5 Quintessential Ballets to Know

Aside from Opera, ballet may be the most sophisticated, “ladylike” event one may still attend these days. I actually quite prefer it to the opera for it’s light beauty, grace and of course gorgeous customs. Not to mention the olympian skilled movements of the dancers.

In fact, if you truly want to appreciate ballet I highly recommend you take a lesson or two if you haven’t already had the pleasure. it’s the quickest way to make you realize how impressive a craft it truly is.

But for now, whether you’ve learned to pirouette or not, let’s review 5 of the quintessential ballets that are not only considered classics, but are highly enjoyable to watch.

Hopefully the brief descriptions and clips offered below will inspire you to not only search out a full video of each ballet, but ideally see one or more of these fantastic performances in person. Now that would be an education!


Swan Lake

Music by Peter Tchaikovsky

Swan Lake is about the swan princess Odette who was cursed to take the form of a swan during the day and could only return to human form at night. Of course, as with most romantic ballets, she falls in love with a prince and he vows to break the spell.

But alas, he is tricked by the evil sorcerer and proposes to the sorcerer’s daughter Odile, who is disguised as Odette. After realizing his mistake he tells Odette who forgives him.

The sorcerer however holds him to his promise making him choose between marrying Odile or death. He chooses death and after a last fight both the Prince and Odette die, but not before breaking the curse and spending the afterlife together.


Don Quixote 

Music by Ludwig Minkus

This ballet is based on the book Don Quixote de la Mancha. It’s a story of how Don Quixote goes on a quest of chivalry with his squire Sanco Panza after being driven by the vision of his imagined love Dulcinea. On his journey he comes across young lovers Kitri and Basilio who are being kept apart by Kitri’s father and  Don Quixote decides to rescue them.



Music by Adolphe Adam

Giselle was one of the first ballets I saw as a child. In fact, I loved it so much I later bestowed the name to my beloved Yorkshire Terrier.

Giselle is about a beautiful peasant girl who dies from a broken heart when she discovers her lover is betrothed to another. In the second act the Wilis (brides who’ve died before their wedding day) lure and compel her lover to dance until he dies of exhaustion, but Giselle who still loves him, dances with him until the morning sun appears and he is saved.


Romeo and Juliet

Music by Sergei Prokofiev

As you can probably surmise, Romeo and Juliet is based off the Shakespearean play of the same name. It’s about a young couple desperate to be together despite their feuding families. It ends in tragedy with both taking their lives, but makes for an over-the-top romance, perfect for the ballet.


The Nutcracker

Music by Peter Tchaikovski

Whether a ballet novice or not, the Nutcracker is likely to conjure up some familiar holiday feelings. This Christmas ballet is about a young girl named Clara who dreams about a Nutcracker Prince battling against a mouse king. After winning the battle the Prince takes her to the enchanted forrest and then the land of sweets. Below is one of the most famous scenes, the Waltz of the Snowflakes.


HOMEWORK: Watch the clips provided and get a glimpse into each ballet so you become familiarized with a little of the music and tone. If you feel called, select one to watch in full and you’ll be on your way to an education in ballet.

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Video Courtesy: Royal Opera House