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Losing the mask...

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I'm trying to compile a list of significant changes in ballet history to help my students get a sense of their art form's past and in the process am trying to learn something more about it myself... particularly:

What's this bit about ballet and masks? Plumbing the internet, I'm learning that at some point dancers finally succeeded in discarding masks and appearing without them... I didn't realize (or have forgotten) early dancers had to dance wearing masks... All of them or only the main characters? And who succeeded in getting rid of the masks? I see in one source that it was Gaetan Vestris, in another that it was a dancer replacing Vestris when Vestris couldn't get there, and in another place that it was Noverre who finally established this as the norm... and yet there are pictures of Marie Salle dancing without a mask before Marie Antoinette established Noverre at the Opera... It's all rather confusing.

When did they get rid of the required masks, and were the masks required for all dancers?


~ Amy

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During the Renaissance, dancers wore masks, even to balls (think of the ballroom scene in "Romeo and Juliet.") there are many drawings of early ballet dancers wearing masks. There are also many in which they are not wearing masks, or dancing barefoot. They're drawings, so we can't take them as gospel. In the book I use (Carol Lee's) she gives Maximilien Gardel credit for discarding the mask. Others do as well. The reason was that a reviewer credited Gardel's performance to another dancer, and he was quite angry and said he would dance as himself. Gardel is around the same time as Gaetan Vestris.

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Sometimes I wish this forum had a "like" button!

Now I'm wondering if the masks had a revival sometime after moving into the theater? It is still confusing to me, and now in the new school year I'm up to teaching students dates from the 1800s in ballet, I'm looking at the losing the mask situation again.... I suppose it was a great aid in helping a man dance a woman's role...

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