Classical Ballets to Watch at Home
Updated: Jul 14, 2021
Classical ballet has served as a source of inspiration for rhythmic gymnastics (RG) more than any other art. It is also an important component of RG training, and barre drills are routinely performed as warm-up by rhythmic gymnasts at the start of their day. Music and ideas from classical ballets have been borrowed for the development of RG routines on a countless number of occasions! It is for this reason, that I think, as RG fans, it is valuable to get acquainted with classical ballet.
The number of ballets in existence may surprise you. While I don’t know the exact number, it is easily in the hundreds. In this next section, I have picked five of my favourite digital ballet versions to describe in more details, and tell you why I think you should watch them. I hope to give you some inspiration on your ballet journey!
My Top Recommendations for You
Romantic Ballet: La Bayadere – The Mikhailovsky Ballet
‘La Bayadere’ is a timeless ballet masterpiece and displays Romantic ballet at its absolute best. This beautiful ballet was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa in the 19th century and became an instant success and has been subject to great acclaim to this day. The musical score, composed by Ludwig Minkus, is beautiful, moving and permeates the very soul of the dancing.
‘La Bayadere’ tells the tragic story of Nikiya, a beautiful dancer of an Indian temple, who is betrayed by her beloved and after dying heartbroken, enters the Kingdom of Shades. The most emotive and memorable solo from this ballet is in the end of Act 1, when Nikiya performs her dance of sorrow at the celebrations for the engagement of her beloved (Solor) to another woman (Gamzatti). The act ends with Nikiya dying from a snake bite. This solo is beautifully moving and heartbreaking at the same time. The opening of Act 2 (The Kingdom of Shades) is one of the most highly acclaimed pieces of corps de ballet choreography in the entire history of classical ballet. It is the entry of the shades where the dancers perform a series of arabesques across the stage as they enter sequentially. The repetitive movement is hypnotic to reflect the fact that the scene is happening in Solor’s desperate and drugged mind. This is a signature piece of dance and a defining moment in ballet history. In the end of act 2, Nikiya reconciles with her beloved and forgives him. In the original production, Act 3 brings the audience to Solor and Gamzatti’s wedding where the Gods get angry at the betrayal and destroy the temple, killing everyone. In the afterlife, Nikiya and Solor are reunited in eternal love.
I recommend seeing the version of 'La Bayadere' performed by the Mikhailovsky Ballet which was choreographed by Nacho Duato, after Petipa’s original choreography. It is breath-taking, and the DVD also provides an interesting interview with Nacho Duato about the revival of this ballet and how he approached it. The recording is also available to stream on MarqueeTV which is a paid streaming service, but you can get a 7-day free trial and watch as much ballet and opera as you wish in that time. If you liked the ballet 'La Bayadere', then you will also like 'Swan Lake', 'Giselle' and 'Sleeping Beauty' (see links at the end of this article).
Uplifting/Light-Hearted Ballet: Don Quixote – The Royal Ballet
The Royal Ballet's 'Don Quixote' is a vibrant and colourful, joyful and uplifting production, the choreography of which is revived by Carlos Acosta, after Petipa’s original version. The music is composed by Ludwig Minkus but this time it has a more cheerful tone than the tragic score of ‘La Bayadere’. The story is based on the classic Spanish novel ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’ by Miguel de Cervantes. It is a celebration of love, chivalry and freedom. Some of the choreographic highlights to keep an eye out for, are Kitri’s Variations in Act 1 and Act 3, as well as the grand pas-de-deux in Act 3. This ballet is a real treat and is one to enjoy with the whole family. I guarantee everyone will enjoy it!
The best digital version of 'Don Quixote' is without doubt the one featuring Marinela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta at the Royal Ballet. Both of these dancers are Latin-born and they bring to life the characters of Kitri and Basilio effortlessly, not to mention the wonderful chemistry they have on stage. The amazing Christopher Saunders is in the role of Don Quixote. The DVD is available here.
Tragic Ballet: Mayerling - The Royal Ballet
The ballet ‘Mayerling’ by Kenneth MacMillan is the most gripping ballet I have ever seen. It is not going to leave you feeling light and fluffy inside, because it is, to put it briefly – intense! It also might not be suitable for children so viewer discretion is advised. Kenneth MacMillan is a genius of ballet choreography and I would easily talk about his work all day. He is one of the treasures of the Royal Ballet and without a shadow of a doubt, has created the most expressive, thrilling, and dramatic ballet choreographies of all time. This is because he was interested in portraying human characters who were real and, therefore, flawed. He was inspired to tell the stories of the most controversial and tragic characters in literature and history. MacMillan created tragedy masterpieces that remain regular productions in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire to this day - Romeo and Juliet, Manon, Anastasia, and of course – ‘Mayerling’.
The ballet ‘Mayerling’ is based on a true story. It follows the life of crown-prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary and his descent into madness as he is torn by political pressures, unfulfilling relationship with his mother, lust, violence, and mental illness. This ballet contains some of the most demanding pas-de-deux in the repertoire of the Royal Ballet which convey the troubled relationships of prince Rudolf with his mother, his wife, and his mistress. The plot unfolds in three acts – at the Royal Palace, in a brothel, and finally – at the hunting lodge Mayerling where this dark ballet ends with a murder-suicide. This is not a feel-good ballet, and it is the exact opposite of the 19th century Romantic style of ballet storytelling, but it will engage your mind and senses beyond imagination. The dancing is spectacular, and the pas-de-deux in Act 3 will leave you thinking – how is this humanly possible? The music is gorgeous, composed by Franz Liszt and arranged by John Lanchbery.
I strongly recommend seeing the DVD from 2018 with Steven McRae in the role of Rudolph, and Sarah Lamb in the role of his mistress Mary Vetsera. These two dancers have an amazing chemistry on stage and they are at the peak of their artistic careers for this recording.
21st Century Ballet: The Little Mermaid – Finnish National Ballet
(Free streaming on Stage24 until 03/10/2021)
This re-telling of the little-known original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, is a real feast to the senses! I was lucky to see this ballet at the Finnish National Opera back in 2016 and it quickly became my favourite ballet for quite some time. The reason being the clever use of 3D technology incorporated into the ballet. The 'Underwater World' scene in Act I and the 'Battle with the Evil Witch' in Act III, require the audience to wear 3D glasses in order to experience those scenes with that added layer of magic! It was not at the expense of other elements, though. The plot, the choreography and the musical score were truly excellent, not to mention the ingenious costumes and sets which made the mermaids look real! I particularly enjoyed how the composer Tuomas Kantelinen has written a musical score that transports you into a fairy tale, and truly captures the magic of the underwater world. The choreography is unique and enchanting, created by Kenneth Greve who has done an amazing job at bringing all those magical creatures to life.
The costumes complete the spectacle, featuring many intriguing characters such as fluorescent jellyfish, shimmering waves and humans with scaly fish tails. All the components of this ballet - from story, dancing and music, to sets, costumes, lighting and make-up – are so wonderfully put together, that it would be fair to say that the Finnish Ballet have created a 21st-century ballet masterpiece.
The best part is that this ballet is currently available to watch for free on the Finnish National Opera website until 3rd October 2021! And you don’t need 3D glasses to enjoy it. Click here to access the recording.
Contemporary Dance: 1984 – the Northern Ballet
This production by the Northern Ballet is a superb retelling of the classic dystopian novel by George Orwell - '1984'. The dancing is contemporary, so don’t expect any pointe work or the predictable structure of a classic choreography. This is an entirely different matter. Do expect to see screens, as the characters are being watched, and passionate contemporary pas-de-deuxs as the main characters engage in a relationship, kept secret from the controlling Big Brother. Knowing the plot in advance is highly recommended before you watch '1984'. If you haven’t read the book, you can read the synopsis here. Brace yourselves as this ballet is going to take you on a roller coaster of emotions, culminating with the torture scene and the poignantly tragic finale of the main character, who is ultimately defeated by the regime. This ballet production is enthralling and will certainly not leave you feeling indifferent. You can watch this ballet on DVD and on MarqueeTV. Also have a look at the trailer below.
What I love about ballet is that there is always more to explore. This art form lends itself to infinite possibilities. It keeps evolving, too, and modern reinventions can refresh a seemingly ‘archaic’ plot. Classical ballet is not only great fun, but I have also found that being exposed to it and learning about it makes me appreciate and better understand rhythmic gymnastics. I hope you have found this article useful in some way, and you will enjoy exploring the realm of classical ballet with curiosity and an open mind. I recommend to always read the synopsis of a ballet before watching it, so that you already know what is going to happen and you can follow the plot confidently.
Don’t forget to press the little heart icon if you enjoyed reading this article – this way I know what type of content is most popular. Leave a comment below and let me know which are some of your favourite ballets. I will be back with another post on rhythmic gymnastics, following the World Cup in Baku, so stay tuned!
See you next time,
Ballets from the Romantic Era
Swan Lake – The Kirov Ballet (Youtube), The Royal Ballet (DVD), The Bolshoi (MarqueeTV)
The Sleeping Beauty – The Bolshoi (Youtube), The Royal Ballet (DVD) (MarqueeTV)
Giselle – Teatro Alla Scala (Youtube), The Royal Ballet (DVD) (MarqueeTV)
La Bayadere – Mikhailovsky Ballet (DVD), (MarqueeTV)
Coppelia – The Royal Ballet (DVD), Teatro Colón (Youtube)
Don Quixote - The Royal Ballet (DVD)
The Nutcracker – The Royal Ballet (online paid stream), the Mariinsky Ballet (Youtube), The Royal Ballet (DVD) (MarqueeTV)
MacMillan DVD Collection - Mayerling, Manon, Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet (MacMillan) – Teatro alla Scala (Youtube)
Onegin (Cranko) – Stuttgart ballet (DVD)
21st Century Ballets
The Little Mermaid (Kenneth Greve) – Finnish National Ballet (free stream on Stage 24 until 03/10/2021)
The Snow Queen (Chris Hampson) – Scottish Ballet (DVD) (MerqueeTV)
Cinderella (Matthew Bourne) – New Adventures (DVD)
Sleeping Beauty (Matthew Bourne) – New Adventures (DVD)
1984 (Jonathan Watkins) - The Northern Ballet (DVD) (MarqueeTV)
Finnish National Ballet Online Streaming Platform (Stage24)
Vienna State Ballet and Opera - Free streaming of various ballets and operas which are available according to schedule for 24h internationally, free registration
MarqueeTV - streaming service for ballet, opera, theatre, etc. 7-day free trial offer
English National Ballet Streaming Service - Ballet on Demand, paid