Ballet (Gr. It. ballare, to dance), a dramatic representation composed of dancing and pantomime with music. Many passages in the Greek writers show that the ballet of action was in great credit among them. The Romans reached in it, under the reign of Augustus, a rare edgree of perfection. Three dancers above all, Bathyllus, Pylades, and Hyllus, accomplished wonders by their varied performances, in which artistic skill and truthfulness of pantomime were admirably blended. Pylades personified tragic subjects, while Bathyllus excelled in the representation of the comic. These entertainments continued popular down to the fall of the empire; but it was only in the later period that women appeared on the stage; and among the most favorite performers at Constantinople was Theodora, who became the wife of the emperor Justinian. The middle ages present no records of the ballet; but in 1489, on occasion of the marriage of the duke of Milan, a spectacle of the kind excited such admiration that it was introduced in several countries. France was foremost in encouraging this entertainment; in 1581 Catharine de' Medici had a great ballet performed, "Circe and her Nymphs," the expenses of which amounted to 3,600,000 livres.
The popularity of the ballet all over Europe was increased in the 18th century by Noverre, whom Garrick called the Shakespeare of the dance. He elevated the character of the ballet, improving it as a whole and in its details, and propagated its principles through the principal European cities, where he was either the founder or the reformer of the ballet; finally, he returned to France, and became chief ballet master of the royal academy of music. "A ballot perfect in all its parts," according to Noverre, "is a picture drawn from life of the manners, dresses, ceremonies, and customs of all nations; it must be therefore a complete pantomime, and through the eyes speak to the very soul of the spectator, and, being a regular representation, ought as far as possible to be under the general rules of the drama. If it does not point out, with perspicuity and without the aid of a programme, the passions and incidents it is intended to describe, it is a divertisement, a succession of dances, and nothing better." Appropriate music is also a constituent part of a good ballet.
The Vestris family shone on all the European stages during the latter part of the 18th century, and early in the 19th. Besides the ballet (Taction or ballet pantomime, which is the only genuine ballet, there are divertissements, consisting of little else than steps, leaps, pirouettes, and entrechats. These are sometimes introduced in operas, as in Rohert le Biable.