Ballet: While in the Middle Ages dances, pantomimes, plays and music were mostly performed by travelling troupes of actors, the modern age soon saw increasing specialisation. In France, stage dance - ballet - had reached independence ("ballet de cour") by the 16th century but remained under the influence of Italian musicians and particularly opera well into the 18th century, though the separation between dancers and singers occurred at an early time (pantomimic dance scenes such as were customary at the Italian courts of the Renaissance have also been reported from the court of Rudolf II). The first ballet to be danced in Vienna was performed by the ladies-in-waiting of Empress Eleonore, wife of Ferdinand II. A first flowering of the court ballet occurred under Emperor Leopold I, with ballet composers such as J. W. Ebner, J. H. Schmelzer, J. J. Hoffer and N. Matteis; the famous horse ballets (the best-known of which, "La contesa dell'aria e dell'aqua", was performed on the occasion of the first marriage of Leopold I in 1667) emerged as a manneristic successor to the knightly tournaments of earlier times. Under Maria Theresia and Joseph II French ballet exerted considerable influence on Vienna, particularly under the ballet-masters A. Philibois, F. Hilverding, J. G. Noverre and G. Angiolini; the latter two as well as C. W. Gluck and the then director of the Court Theatre, G. Durazzo, jointly "invented" the "ballet en action", which was greatly influenced by the French style of expressive dance and formed one of the foundations of today's ballet tradition.
The 19th century was the heyday of individual dancers of great repute such as Maria and Salvatore Viganò (for whom L. v. Beethoven wrote "Die Geschoepfe des Prometheus"), Marie Taglioni and Fanny Elssler; J. Bayer wrote the music for "Die Puppenfee" (première in 1888, choreography by J. Hassreiter). The transition from romantic ballet to the freer forms of the 20th century was influenced by the G. Wiesenthal and her sisters Elsa and Berta.
Highlights in Austrian ballet were marked by the choreography of H. Kroeller for the ballets "Josephs Legende" (with W. Fraenzl as Joseph) and "Schlagobers" by R. Strauss (with R. Raab and others) and that of G. Wiesenthal for "Der Taugenichts in Wien". M. Wallmann, who became head of the State Opera Ballet in 1934, introduced an approach that was strongly influenced by modern dance. Famous ballet personalities who performed in Austria in the 2nd half of the 20th century include E. Hanka and R. Nureyev.
Literature#F. Ruziczka, Das Wiener Opern-Ballett, doctoral thesis, Vienna 1948; P. Keuschnig, N. Matteis junior als Ballett-Komponist, doctoral thesis, Vienna 1968; A. Oberzaucher (compilation), Wr. Staatsopernballett. 1922-1997, 1997.