Top 10 Classical Ballets

A classical ballet is a stunning performance of graceful movements, usually set to the moving sounds of an orchestra. A classical ballet tells a fascinating, romantic story through both sight and sound, and is capable of moving an audience to tears of emotion. These 10 great classical ballets are must-sees for anyone who enjoys the ballet. We consider them classical because they all have similarities in composition, costuming and style. The music of each one is classical, and the female dancers always dance en pointe. The choreography of each ballet has stood the test of time: no matter who choreographs the performance, the basic structure remains similar to its original. Enjoy learning about the following 10 classical ballets.

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Five ballerinas en pointe on stage, arms around each other, rear view
Thomas Barwick / Getty Images
Most people are very familiar with the rags-to-riches story of Cinderella. Although countless versions of the Cinderella story exist, the ballet is based on the one we all know so well. Cinderella is the endearing story of a young girl who finds love and happiness through her acts of kindness. The ballet is based on the fairy tale written by French storyteller Charles Perrault. More »
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Light-hearted and entertaining, Coppelia follows the romantic games of sweethearts Franz and Swanhilda. This ballet classic, much like The Nutcracker, is a delightful performance for introducing young children to classical ballet. More »

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A historical ballet based on the epic masterpiece by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote is a fiery tale of love, adventure, and loss, sure to excite the senses. Don Quixote closes with one of the most popular pas de deux in dance history, the grand pas de deux for lead characters Kitri and Basilio. More »

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One of the most popular ballets of all time, Giselle is probably being staged somewhere almost all the time. The romantic ballet has attracted the best dancers in its leading roles since its creation. Giselle's ballet-blanc, or corps of women in white, has become a symbol of classical ballet. More »

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A story of eternal love, mystery, fate, vengeance, and justice, La Bayadere is an extravagant ballet about a temple dancer named Nikiya. (The word "bayadere" is French for an Indian temple dancer.) Nikiya is in love with a handsome warrior, Solor, who also loves her. But Nikiya is also loved by the High Brahmin but does not love him in return. More »

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One of the earliest romantic ballets, La Sylphide is based on a rather silly, fantastical plot. James, a young Scotsman, runs away from his wedding to dance with his dreams in the forest. All does not end well, for either James or his dream, the beautiful Sylphide. More »

Most people are familiar with this Christmas ballet. The Nutcracker is an annual holiday treat for the whole family. For many people, the holidays wouldn't seem complete without attending a performance of The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker Ballet is based on a story of a young girl who dreams of a nutcracker prince and a fierce battle against a Mouse King with seven heads. More »

Considered the greatest love story of all time, Romeo and Juliet is based on Shakespeare's classic tragedy of young love. Prokofiev composed the incredible ballet score in 1935 or 1936. The music has inspired many great choreographers to try their hand at Shakespeare's story. More »

The first successful ballet composed by Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty was the first ballet seen by a sickly 8-year-old child named Anna Pavlova. After the performance she decided that she wanted to become a ballet dancer. More »

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Often considered the epitome of classical ballets, Swan Lake is a tale of love, betrayal, and the triumph of good over evil. Swan Lake tells the story of Odette, a young girl doomed by an evil sorcerer. A spell is cast over her, condemning her to be a swan during the day and a human only at night. Odette is the queen of the swans, the most beautiful of all. In order to break the spell, a young man must acclaim his undying love for her. More »