Theatrical Dance History

The origins of theatrical dance (essential form of the art known as ballet) must date back from the times of Spanish domination and, more precisely, of the settlement of the Missions by the Fathers of the Society of Jesus*. In 1607, the Jesuitical Province of Paraguay was created, comprising, among other territories, present-day Argentina. The period from that date till 1767, the year when the priests were expelled, witnessed character performances which were generally religious and evangelizing, where a harmonious combination of prose theater, music, dance and staging elements served both a didactic and an artistic purpose clearly associated with the general guidelines set by the missionaries.

On the other hand, Spanish dance became a usual practice in our land. Escuela Bolera* or Spanish Classical School was a regular and habitual presence which developed till the early 19th century. Not only dancers but also comedians themselves took part in these performances in the context of theatrical shows. In the first quarter of the 19th century, the first figures with a professional and academic background appeared: the Touissant*, the Cañete* and the Catón*. Divertissements, solos, character dances, duets (including mime-drama, as the ones practiced by the Catón with their Napoleonic ballets) filled our theaters.

In 1867, the first choreographic performances with integral ballets were offered. In the earlier Colón Theater the Rousset Company* made its debut, staging the major romantic ballets: Giselle, La Sylphide, Catarina and others, together with pieces from the Escuela Bolera. In 1860 and 1861, the Thierry Company* with Celestina and Oscar Bernardelli became the most important group which had visited Buenos Aires until then. Almea, La Sylphide, Esmeralda and many others composed the repertoire which was performed by Italian Virginia Ferrari and Celestino De Martino. This company enjoyed a great success and a similar triumph would crown, in 1883, the Italian

Choreographic Company which staged the famous Mansotti*'s Excelsior, under the choreographic direction of Raffaelle Grassi and with the much admired Emma Bessone (a dancer with a great renown in Italy and Russia). Montplaisir's Brahma and Luigi Danessi's Messalina were known by the public in the next years, confirming the extraordinary success and popularity of ballo grande and the great Italian artists.

In 1903, Ludovico Saracco's Company offered the local premiere of Delibes's Coppelia with Ida Ronzio; the series of Italian choreographers and dancers kept on at the new Colón Theater (inaugurated in 1908). The choreographers Francioli, Cammerano, Coppini, Vitulli and dancers like Mazzucchelli, Fornarolli, Battaggi and Zucchi took part in the baillabili of operas and, in 1916, in the re-run of Excelsior, staged by Francioli.

In 1913 y 1917, there appeared Diaghilev's Ballet Russes* with Nijinsky, Karsavina, Bolm, Lopokva, Tchernicheva, Cecchetti, etc. Argentina knew then the aesthetics of modern ballet with Michel Fokin, Nijisky's The Faun and Massine's first ballets, which became a remarkable experience for the cultural elite. Anna Pavlova's troupe (1917, 18, 19 y 28)* and Isadora Duncan (1916)* also worked in Buenos Aires. Towards 1922, the training activities of the schools of the Colón Theater started (although in 1918 a little group of Argentine dancers trained by master Vitulli had performed in the Theater). The teachings of Pierre Michailowsky, Olenewa, Jakovleff, Galantha and other artists shaped the national artists who, in 1925, would perform in the first show of the Ballet Company of Colón Theater: The Golden Cock, by Rimsky-Korsakov directed by Adolf Bolm.

During its first ten or fifteen years, the Ballet Company (the oldest academic group in South America) was identified with Diaghilev's artists: Nijinska Romanov, Smirnova, Dubrovska, Wiltzac, Schollar, Fokin, Spessiva and Lifar (1934)*. The first Argentine prima ballerinas were: Dora del Grande, Leticia de la Vega and Blanca Zirmaya; then there would be María Ruanova (with a brilliant international record) and Lide Martinoli (trained in the Scala of Milano).

By the time when, Antonia Mercé staged her Amor Brujo for the Colón, the repertoire had included works like The Sylphs, Carnival, The Ghost of the Rose, The Fire Bird, Thamar, The Consecration of Spring, Lifar's Prometheus, among other pieces. Margarita Wallmann* was appointed as choreographic director of the Ballet from late 1930s till 1940s. Trained in the school of Mary Wigmann, Wallmann developed the ballet of grand show, with the particularly remarkable Honegger's oratorio Jeanne d'Arc in the pyre.

Balanchine* worked for our Ballet in 1942. Monte Carlo Ballets with Massine and the Original Ballet Russe of Colonel Basil* also performed in the early 1940.
Since the 1960s, the Colón Ballet started to present the major classical productions staged by Carter, Nureyev, Prebil, Belfiore, Galizzi and Makarova, together with P. Lacotte's La Sylphide, E. Martinez's Coppelia and Profokiev's ballets.

Towards 1985, the triumph of two young figures: Julio Bocca* and Maximiliano Guerra* (winners in Moscú and Varna) would give ballet an exceptional popularity. The international career of the two dancers confirmed their local success.
In the last seasons, the Colón gave the contemporary ballet d'action an important place with productions signed by Kenneth McMillan and John Cranko: Romeo and Juliet; The Taming of the Shrew and Onegin.