Helene, thanks for the distinction between "sport" and "competition," and for the insights into "judged sport."
Paul, thank you for reminding me of the Mazo book. I got it down from the shelf and began skimming. Mazo, although he talks about the physical and athletic demands of ballet, never really develops the "sport" theme. I wonder if it wasn't just something an editor picked because he thought it would help sales.
The term "Art/sport" rose in the 70s with the post-modern dancers, but for a long time Balanchine's ballets had already been moving in opposition to the genteel tradition in the direction of unsentimental, directly physical action, and he'd incorporated "acrobacy" (Lincoln Kirstein's term) as early as Apollo. Other choreographers had taken the hint, in a cruder way, and there were many flat-out athletic ballets hitting hte boards by the 70's -- some by gerald Arpino, some by Bejart.... ballets in 'nude' tights for bare-chested men. i'm sure you can picture one if you think about it.
You're right! It seems like a self-conscious process of what we might call "de-etherealization" was going on. Balanchine, on the whole, disguised the enormous physical effort required. Arpino and others called attention to it, as do the fouette-counters (1, 2, 3, 4-5 (a double!) .... 32) . Ditto those who, as Mel mentions, aim at 18 tours en l'air.
I wonder if the use of "sport" in this context isn't partly to make "ballet" more culturally acceptible to a masculine audience. Mazo opens his book by assuring us about his all-guy credentials: "I have a habit of falling in love with women I've never met, especially ballerinas." To insist that ballet is a sport could
be an attempt to disassociate oneself from the older image of ballet -- and its fans -- as primarily feminine and effete. (?)