Long before television shows and movies became the most dominant form of entertainment, operas, concerts, theater, and ballet reigned supreme. These live plays were typically the highlight of the season, with everyone clearing their schedules to attend these events. Although some of these have faded in popularity, ballet remains a powerful art form that continues to enthrall audience members today.
Ballet is the epitome of grace and beauty, communicating a wide range of emotions in light, poetic, yet incredibly technical movements. Both classical and modern ballets enjoy enduring popularity due to their unique storytelling structure. Still, few hold the title of being the most famous ballets of all time, in which every ballet dancer dreams of starring.
Here are five famous ballets:
1. Swan Lake
As one of the most well-known ballets worldwide, it may come as a surprise to learn that it flopped right when it was released. Despite its initial poor performance, it was eventually met with resounding success and became a household name. Today, Swan Lake has been reproduced, reconstructed, and reinterpreted for over a century.
It was composed by Tchaikovsky in 1875, combining two Russian folk tales into a cohesive storyline. It tells the story of Prince Siegfried, whose mother demands that he choose a bride. Frustrated, he hunts for swans with his friend but is shocked when he sees one of them transform into the beautiful Odette. The two embark on a journey to end the spell cast on Odette and her companions while Prince Siegfried vows to win her heart.
2. Romeo and Juliet
As one of the most famous love stories of all time adapted into just about any medium, Romeo and Juliet have enjoyed much fame as a ballet. Sergei Prokofiev is credited for having first adapted this legendary story into a ballet, which he also did for Cinderella. The famous tale of two star-crossed lovers is interpreted beautifully and tragically through ballet’s fluid and graceful movements, which contrasts with the devastating ending.
This ballet first premiered at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris in June 1842, with Carlotta Grisi, an Italian prima ballerina, performing the title role. A hit upon release, it quickly became famous across Europe, contributing to its worldwide popularity. The version most performed today was choreographed by Marius Petipa shortly before the 20th century.
Giselle tells the story of Duke Albrecht of Silesia, who falls in love with Giselle, a shy commoner. The story’s conflict lies in Duke Albrecht’s arranged marriage to the Duke of Courtland’s daughter. He tries to circumvent by wooing Giselle while wearing a disguise during a grape harvest festival.
4. The Sleeping Beauty
This famous ballet was also written by Tchaikovsky and was first produced in January 1890, which Marius Petipa also choreographed. It recounts the story of Princess Aurora, whisked away by fairies to protect her from the wrath of the seventh fairy, who was not invited to the event dedicated to Aurora’s birth. The seventh fairy cursed the child in a jealous rage and doomed her to prick her finger on a spindle and pass away. Fortunately, one of the fairies had not yet given her gift and reduced the curse. Instead, Aurora will fall asleep for a century and can be awoken only by the kiss of a handsome prince.
5. The Nutcracker
Perhaps one of the most famous ballets of all time is the Nutcracker, which doubles as a classic Christmas tale. Initially written by E.T.A Hoffman, Alexandre Dumas Père adapted it, then set it to music by Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Marius Petipa, as well as George Balanchine.
The Nutcracker tells the story of a young girl on Christmas Eve and her introduction to a magical world with colorful characters like gingerbread soldiers, a Mouse King, and a Sugar Plum Fairy. She falls in love with a handsome prince, which turns out to be the titular character.
These ballets have been reprised, readapted, and reinterpreted for several decades and celebrated worldwide. Now that you’re aware of some of the most famous ballets of all time, you can familiarize yourself with them and let them fuel your passion for dance!
Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet performs all of these ballets and is the only school in the world licensed to perform George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®. CPYB is also a ballet academy offering the finest in classical ballet training. We provide ballet classes of all kinds, such as beginner classes, and more. Contact us today to learn more about our classes!