The second and final part our countdown of the most romantic ballets of all in time, which we’ve put together in honour of Valentine’s Day. Here are our Top 5! Do you agree with our Number 1? Or do you have your own favourites? Make sure to comment and share them with us. Also don’t miss out on our Number 10-6 picks!
5. Don Quixote
The chivalrous knight Don Quixote sets out on a quest with his friend Sancho Panza to chase after his true love. What a romantic! In the process he assists two lovers, Kitri and Basilio, in their plot to be married against Kitri’s father’s wishes. A story of a man in love who also helps another couple also in love? Perfect! With lots of firecracker showy dancing with big exciting jumps and party scenes, this is on the lighter side of ballet love stories. A Petipa ballet originating in Russia, many different versions can be found in the repertoires of all major ballet companies around the world. A true celebration of romance with big jumps and lots of heart.
A ballet where in a nutshell, a girl dies of a broken heart, and a group of supernatural women who dance men to death summon her spirit, encouraging her to kill the lover who betrayed her causing her to die. Such a bittersweet, heartbreaking romantic ballet, it’s no wonder this is danced all over the world with Giselle being a dream role for any ballerina. The wonderfully sweet Giselle, a peasant girl with a fragile heart, falls in love with a mysterious stranger, Albrecht. Albrecht disappears when a party of nobleman arrive in the village, and Giselle dances for them and receives a beautiful necklace from Bathilde, one of the noblewomen. A local man from the village, Hilarion, is also in love with Giselle, and makes it his mission to expose the mysterious stranger she has fallen in love with as a nobleman, who is already betrothed to Bathilde. The famous mad scene follows, with Giselle becoming inconsolable and ultimately dying due to her weak heart giving up. There are so many iconic moments from this ballet, but ultimately it is all about Giselle’s true love for Albrecht, and her capacity for forgiveness even though his betrayal ended her life.
A Kenneth MacMillan ballet, choreographed in 1974 on Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley. This is a love story that has the audience more on the side of Des Grieux, Manon’s naive young lover. Manon is a complicated woman, torn between being with her lover Des Grieux and her love of wealth and fine things. She plays around with too many powerful men’s emotions, and ends up paying the ultimate price with her life, but not before seeing her brother murdered due to her actions. It’s even more tragic for poor Des Grieux, for having following his love across oceans and killing for her he is left alone at the final curtain, clutching the body of poor Manon. A proper tear jerker with a soaring score, memorable pas de deuxs (the bedroom pas de deux, enough said). Manon is many ballerina’s favorite character to play due to her complexity.
Choreographed in 1965 for the Stuttgart Ballet by John Cranko, this ballet is another tragic love story that has one of the most memorable pas de deuxs of all time, the Mirror Pas de Deux. Sadly this is not nor has ever been available on DVD, though it has been performed all over the world since it’s premier and is one not to miss.
Focusing on country girl Tatiana whose life changes when she meets Eugene Onegin, a mysterious gentlemen from the big city whom she falls passionately in love with. His response to her advances is pure cold rejection, and he also plays games with the affections of Olga, Tatiana’s engaged sister. His actions have disastrous consequences, and much onstage letter tearing ensues. When Tatiana and Onegin meet again in Act II, years after the tragic events, the tables are turned but it is still a heart wrenching outcome.
Onegin is a cult favourite amongst ballet enthusiasts, a true balletomane’s ballet. There isn’t as much death as there is in Romeo and Juliet, but it is all the more tragic as the characters left alive must learn to live with the consequences of their decisions. Performed to a selection of works by Tchaikovsky, the music will be going around in your head long after you have left the theatre.
1.Romeo and Juliet
Our number one choice is the ultimate tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet. Many different ballet versions of Romeo and Juliet have been choreographed since Prokofiev first composed music for it in 1935. Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet is arguably one the choreographer’s most popular ballets he created. Originally for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable in 1965, it premiered on stage in Covent Garden with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn as the tragically doomed couple and is still being performed over 50 years later and making audiences weep across the globe. Other versions of note include one by Rudolf Nureyev himself, Romeo and Juliette by Jean Christophe Maillot. For us, MacMillan’s version is the ultimate love ballet, a familiar story told with levels of emotional depth that only ballet can accomplish. From the dreamy romance of the balcony scene, to the end of the final Act III silent scream by Juliet as she realises Romeo is dead in the tomb and her whole plan to be with him has gone terribly wrong… We’re welling up just writing about it.
Royal Ballet’s Manon Programme Notes
Featured Image: Photo © ROH / Dave Morgan