How Mathematics Influenced the Birth of Ballet

Human history is the consequence of the physical and conceptual models that society managed to assimilate into the community’s life. In different epochs, different peoples, and different environments, some visionary people shape the future through their creations. They offer viable conceptual models, visible and accessible only to the times that will belong to their descendants. Here is how mathematics influenced the birth of ballet.

A case analogous to this category starts the ballet’s history, as Walter Sorell notices in his work: Dance in its Time, 1981. His book has been republished in German in 1995, Kulturgeschichte des Tanzes).

About Walter Sorell

In 1986, the famous journalist Anna Kisselgoff declared that ”Unlike any other critic writing today, he (Walter Sorell) considers dance within a broad intellectual and rich cultural context.’

Brunelleschi and his linear perspective

The case in question, says Sorell, is the Florentine Renaissance architect and painter Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). Why? Because without him, the appearance of ballet at that time would have been unlikely. He brings in painting a new perception of distance and depth. He is the creator of the ´´linear perspective in art´´. This mathematical technique governed pictorial depictions of space until the late 19th century and influenced modern science. (Campbell 2012, Edgerton 2009). By introducing geometric shapes based on mathematical principles, Brunelleschi is the creator of perspective in the XV century painting.

Favorable opening for ballet’s appearance

This innovation marks a distance from the Gothic style and a favorable opening for ballet’s appearance as art.

Proposing new forms of movement harmonized with space.

In other words,

“what meant the discovery of perspective for painting, is similar with what the geometry of space meant for dance; recognition and perception of space as such, become a framework for learning the steps according to well-specified rules.” continues Sorell (Dance in its Time)

The ballet came from the ballet de cour, or according to Marcel Schneider’s words from a “recette italienne cuisinée a la français.” (Italian recipe prepared according to the French taste). It will take another 200 years for the ballet to crystallize into a well-defined, distinctly personalized art form. (Sorell, Dance in its Time).

The first ballet

In 1581, Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx created the Ballet Comique de la Reine, “symbolizing the union of the two countries that conceived it. The patron and choreographer were Italian, the poets, musicians, and dancers were French ”(…) “The work became the first ballet as such, in the known sense of Geometric Dance (La danse géométrique). It consists of 15 passages in various geometric shapes: in diameter, in a circle, in a triangle, or square. In the end, all the interpreters turned their heads towards the king” (Marcel Schneider in L´ésprit du ballet).

´´Mythology, gallantry, and politics´´

Ballet Comique de la Reine marks France’s historical moment of the transition from court ballet to its recognition as a personal brand. The court dance has been seen until 1581 as an imported item. Through this amalgam of “mythology, gallantry and politics” (M. Schneider) comes to life the first definition of a new art form. Ballet as an art form came to life from mathematics, through painting. Ballet gained a new spatiality due to the new performers’ choreography, called dancers.

Humanized conceptual model

As the model of “perfect example” base on mathematical principles, ballet is a humanized conceptual model for 360 years. Since its origin, this model “asserts itself against nature, being mathematics in action, the geometry of steps and figures.” Its function is to create an aesthetic emotion similar to that produced by any other art form. (Marcel Schneider, 2002)

Leave a Comment