A Brief But Stunning Visual History Of Ballet In The 20th Century

A Brief Visual History Of Ballet In The 20th Century

As holiday season approaches, visions of sugar-plum fairies inevitably begin dancing in our heads. 'Tis the time of "The Nutcracker," and other classic ballet performances that countdown to a whole new season of dance across the world. In honor of the possibilities of the 2014-2015 season, we dug into the photographic archives of Getty and the Associated Press to find the most iconic snapshots of ballerinas and prima donnas over the ages.

Below is a brief but beautiful visual history of the art form, ranging from 1911 to 1999. From Vaslav Nijinsky to Benjamin Millepied, Anna Pavlova to Sylvie Guillem, the collection of vintage portraits gives a mostly black-and-white glimpse into over a century's worth of ballet greats. Much has changed in terms of representation and body image over the years, and while we can only hope to see more diversity, it certainly shows in these images. Take a look and let us know your thoughts in the comments.


ballet 1913
Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950) performs in 1911 in Paris in the role of Petrouchka in a ballet composed by Igor Stravinsky. (Photo credit should read ROOSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

vaslav nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950) as the faun at the premiere of Ballet Russe's production of "L'Apres-midi d'un Faune" at the Theatre du Chatelet Paris in May of 1912. (Photo by Edward Gooch/Edward Gooch/Getty Images)

ballet 1913
Ballet dancer Madame Emma Sandrini painted by Debat-Ponsan in 1913. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ballet 1913
Boys of the advanced class learning ballet-dancing in the Imperial School in St Petersburg in 1913. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

anna pavlova
Ballerina Anna Pavlova (1882-1931), who danced all over the world, dressed for her most famous role as the solo dancer in "The Dying Swan" created in 1905 by Mickhail Fokine. Image circa 1915. (Photo by Claude Harris/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ballet 1915
Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1885-1931) dancing in a production of "Gavotte." Image circa 1915. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


ballet 1918
Marja Ambrozewicz, a teacher at the Ballet School of Warsaw, shown in Paris around 1920. (Photo by Choumoff/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

anna pavlova
Famed ballet dancer Anna Pavlova posing for a portrait in Belgium on September 16, 1927. (AP Photo)

george balanchine
Russian Ballet dancers Lyubov Tchernicheva, Alice Nikitina, Alexandra Danilova (1904-1997), Felia Doubrovska and Serge Lifar during a production of "Apollon Musagetes" in 1928, composed by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by George Balanchine. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)

george balanchine
Alexandra Danilova in "Apollo Musagete" in Paris in June of 1928. (Photo by Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

george balanchine
Ballet Russe dancers, Serge Lifar (1905-1986) and Alexandra Danilova (1904-1997) in "Apollon Musagetes" in 1928. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)


ballet 1933
"Les Songes," Balanchine's ballet, in 1933. (Photo by Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

ballet 1933
Nini Theilade, an Indonesian ballet dancer, adopting a ballet pose for a studio portrait in September 1933. (Photo by Sasha/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

beauty and the beast ballet
"Beauty And The Beast" audition at Lyceum Theater in London in November of 1937. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

ballet 1937
A dancer tying up her shoes in 1937. (Photo by Baron/Getty Images)

george balanchine
Vera Zorina, the stage name of Eva Hartwig, the ballet dancer and actress, rehearsing with her husband George Balanchine for the Warner Brothers musical production of "On Your Toes" in 1939. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

george balanchine
Tamara Toumanova, one of George Balanchine's original "baby ballerinas," shown in 1939. (AP Photo)


ballet 1917
Trinidad-born ballerina Pamela May (Doris May, 1917-2005) performing in "Dante Sonata," by Frederick Ashton, in 1940. (Photo by Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ballet 1918
Dutch ballet dancer Marina Franca (b. 1918) poses on point in a peacock costume on April 18, 1941. (Photo by Weegee (Arthur Fellig) / International Center of Photography / Getty Images)

ballet 1943
Dancers from the Ballet Rambert during a performance at the Open Air Theatre in Brockwell Park, London in 1943. (Photo by Fred Ramage/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

ballet 1943
A dancer in "The Quest," performed by the Sadler's Wells Ballet at the New Theatre in 1943. (Photo by Tunbridge/Tunbridge-Sedgwick Pictorial Press/Getty Images)

alicia markova
English ballerina Alicia Markova (1910-2004) of the Ballets Russes in costume for the ballet "Aurora's Wedding" by Sergei Diaghilev in New York City in 1946. (Photo by Constance Bannister Corp/Getty Images)

alicia markova
Behind the stage curtains, Susan, niece of the dancer Alicia Markova Asshe, imitates her aunt who is performing with Anton Dolin on stage in 1949. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)


ballet 1918
The cast of a Festival Ballet production of Jules Perrot's ballet "Pas De Quatre," at a photo-call in London in 1950. The dancers are Nathalie Krassovska (1918-2005) as Carlotta Grisi, Alexandra Danilova (1904-1997) as Fanny Cerito, Tatiana Riabouchinska (1917-2000) as Lucille Grahn and Alicia Markova (1910-2004) as Marie Taglioni. (Photo by Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

george balanchine
Tanaquil Le Clercq (1929-2000), a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, in costume for "Bourree Fantasque," in 1950. (Photo by Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

george balanchine
British ballerina, director and choreographer Gillian Lynne in "Ballet Imperial" by George Balanchine in 1950. (Photo by Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

george balanchine
The New York City Ballet performing "Orpheus" in 1952. (Photo by Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

ballet 1955
Ballet teacher Marjorie Middleton instructing her pupils in ballet positions during a lesson in one of the studios at the Scottish Ballet School at Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh in 1955. (Photo by Malcolm Dunbar/Picture Post/Getty Images)

galina ulanova
Russian ballerina Galina Sergeevna Ulanova (1910-1998) of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1958. (Photo by Leonid Lazarev/Getty Images)


maria tallchief
Maria Tallchief performing "Swan Lake" in December of 1960. (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

black ballet dancer
This May 1961 photo shows ballerina Melissa Hayden, a lyrical, exquisite dancer who performed with the New York City Ballet for more than 20 years. (AP Photo )

martha graham
Martha Graham and company perform "Phaedra" in August of 1962. (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

nutcracker ballet
Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev dances with Rosella Hightower during a dress rehearsal at the B.B.C. television studios in London in 1962. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

nadia nerina
Ballerina Nadia Nerina in "Electra" circa 1963. (Photo by M McKeown/Getty Images)

margot fonteyn
Ballet dancers Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev rehearsing "La Bayadere" on stage in 1963. (Photo by Victor Blackman/Express/Getty Images)

maria tallchief
Maria Tallchief performing "Firebird" at the NYC Ballet on September 19, 1963. (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

alvin ailey ballet
Members of the Alvin Ailey American Ballet posing together while in London for a season at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1964. Left to right -- Lucinda Ranson, Loretta Abbott and Joan Peters. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

african american ballet dancer
African American male and female dancers perform ballet at the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York in 1965. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

margot fonteyn
The dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn rehearsing the ballet "Paradise Lost" by Roland Petit at the Royal Opera House in London on February 20, 1967. Lifted up by the other dancers, they meet "flying in the air." (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)


bolshoi ballet
Soviet dancer Alexander Godunov, member of the Bolshoi Ballet, pictured at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on July 10, 1973. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

bolshoi ballet
Russian dancers Alexander Godunov (1949-1995) and prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya perform in a scene from "La Rose Malade" during a Stars of the Bolshoi Ballet performance at Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera House in New York on September 21, 1974. (Photo by Linda Vartoogian/Getty Images)

bolshoi ballet
Russian ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya performs Mikhail Fokine's "The Dying Swan" with the Stars of the Bolshoi Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York on September 21, 1974. (Photo by Linda Vartoogian/Getty Images)

rudolf nureyev
South African-born British ballet dancer Monica Mason (as "Nikiya, a temple dancer") and Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev (as "Solor, a warrior") dance with the Royal Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York on April 30, 1976. (Photo by Linda Vartoogian/Getty Images)

george balanchine
George Balanchine and dancer Suzanne Farrell wearing Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry for Balanchine's ballet "Jewels" on September 24, 1976 in Paris. (Photo by RDA/Getty Images)

alvin ailey ballet
Cuban dancers Lazaro Carreno, left, and Maria Llorente, right, pose with Alvin Ailey dancer Judith Jamison (center) at New York's City Center on Tuesday in May 1977. U.S. choreographer Alvin Ailey arranged for the two stars of the National Cuban Ballet to come to the U.S. for his opening night benefit at the City Center on Wednesday. (AP Photo)

mikhail baryshnikov
Dancer, choreographer, actor and former artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, Mikhail Baryshnikov rehearses the Twyla Tharp ballet "When Push Comes to Shove" at the Hollywood Bowl on August 2, 1979 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joan Adlen/Getty Images)


rudolf nureyev
Russian-born French dancer Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993) and American ballerina Eva Evdokimova (1948-2009) perform in Nureyev's version of "The Nutcracker" with the Berlin Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York on July 18, 1980. (Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)

ballet 1900
Yoko Ichino, circa 1982, as a first soloist with the National Ballet of Canada. She rehearsed up to six hours each day. (Photo by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

ballet 1982
Dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Cheryl Yeager rehearse the pas de deux from "Don Quixote" in Philadelphia on Augist 16, 1982. (AP Photo/George Widman)

ballet 1984
Italian dancer Alessandra Ferri dancing for the Royal Ballet in 1984. (Photo by AGIP/RDA/Getty Images)

ballet 1985
Roberta Marquez performs as Giselle during a Royal Ballet dress rehearsal of "Giselle" at The Royal Opera House in London in 1985. (JOHN D MCHUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

bolshoi ballet
Natalia Bessmertnova of the Bolshoi Ballet dancing "Romeo and Juliet" at the Coliseum in 1989. (Photo by Michael Ward/Getty Images)


nina ananiashvili
Boston Ballet principal dancer Fernando Bujones, left, dances the role of Siegfried and Bolshoi Ballet ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, right, performs as Odette in the final dress rehersal for Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" in Boston Wednesday afternoon, May 2, 1990. (AP Photo/Peter Southwick)

sylvie guillem
Ballet dancers Laurent Hilaire and Sylvie Guillem rehearsing at the Royal Ballet School, Britain circa 1992. (Photo by Michael Ward/Getty Images)

mikhail baryshnikov
Full-length image of Latvian-born dancer, choreographer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov performing a dance solo from Paul Taylor's "Aureole," New York City in 1993. He was a featured guest artist for the program. (Photo by Sara Krulwich/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

ballet 1996
Ukrainian National Opera stars Takita Shinoby of Japan and Gennady Zhalo perform a pas-de-deux from "La Bayadere" by Minkus, during Ukrainian National Ballet Competition-Festival in Kiev, Ukraine on January 31, 1996. (AP Photo/Victor Pobedinsky)

george balanchine
Benjamin Millepied, in mask, and Alexandra Ansanelli, second from right, leap in the air as dancers from the New York City Ballet and Students from School of American Ballet perform "Harlequinade", choreographed by George Balanchine, at the World Financial Center Winter Garden on Monday, Feb. 3, 1997 in New York. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

ballet 1999
Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet rehearse a number for their production of George Balanchine's "Serenade" on October 22, 1999. The ballet is performed by 28 dancers in blue costumes before a blue background. (AP Photo/Dan Loh)

For more on what's been happening in the world of dance in New York City, check out our recent roundup of must-see performances here.

CORRECTION: Due to a Getty caption error, the image of ballet dancer Madame Emma Sandrini from 1913 was incorrectly labeled. It has since been fixed.

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