In our humble opinion ballet expresses love and all the secondary emotions that comes with it (angst, heartbreak, joy) better than any other art form out there. In honour of Valentine’s Day we have put together a count down of the Top Ten most romantic ballets of all time. Featuring our Top 10 in descending order, starting with ballets 10-6. There are plot spoilers ahead for those that aren’t familiar with the ballets, so please consider yourself warned.
10. La Fille mal gardée
The rarest of ballets that revolves around a love story and no one actually dies! The poorly guarded daughter (literal translation) has been around since 1789 in some form or another, but the version audiences are most familiar with today would be the version choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton in 1960. Lise is in love with Colas, even though her mother the Widow Simone wants her to marry Alain. There are ponies, dancers dressed as hens, and really humorous moments (the clog dance!). But this ballet also has some very gorgeous pas de deux and a wonderful ribbon motif. It is currently performed by the Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi and American Ballet Theater. If you want to watch for yourself a 2015 performance by the Royal Ballet is available on DVD (and you can read our review of it here).
9. La Sylphide
A ballet that has endured throughout the ages, dating from 1832, the version most often performed today was created by August Bournonville of the Royal Danish Ballet in 1836. Set in Scotland, audiences are guaranteed a love story involving kilts, a witch, a betrayal and even a steaming cauldron over the 2 Acts. A ballet that shares similar themes and aesthetics with Giselle, but has a much larger dancing role for it’s leading male character, James. This ballet doesn’t end too well for James and the Sylph he falls in love with, which is perhaps an understatement. But it has some of those deeply fantastic moments in the forest during Act II. The classic white tutu corps de ballet moment in the forest is gorgeous and always a treat. At least Effie and Gurn marry and supposedly live happily ever after. A classic romantic ballet with a lot of heartache.
This classic is based off the Brothers Grimm fairytale and is usually performed to a gorgeous score by Prokofiev. There are several versions of Cinderella being performed in the ballet world today, each with their own twists and flavours. To name a few, Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet have a Christopher Wheeldon choreographed version in their repertoire, whereas the Royal Ballet has Frederick Ashton’s 1948 classic, the Scottish Ballet and New Zealand Ballet perform one created by Christopher Hampson, and the Mariinsky Ballet have one created by Alexei Ratmansky. Trust us, we could go on! Unfortunately we haven’t been able to see all of these versions, but our personal favourite that we have seen is Christopher Wheeldon’s take because he gives the Prince not just a name, but parents and a fully formed identity before he even meets Cinderella. Irregardless of which version you watch, this sweet fairy tale will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy when the curtain closes.
7. La Bayadère
La Bayadère, meaning The Temple Dancer, is a Petipa masterpiece. It first premiered in 1877 but this ballet is still regularly performed by leading ballet companies across the world. A tragic love story with many twists and turns, the ballet starts with temple dancer Nikiya and warrior Solor pledging their love to one another. When Nikiya rejects the advances of another suitor, the High Brahmin, he takes revenge on Solor by revealing the secret affair to Solor’s fiancée, Gamzatti. Gamzatti decides to take action and arranges Nikiya’s murder in an unforgettable scene where Nikiya is bit by a snake during her dance at Solor and Gamzatti’s betrothal celebration. The High Brahmin offers Nikiya the antedote to the snake’s poison, but only if she agrees to marry him. She refuses, remains true to her love for Solor, and dies. Solor dreams of Nikiya, hallucinating the Kingdom of the Shades where dozens of ballerinas in white tutus dance across the stage. The gods tear down the temple during Gazmatti and Solor’s wedding, killing everyone, but this allows Solor and Nikiya to be united in death; the ultimate bittersweet ending. This ballet has long been a classic in Russia. When the Kirov famously brought this ballet to Paris and first performed the Kingdom of the Shades scene in 1961 the west was immediately enchanted and the rest of the story is history! It has been choreographed for different companies across the world, notably by legends such as Natalia Makarova and Rudolph Nureyev.
6. Swan Lake
Perhaps the most high profile of all ballets, Swan Lake has the name recognition that no other ballet can claim. Since Hollywood gave us the infamous Academy Award winning film Black Swan, which had very little to do with the actual ballet (or ballet world), Swan Lake became synonymous with ballet. The story is a bit wacky, a true fairy tale with eternal love being the central theme accompanied by lots of magic and humans being turned into animals by evil sorcerers. When Odette is transformed by Von Rothbart into a swan the only way to break the curse is for a Prince to promise his undying love to her. Enter Prince Siegfried, who is out hunting on his birthday and comes across the flock of swans and falls in love with Odette after she reveals herself. Von Rothbart catches on to this, and decides to disguise his daughter, Odile, as Odette and brings her to the Prince’s ball to prevent the curse from being broken. After incredible technical dances including the famous 32 fouttees performed by Odile, Prince Siegfried promises her his eternal love in front of everyone. And boom, chaos ensues and the party is over as Odile is revealed to all to be an impostor. The prince runs off, and seraching for the real Odette, and she ultimately forgives him. The ending of this ballet differs depending upon which company is performing it. Some have the two lovers die together, some have a happy ending. Irregardless of the ending, it is a sweeping love story with the dreamiest, most dramatic score by Tchaikovsky accompanying it.
The conclusion of our countdown continues here!
Featured Image: © ROH/Alice Pennefather