The Romantic ballet is type of ballet that evolved in the early 19th century as a reaction against the classicism that dominated 18th century art and literature. Balletomanes of the early nineteenth century were bored with ancient gods and goddesses, plots based on myths, and ancient costumes. They wanted ballets about real people like peasants and real but faraway places like Scotland. Pointe work became artistic expression rather than a stunt, and the long, white, ballet skirt of tulle was introduced. Both produced the illusion of ethereal weightlessness. Gas lighting made capable special dimming effects and wires made it possible for ballerinas to "fly".
The romantic era in ballet began with The Ballet of the Nuns (1831) and La Sylphide in 1832. The genre began a slow decline. Coppélia of 1870 is said to mark the end of the romantic ballet, but all three ballets by Tchaikovsky are romantic ballets. Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake of 1876 is considered a romantic ballet. Even his The Nutcracker of 1892 is a romantic ballet. Michel Fokine's Les Sylphides of 1906 is considered a tribute to the romantic ballet in its atmosphere and tone.
Romantic ballets had four things in common: they were about real people rather than mythological gods and goddesses; they employed local or national color in dances such as mazurkas and polonaises and settings such as Scotland or the Rhine Valley; a supernatural, fantasric, exotic, or spiritual element is usually prominent; and romantic ballets focused on technique, especially pointe work for the ballerina.
- Kant, Marion (Ed.) (2007). The Cambridge Companion to the Ballet. Cambridge UP.