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Videos: "must see" ballets for future dancers?

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I'm trying to take DD to see more ballets. I want to make sure she sees the important ones -the "must see" ballets that every dancer should see. I took her to see Sleeping Beauty when she was younger, but she barely made it through the entire ballet. It was just too long for a little girl. I'll take her again if the opportunity arises. She performed in The Nutcracker last year and will again this year, but she hasn't seen it all the way through since she was little, so I told her we can go see the other cast perform (there is a cast a and cast :D. We went to Dracula last year (she has a small role in it this year), and we went to see HB perform The Taming of the Shrew this past summer. I just bought tickets for HB's Giselle. So, here is my list of what I think, but I'd like for those of you more experienced in this world to help me make a list, so that I make sure I don't miss out on the important ones simply because I don't know.


Sleeping Beauty


The Nutcracker

Taming of the Shrew



Romeo and Juliet

Swan Lake

A Midsummer Night's Dream


Peter Pan

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How old is she?


I'd say you could leave out Dracula, The Taming of the Shrew, and Peter Pan...as for the others, it depends somewhat on the version. For example, Frederick Ashton's "Cinderella" is marvelous, but I could do without most other productions.

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She is 14. She is in Dracula (and saw it already). We also saw Taming of the Shrew this past summer at the Houston Ballet. I've seen Cinderella at HB, but it was either before she was born or when she was a baby. My perspective has changed now since I know a little about ballet -more than I did when I went to the ballet in the past that's for sure.

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I should clarify--it's not that one shouldn't see those ballets, just that I wouldn't put them on a "must see" list. It's a bit difficult to make such a list, but mine would be something like this (in no particular order):



Coppélia (especially the Bolshoi's reconstruction)

La Sylphide and any other Bournonville you can see (such as Napoli, A Folk Tale, Konservatoriet, etc.)

Sleeping Beauty (especially the Mariinsky's reconstruction and the Royal Ballet)

Swan Lake

La Bayadère


Les Sylphides (aka Chopiniana)


Le Spectre de la Rose

The Firebird (both Fokine's and Balanchine's versions)

Les Noces

Afternoon of a Faun (Nijinsky)



The Four Temperaments


Symphony in C


Liebeslieder Walzer

I wouldn't turn up my nose at much else by Balanchine, as well.

Dances at a Gathering

Jardin aux Lilas

Pillar of Fire

Anything else by Antony Tudor

La Fille Mal Gardée (Ashton)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (both the Ashton and Balanchine versions)

Sylvia (Ashton)

A Month in the Country

Anything else you can find by Ashton (such as Les Deux Pigeons, Monotones I & II, Daphnis & Chloe, Ondine, Cinderella as previously mentioned)

If you get the chance to see Ashton's Romeo & Juliet, I recommend it (unfortunately Tudor's is basically lost)

You could also look into more modern works by Forsythe, Ratmansky (The Bright Stream is especially good as well as fun to watch), and Wheeldon as well.


You'll probably get a lot of varying responses on this topic, but those pretty much cover the basics for me, I think--if I find I've left anything out, I'll come back and edit. Some of the above are not performed very often or only in certain areas, so if you get the chance to see a major choreographer's work, I'd recommend going regardless of what it is--Tudor, Ashton, the Ballets Russes rep, and Bournonville are particularly neglected these days and in this country.


Also, a young dancer may not "get" all of these ballets at first. If possible, I recommend viewing a few times to try and see what makes them great. I like to think of plotless ballets as similar to symphonies or other concert music--there aren't words or (necessarily) specific plots or situations, just beautiful movement that can have multiple meanings, depending on the audience and performers. You evaluate the work and find your own meaning in it. Narrative ballets I think of as more like opera, a combination of plot and music/dance. The dance doesn't always express what is literally happening but sometimes how the people depicted feel. And I would recommend focusing on dancers' upper bodies. You'll still see the feet, but a ballet dancer's upper body tells you a great deal, especially in a narrative ballet. Consider whether the dancers have just pasted on smiles or whether they're really inhabiting the role and what they do to tell you who they are and what is happening. Also look for symbolism and greater meanings--for example, what does the Sylph in La Sylphide represent (or with what is she associated)? What does James represent? What can they tell us about ourselves or about life? What does the movement tell us without resorting to words? Etc. A symbol or character might have multiple meanings, a character may be a "type" meant to help reveal a greater, more universal truth, or it may be a window into a specific person's mind (and so on). These are things that I think many dancers and directors today do not often consider, and so a lot of ballet's depth gets lost in superficial performances that focus mostly on steps or mere prettiness. And now I will get off my soapbox. :blushing:

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Since companies are increasingly adding contemporary works to their performances, I'd love to hear suggestions on "must see" for these too as I'm not as familiar with them. I sort of know names: Forsythe, Ratmansky, Cranko but I'm not sure what "must see" contemporary works would include.

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Cranko and Ratmansky are very different than Forsythe. I think by 'modern' here Hans meant more from 'of the current time period' than of similar styles. He may slap my wrists if I am wrong!


Hans has one Ratmansky listed - the Bright Stream.


I think that what Hans is getting at is that within the breadth of what 'ballet' is, there's a deep history and diversity, which would be useful for a dancer to know. I may disagree with him with which version to see, but I think there's an important undertone in his list toward seeing something based on the 'original'. I use quotes because there may still be debates as to what 'original' is - often you will see a program note similar to 'after Petipa'. This gives the dancer an idea of what is somewhat standard and/or maybe imitated later in their career, if that makes sense. To make this more concrete, I've seen a reasonable production by a good regional company of the ballet 'Don Quixote'. This version was nothing like the original, with what we know of the sparky Kitri and her fan. This is not to say that the production was not worthy - on the contrary, I think coming to the understanding that there are many different versions which a dancer may be asked to perform is a good thing. However, if I watched that as a young dancer and came to base my entire knowledge of Don Q based only on that production, I'd be misled, to say the least.


Onto the list - I've seen most of what Hans has listed, minus Petrouchka and, sadly, any of the Tudor. He's encompassed a wonderful diversity. Although he may disagree with this, I would definitely add some MacMillan/Cranko. Parts of the MacMillan rep, specifically Romeo and Juliet, may be considered standard fare. To that, I may add his Song of the Earth or Requiem (the latter being for Cranko). For Cranko, my viewing of his ballets are limited, but I would recommend Onegin. For Ashton, I may add Enigma Variations... but moreso, one of his non-narrative ballets: Scenes de Ballet.


In response to swanchat,If you want to include Forsythe, I'd venture that his most commonly-performed production by ballet companies is either In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, or The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. For Wheeldon, perhaps Polyphonia would be a good option, or maybe Tryst. Would need to think on that more.

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Thank you Hans and Ami,


I had wondered about MacMillan's R&J too and maybe his Rite of Spring? As a parent who has been learning about ballet and broadening my knowledge, I find myself wondering about more contemporary choreography; where it fits into the classical company repertoire and what is important for young dancers to understand and be exposed to. My own dd finds the classics that you mentioned to feel "like home" but is often way out of her comfort zone when doing more contemporary choreography. While she's seen and danced enough Balanchine to feel comfortable, others like Cranko's Opus One (which I understand is not today's contemporary choreography) felt really strange when she learned it. Other than Cranko's Onegin, she had never seen his choreography. Once she saw the rehearsal video, she understood it better. It seems that while she was performing it, she didn't get the full effect of the choreography. Luckily, she's seen Wheeldon and McGregor frequently, as well as the new works by Liam Scarlett; are there other current choreographers who should be on her "must see" list?

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How do I know if a ballet is designed by one of these greats? For example, HB is doing Romeo & Juliet this season. The choreographer is listed as Ben Stevenson. How do you know if it is "Ashton's"?


HB is also doing a couple of contemporary ballets this season that look interesting. One is Rock, Roll, & Tutus (Stanton Welch) and the other is Made in America (Nicolo Fonte).


I guess I don't know enough history to recognize who is who and what is what, although some of the names are beginning to become familiar.


I'm assuming there is an original choreographer who came up with the "first" ballet, and then other choreographers add their spin. Is that how it works?

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No, if the choreographer is listed as Ben Stevenson then it is him and the ballet will have nothing to do with Ashton's version. The title of a ballet may be a well known the story e.g. a fairy story, Shakespeare or a made up tale, or the ballet may be plotless. The choreographer will tell the story in dance, using his own steps. The music may be an existing piece for the story, a compilation of existing pieces or a commissioned score. If choreography is listed as "after Petipa", for example then it means some of the choreography by that person is used but new bits/interpretations have been added.


To go back to the original question, there are many other choreographers who should be seen as well as the ones listed. Maurice Bejart had an immense influence in Europe, his Bolero, Firebird and Rite of Spring are all amazing and in various companies' repertoires. For a more contemporary take, Wayne McGregor, Hans van Manen, Jiri Kylian, Glen Tetley, Christopher Bruce, Richard Alston immediately spring to mind.

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I suppose my question regarding certain choreographers (and/or certain works) is yes, they may be popular, but are they so great that it is necessary to make a special effort to go see them? For example, MacMillan's Romeo & Juliet is all over the place, but although skilled dancers can make something lovely out of it, I would not place it on the level of, say, Jardin aux Lilas, which is an impeccably crafted masterpiece of dance theatre. Not that I think his R&J is bad, just not one of the very best ballets ever choreographed, and I truly do not mean that to be disparaging. I do think ballet students should see as much professional dance (not necessarily just ballet) as they can, and students in company-affiliated schools often receive discounted or free tickets to their company's performances--they should take advantage of these whenever possible and see whatever the company happens to be doing, which will probably include many of the works/choreographers listed. But in creating a "must see" list for a dancer, I would leave out many choreographers or works that are just mediocre or trendy but not great. Not that one should avoid them, just that I wouldn't put them in with the very best.


This is not to say that I think everything I left off my list above is mediocre! It is impossible to make a definitive list, and I wrote the one above pretty rapidly--which is why I am glad others are adding their points of view, to include things I may have accidentally neglected or been unaware of. :)


A note about the Petipa (and Romantic era) classics: Although some productions may be more or less based on the originals or respected and important stagings of the originals, there is not a single production of these ballets in the world today that uses the exact steps that were originally choreographed--even the reconstructions. Partly because the notations of these works are incomplete, partly because trends in ballet have changed, and occasionally because today's dancers are not able to do the steps as originally choreographed (or sometimes they can do them but just find them too uncomfortable or difficult to do onstage). So please do not think of any modern productions of these works as "gospel", but rather evaluate them as a director's or choreographer's "take" on the work. What do they emphasise or de-emphasise theatrically, technically, stylistically? What do you think works and what doesn't? Does anything stand out as being out of harmony with the style of the rest of the ballet? Etc. All of this will help train the eye and provide a foundation for looking at, evaluating, and interpreting newer choreography as well.

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  • 3 months later...

I'm new in town, and I enjoyed reading this topic! If I may, I have just a few more suggestions to add from my "must see" list (and I'm sorry if I'm duplicating any of them...):



Concerto Barocco


Prodigal Son

Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3 (sometimes the final movement, Theme and Variations, is performed independently)



Fancy Free

The Concert (in my opinion, one of the best comic ballets...)

Afternoon of a Faun (in addition to Nijinsky's Faun)






Billy the Kid



Manon (maybe wait a couple of years, although I've had students as young as 10 who saw it...)

[and I just have to add that I love, love, love his Romeo and Juliet]



Seven Sonatas





The Royal Danish Ballet made it to NY this past summer, during its U.S. tour, and they presented La Sylphide and Napoli Act 3. But I think it was their first appearance here in 23 years... So, as Hans mentioned, we don't have that many chances to see Bournonville from the source. There are DVD's of Napoli and La Sylphide, danced by the Royal Danish, and I'd recommend viewing those in the absence of live performance.

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You know you can get a lot out of watching DVD's of the ballets. Whilst it's not the same as seeing a live performance, it gives you a chance to see some great dancers, whom you wouldn't otherwise be able to see - for example Baryshnikov in Don Q or Mukhamedov in Spartacus, before he left Russia and in MacMillan's Mayerling, when he was dancing in the UK. Seeing different versions of the same ballet is an education in itself and is very important. At 14 she can be more discerning and will start to discover which are her favourite versions of different ballets. Unlike Hans, I adore MacMillan's R & J. As far as I am concerned nothing can beat his version of the balcony and bedroom pas de deux. I have seen and also performed in several different versions and I still prefer his, so I think it's a question of which version affects you the most.


It is also very important for her to see everything from an historical point of view and understand why the styles of the ballets are so different depending in which era they were created. When she sees an older ballet from the Romantic era, for example, let her read up about that period first, so she can appreciate what she is seeing. Let her contrast that with the classicism of the great Petipa ballets and from there through the Diaghilev period and its influence on future choreographers. It will give her a totally different perspective.

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