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The 10 Best ballet performances

29 November - 2019
by Vincent Moleveld


For all beginning ballet enthusiasts we have listed the top 10 best ballet performances. Ballet is a classical dance form tied to a number of fixed techniques. This dance form originated in Italy in the 15th century. The first ballet performances in theaters date from 1669 as part of the opera. Many of the best-known ballet performances are originally from Russia.


Cinderella, or Cinderella, is in tenth place. There are many versions of Cinderella, but for the first time Cinderella was performed by the Mariinsky Ballet in 1893. That version was choreographed by Enrico Cecchetti and Lev Ivanon, with production under the supervision of  Marius Petipa. The music is by Baron Boris Fitinhoff-Schell. The libretto is by Lidia Pashkova and Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Another well-known version of this ballet is that of Prokofiev from 1945.

Don Quixote

Don Quixote is in ninth place. Don Quixote is based on a part from the famous novel by Miguel de Cervantes. The original choreography of Don Quixote comes from Marius Petipa to music by Ludwig Minkus. The ballet was first presented by the ballet of the Imperial Ballet in the Bolshoi Theater of Moscow in January 1869. Petipa and Minkus revised the ballet in a much more extensive version in five companies and eleven scenes for the Imperial Ballet. Don Quixote is nowadays executed with a contemporary decor and clothing made by Jérome Kaplan.

Sleeping Beauty

Doornroosje is in eighth place. Sleeping Beauty is a ballet written by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The first performance took place at Mariinski Theater in St Petersburg in 1890. The work is generally seen as the most refined ballet piece by Tchaikovsky and has become one of the best known ballets. Sleeping Beauty was the second of the three ballets composed by Tchaikovsky. The original scenario came from Ivan Vsevolozhsky and was based on Charles Perraults La Belle au bois Dormant. The choreographer of the original production was Marius Petipa.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream is in seventh place. A Midsummer Night's Dream is choreographed by George Balanchine to music by Felix Mendelssohn's. The ballet is based on Shakespeare's play. In addition to stage music, Balanchine has added other Mendelssohn music to the ballet, such as Overtures to Athalie, Son and Stranger, and The Fair Melusine, Symphony No. 9 for Strings and The First Walpurgis Night. A Midsummer Night's Dream is Balanchine's first complete, original ballet. It was first performed by the New York City Ballet on January 17, 1962.

Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)

Le Sacre Du Printemps, also known as The Rite of Spring, is in sixth place. Le Sacre du Printemps is a ballet by Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes with choreography by the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky to music by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, with set and costume designs by the artist and archaeologist Nikolay Rjorich. Le Sacre du Printemps is one of the most revolutionary works of the 20th century.

The premiere took place on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. Pierre Monteux conducted the orchestra. The idea for the ballet came from Nikolaj Rjorich's interest in primitive cultures. Stravinsky himself wrote the scenario. The ballet consists of two parts: l'Adoration de la Terre (The Adoration of the Earth) and Le Sacrifice (The Sacrifice).

La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer)

La Bayadère is in fifth place. La Bayadère is a classical ballet that was first performed on February 4, 1877 by the MarMariinsky Ballet in the Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg. The original version of the piece was choreographed by Marius Petipa and he had the same piece in 1900. The music is by Ludwig Minkus. Today, La Bayadère is performed in two different versions: the 1941 version of Vakhtang Chabukiani and Vladimir Ponomaryov for the Kirov Ballet, or the 1980 Natalia Makarova version for the American Ballet Theater.


Giselle is in fourth place. Giselle is a ballet from the Romantic period, composed by Adolphe Adam. Giselle was originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. The libretto was written by Theophile Gautier and Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. Giselle is inspired by the legend of the Willis from De l'Allemagne by Heinrich Heine. It was first performed by Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique, in the Salle Le Peletier in Paris on 28 June 1841.

The Nutcracker

De Notenkraker is in third place. The Nutcracker is a ballet from 1892 to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The original choreography, based on a fairy tale by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, was from Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The piece, which is also suitable for children, is set around a Christmas tree. The Nutcracker is therefore often performed around Christmas.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet are in second place. Romeo and Juliet is a ballet by Sergei Prokofiev. It is of course based on the famous play by William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet was first performed in Brno in then Czechoslovakia in 1938. The piece has been re-choreographed several times, for example by Sir Frederick Ashton in 1955, John Cranko in 1962, Kenneth MacMillan in 1965 and Rudolph Nureyey in 1977. The original choreography was by Leonid Lavrovsky.

Swan Lake

You might have expected it: the Swan Lake is of course in the first place. Swan Lake is a ballet by the choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The Swan Lake was first performed in the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow on March 4, 1877. This was a shortened version of the complete work.

The Swan Lake was initially not a great success, the audience had to get used to the music, which played a dominant role. The choreography only served as a secondary depiction of the storyline that was mainly told by the music. On February 17, 1895, the Swan Lake was first performed in its full length in St Petersburg. Today, Swan Lake is the most performed ballet piece in the world, and at least everyone has heard of it.