Attribution: ​English Wikipedia user Mrlopez2681

Marie Taglioni made her debut in Paris in 1827 in the ballet La Sylphide, which was choreographed by her father. Marie embodied the ideas of Romantic ballet, wearing a white tulle dress accessorised with floral headbands and delicate fairy wings. Marie had actually shortened her skirts in the performance in order to show off her pointe work which probably would have been rather scandalous at the time.

Flore et Zephire Lithograph by Chalon and Lane of Marie Taglioni as Flora in Didelot's Zéphire et Flore. London, 1831 (Victoria and Albert Museum/Sergeyev Collection) Flore et Zephire
Lithograph by Chalon and Lane of Marie Taglioni as Flora in Didelot's Zéphire et Flore. London, 1831 (Victoria and Albert Museum/Sergeyev Collection)

Taglioni made her London debut in 1830 and fuelled her popularity across Europe as the part of Flora (a nymph of flowers) in the popular ballet Flore et Zephire. In this ballet, wires were used to enhance the visualisation of the dancers as spirits in the air. This added to the effect of the ballerinas being weightless, something the Romantic ballet era epitomised.

Pas De Quatre Pas De Quatre
Pas de Quatre. Lithographs of the Romantic Ballet, 1845.
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Cia Fornaroli Collection.

What is regarded as the pinnacle of the Romantic ballet essence and style is the show Pas de Quatre which caused a sensation when it premiered in 1845 as it brought together the four greatest ballerinas of the time, including Marie Taglioni. The ballerinas danced with delicacy and poise, enhanced by their matching whimsical costumes that again included the Romantic tutus, the white bodice and floral headbands.

Taglioni was so famous and well regarded that after her last performance in Russia in 1842 a pair of her pointe shoes were sold to be reportedly cooked and eaten by a group of ballet fans!

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