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The Most Important Ballets

Guest coupe66

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Guest coupe66

Ms. Tomolonis and everyone,


I am trying to design a course on the great ballets for my dk who is a home schooled middle schooler. I plan to be using the book, 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. Many of these ballets are unfamiliar to me :ermm: , and I have never planned a course like this one before. If I were to choose maybe 6-10 ballets to study this year, which would be recommended?


Thank you in advance for your help!

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Applause, applause, applause! I love that you are having your student study the historic value of ballets. I am not a historian but here is my 2 cents. (Dollar is weak right now so more like a buck and a half.)


You can't go wrong with any of these.

La Sylphide


Swan Lake


La Fille Mal Gardee

Sleeping Beauty

There are so many others but I chose these for historical value and longevity.


Here is one I am sure to get flac for: Nutcracker. (Ducks from blows being swung. :ermm: ) It needs mention for the simple fact it the ballet most non ballet goers are exposed to for the first time. So, I like this one for the new patron "recruitment" value. :ermm:

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I tried to put myself in your shoes and immediately I had a problem. I couldn’t really specify what the aim of the course might be. I mean is it ballet history? Is it about ballet companies? Is about seeing certain ballets? Is it about certain dancers and choreographers? Or is it something else? It would seem to me that regardless of what my aim is, my student is going to watch some ballets, at a minimum on video and ideally live. Again my thought is whatever is available (again ideally what you can see live) is going to be key in your course.


Personally, I’d start with an aim, research what materials and resources are available to you, and then deal with the specifics last.

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Guest coupe66

Garyecht - Okay, here goes - the aim of the course will be to familiarize my student with some of the great ballets, namely the plot and characterization of the ballets themselves, as well as some background on the choreographer and composer who wrote the musical score. Using the book, 101 Stories of Great Ballets, I will have her read the story of each ballet, and then we will discuss each and watch it (preferably live, but more likely on dvd), and study some parts of the musical score and the life of the composer who wrote it. While I would like her to study the ballets she is most likely to encounter as a young dancer, I do not want to limit the course to only those. Now, this is a middle schooler I am working with, and the motivation for me to create a course like this is to nurture her love and appreciation of ballet. Does this help?


gcwhitewater - this is a great list, thank you!

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I'd be tempted to let her choose the ballets, and decide what elements might be important to study and critique, and make the goal of the course be for her to develop a persuasive argument for why some of those ballets are (greater, more beloved, performed more often, historically important ....) than others.

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I would have her also site what historical significance each ballet has. (i.e. La Sylphide introduced dancing on pointe, etc)


For literary tie in I would also choose Don Q. I believe it the most printed literature aside from the bible.

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But the ballet has to do with only about 20 pages of the original 800-page book.


If the aim is to gain familiarity with the great ballets, I'd start with the three Tchaikovskys - Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty,and The Nutcracker. Then I'd go to La Sylphide, although the one we know today is NOT the original work, and then go to Coppélia, then Giselle, and Don Quixote, if only for its long-lasting popularity, relatively recently rediscovered outside of Russia! Among the twentieth century works, two by Sir Frederick Ashton: La Fille mal Gardee and Sylvia (just to go with the earlier Delibes), and end up with Romeo and Juliet by Lavrovsky, or MacMillan, or Cranko (in ascending order of preference, to my taste).


EDITED TO ADD: There are many more great ballets, but these are ten, and this is proposed for study over only two school semesters.

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After taking Mel's list, I would also check to see what ballets (besides Nutz) I could see live during the time span of the assignment and make sure that at least 2 or 3 are seen live even if that "live" is Ballet at the Cinema. With a 3 hour or 4 hour radius, you might find a wealth of options and that's a decent day and a half trip.

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Guest coupe66

Thank you, everyone, for all of your suggestions and ideas, this has been a great help! And yes, Major Mel, I was thinking of it being a 2 semester course this year, but you all have provided so many wonderful ideas, I could easily just continue the course next year, focusing on additional ballets :ermm:

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Are you guys studying other things at the same time? Composers and lit authors? Much of the time, ballet study can go hand in hand with the other things your studying. For music, you can study ballet by composer: Adam, Delibes, Minkus, Tchaikovsky. If you're studying certain authors in literature you can go with story: Romeo & Juliet, Don Q, Faust, Midsummer Night's Dream, D'artagnon or even vaguely related lit like mythology (Sylvia, Diana & Acteon). If your students are in a certain part of history (ancient India for instance) you could go with La Bayadere, La Esmeralda (France), La Satanella/Carnivale de Venezia (Italy), etc.


We spend a whole semester at our ballet school teaching the very young ones the story and history of a famous ballet. Of course, they're quite young and we anticipate that they'll be around to study ballet for awhile, so we're not in a complete rush to cram in a lot.

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You would not go amiss if you used the book Ballet 101 by Robert Greskovic. The title might make it sound elementary, but it is very informative even for those who think they know the classical rep well.


I would make certain not to neglect choreographers who may be great but ballets are perhaps not often seen today. In terms of order, the problem is that no Classical ballets really survive, so it might make sense to start with Neoclassical ballet (Petipa/Russian Imperial)--Sleeping Beauty & Swan Lake, then go to Romantic ballet--Giselle, La Sylphide, Napoli, Coppélia. Then Ballet Russe--Petrouchka, Les Noces, Le Spectre de la Rose, L'Après-Midi d'un Faune, Chopiniana/Les Sylphides, Firebird, and from there to 20th century choreographers Balanchine--Apollo, Serenade, Agon, The Four Temperaments, (etc.), Ashton--La Fille Mal Gardée, Sylvia, Monotones I & II, A Month in the Country, and Tudor--Pillar of Fire, Jardin aux Lilas, The Leaves Are Fading (etc).


That's more than ten, but there is such a wealth of great choreography that it is really difficult to pare down the list!

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