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Which Ballets should I really "know"....I mean to REALLY stu

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Personal Favorite 5


La Fille mal Gardee

Swan Lake

Sleeping Beauty

La Bayadere

Most would probably substitue La Fille mal Gardee for Nutcracker or Coppelia.

Only five -- that's a tough one. The problem with Wedgewes' excellent list is that it necessarily leaves out 20th century essentials (don't know if there are any 21st century essentials yet). If you can expand the list to seven, I'd add Balanchine's Four Temperaments, and Tudor's Jardin aux lilas... Or you could substitute Serenade for 4Ts (or keep both; that would be eight)... And then, there's Ashton's Symphonic Variations (that's nine)...

Only five, hmmmm....

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Start with the "warhorses" first...and then take into consideration Peggy's great additions:

FIRST, go to the GRANDEST Romantic...


and then ...

-La Sylphide-(both Lacotte's revival and Bournonville's)

...then, watch ALL with the Tchaikovsky/Petipa duo...

-Sleeping Beauty

-The Nutcracker

-Swan Lake

...keep going with more Petipa...


-La Bayadere

-Don Quijote

-Paquita-(at least the Grand Pas)

-Edited to add Le Corsaire-(thanks Hans for the reminder!!). The reason for the omission: partial personal unfamiliarity with a full length production)

...add some Delibes...



...and don't forget the delicious...

-La Fille Mal Gardee-(try to catch a "Balachova-(or Nijinska)- after Gorsky/Hertel" revival of the ballet, although I'm sure you will get different approaches about this issue...ALL worth to consider, IMO)

Oops...that makes 13!!.. :)

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It is rather difficult to boil down the entire ballet repertoire to just 5! I would say Giselle, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty are essential classics. Serenade, Apollo, Agon, and perhaps Theme & Variations are some good Balanchine works with which to be familiar, but he made many ballets in many styles, so it's difficult to choose just a few. Pillar of Fire, Lilac Garden, and The Leaves Are Fading seem to be the major Tudor works that are still performed. I really love Ashton so my list of his ballets will probably be too long, but I'd say Monotones I & II, Les Deux Pigeons, Sylvia, La Fille Mal Gardée, The Dream, and Les Patineurs are all first-rate. La Sylphide is the most famous Bournonville ballet aside from the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano, and it is worth studying his other ballets, such as Napoli, A Folk Tale, The Kermesse in Bruges, and of course Le Conservatoire.

And of course the additional Petipa ballets Cristian listed are all well worth watching. I would only add Le Corsaire.

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i suppose nowadays when one wants to 'see' certain ballets, he 'goes to the video tape' - but i doubt one can ever quite 'know,' as in 'get truly acquainted with,' any ballet on video.

video seems a way to fortify, rekindle, etc. one's interest in a particular ballet, but can it really 'give' one the ballet experience in the truest sense?

and, if live performance is sought, as is the case w/ video: WHICH 'version' of the 19th c. ballets does one go to?

While Ashton's FILLE MAL GARDEE for example will vary from filmed perf to filmed perf., so-called traditional versions of THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, SWAN LAKE, and GISELLE, for example, can vary wildly, to put it mildly.

so, the innocent and eagerly asked question at the top of this thread isn't really easy or simple to answer, nor are any of the answers necessarily simple to pursue.

one should not close the door on a certain ballet suggestion if an acquired video fails to 'hit the mark.'

i think seeing as much as possible in the early days of ballet helps one get ones barings, with one experience leading to another; true if you live away from a dance-active you're going to have a hard time, but live performance is the experience, for better or worse; video is a record of experience, at best.

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This is a difficult question. I guess it depends on what your goal is.

Are you looking for: "the top five greats"? You wont' find agreement, though most would put Giselle and Sleeping Beauty at the top. Cristian's list is a wonderful start for the classical and Romantic core.

Are you looking[ for: a sampling of some of the best) of different periods or styles? I'd recommend selecting from the categories in Robert Greskovic's Ballet 101, published in 1998.

My final cut is hardly the final answer to ballet's Greatest Hists, but let's just say it's the answer this time.

In order:

-- Romantic Classical: Swan Lake

-- Popular Beyond Ballet: Nutcracker

-- Classical Classical: Sleeping Beauty

-- Mature Romantic: Giselle

-- Embodying the Ideal: La Sylphide

-- Ballet of Mood: Les Sylphides

-- Romantic Turning Classical: Bayadere

-- Neoclassical: Apollo

-- Diaghelev Triple Bill: Spectre de la Rose (Fokine); Afternoon of a Faun (Nijinksk); Les Noces (Nijinska)

-- Comic: Fille Mal Gardee (Ashton's)

-- Small "r" romantic: Romeo and Julie (MacMillan's0

-- Contemporary: Push Comes to Shove. (Tharp)

There were fewer videos available 11 years ago, when the book was published. As to finding newer releases ... hey! that's what Google is for. :angel_not:

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The list also depends on the ultimate goal the viewer has. That of plain inner pleasure vs. wanting to be involved in regular public discussions about the art. If that's the case, then the selected works need to be considered also from those that are popular within the circle of discussion. I'm talking from my own experience. When I started posting in this board, my Balanchine knowledge was pretty scarce, so I felt kind of lost facing the huge amount of Balanchine-related topics around. Then I decided to get more involved with the subject. Of course, I've had the GREAT opportunity to have live access via Eddie's Balanchinean troupe-(and here is where bart's observation goes about live vs. recorded performances). I guess the OP also will get many of our answers based in particular taste, which is OK too, for which it gives a wider range from where to choose from.

If anything, it looks like we all convey in the idea that Giselle needs to be the started point... so far...so I guess the OP has some homework to do already... :angel_not:

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I guess to study, I'd pick ballets which I could watch on video and even more than one video (that is best, so you don't get one interpretation stuck in your head). I would also buy Robert Greskovic's Ballet 101, which goes through the major ballets very thoroughly, using videos as a guide. Giselle, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadere are the major evening-length ballets. I'd through in there 4 more modern pieces: Apollo (which can be seen on the Jacques D'Amboise video with an excellent cast), The Four Temperaments (also on DVD with a cast rehearsed by Balanchine), Cinderella by Ashton (I give this one instead of La Fille Mal Gardee, because it shows Ashton in both a narrative mode (telling the story and exploring the characters through dance) and a neo classical one (the seasons). And because I think one should know about one of the most important enterprises in ballet ever, pick up a DVD which contains a Ballet Russes program. Looking at more than one production and one interpretation should sharpen the eye and educate on style. When you are hungry for more, add La Fille Mal Gardee. There's at least 3 different productions of Ashton's ballet available and it's such a charming beautiful ballet.

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I want to reinforce the importance of the geographical position from which one will start studying the ballets, and this has to do with the specific versions that will be seen and the ones that will be recommended by others. For example, when I suggested "Fille", I knew that many of the posters here-(probably the most of them, if not ALL)-would be recommending Ashton's. Fact is that I do not know ANYTHING about Ashton's version-(I've never even seen it once)-which doesn't mean that I'm not familiar with "Fille"...(Balachova/Nijinska-Gorsky/Hertel in this case), so is almost as if we're talking about two different ballets. I remember an older popular thread about "Fille" in which I popped in and mentioned something, to which I got a response stating that the version in discussion was that of Ashton, so that was the end of my two cents on the thread.

Same with Sylphide, and that's why both versions need to be seen. (I must confess I only own Lacotte's reconstruction, and I know that for many, it is Bournonville's the standart...).

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That's all right to ask for five, but you ought to reconsider and decide on 10-15. If you're really interested, five is way too little, and you'd want more. I really think a minimum of 15 is necessary, so I'm not going to say anything specific. That's okay if you want to do it this way, but it's not really realistic IMO, if you're really interested. To me, it brings to mind ads I've seen on the subway 'What's your Fave five?' I just can't do it meself hee hee.

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rg and Dale have pointed out some of the advantages for study of ballet on screen, mainly video; although the full experience comes with a good seat in front of a strong performance, ticket prices being what they are, some "warm-up" preparation in front of the small screen isn't a bad idea at all.

And I'd add that in some cases, video may enable you to experience authentic renditions of the ballets: For example, while many companies perform some sort of Balanchine, speaking from my own experience, formed by enthusiastic attendance at about forty performances a year of his company during the last dozen years when he supervised it, and which I prepared for by absorbing the music by listening to recordings while following the printed musical score -- there's another study suggestion for you, iczerman, especially valuable for Balanchine's repertory -- I'd say that authentic, effective on-stage performances of his ballets are not so easy to come by, although those of the Miami City Ballet, which cubanmiamiboy alluded to, and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which is embarking on tours this Fall and next Spring and which may be seen on the Kennedy Center website in an archived "Millenium Stage" program, are usually very good.

But Balanchine supervised some recorded performances which have had commercial release, like the ones of Apollo (on VAI 4377) and The Four Temperaments already mentioned, to which I might add a fairly good version of his Nutcracker (Warner 13000), marred, I should warn you, by an unnecessary voice-over and one unfortunate cast member in the role of Fritz, but which otherwise well shows him making dances in some other modes from the two ballets mentioned.

And a DVD (VAI 4296) of Ashton's Cinderella includes Ashton's participation! So there's another authentic choice, although my total number of titles is creeping over the tough limit of five. Apollo and The Four Temperaments are so short, though; can't we count them as though they were single acts, or something, and maybe even add a third short one by the brilliant and versatile Balanchine? Staying with available videos, his Prodigal Son, which, like Apollo, is from the beginning of his career, with Diaghilev's Ballet Russe, is on Nonesuch 79839, with a couple of arguably lesser but very different ballets he made to opera-ballet music (Chaconne and Ballo della Regina), all superbly performed by the company he supervised and well recorded by the cameras. It would be nice to recommend such Balanchine ballets as Concerto Barocco, Symphony in Three Movements, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 (also known as Ballet Imperial), Symphony in C, or Mozartiana, among many others, but while the troupes I mentioned present good performances on stage sometimes, Balanchine on video is scant.

I like Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty best of that kind, my problem with Swan Lake being that it's a long time getting underway, the first act being relatively uneventful. A personal favorite among the Giselle videos starred Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov with American Ballet Theatre, and it was well shot. It's not on current release as far as I know, but since it was once or twice, it might be available in a library. A Sleeping Beauty video is another hard choice, and we have further discussion threads here which go into detail about that for many ballets.

I do agree with previous posters that you deserve to include some ballets of August Bournonville, and from the Ballets Russes, but I'm short on specifics with these, especially with regard to the authenticity aspect.

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I do agree with previous posters that you deserve to include some ballets of August Bournonville, and from the Ballet Russe, but I'm short on specifics with these, especially with regard to the authenticity aspect.

"The return of the Firebird" -(that triple DVD set that also includes Petrushka and Sheherazade). Nina is beautiful as the Firebird !. :angel_not:

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The word "study" in regards to ballet performances was the key to me suggesting videos. Of course, you have to see live performances. But a live performance won't allow you to reverse and see a phrase again or immediately compare it to another performance or another interpretation. With a DVD, I might focus on a specific execution of a step. In live performances, I often ignore those things in order to take in the complete performance. I can also read, for example, a review of Croce on The Four Temperaments and then watch nearly the same cast to bring her points home in an immediate way.

That said, if you can take in as many live performances, especially by top companies performing excellent repertoire, do so.

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And even if one is pretty used to certain ballets, having seen them many times live, we're still get amazed at some videos that we find here and there. Just look at the many responses the short clip of Kirkland in Giselle generated. And BTW, linking the clip to that other thread of which variations does one pay close attention, Gelsey's clip would be an EXCELLENT choice to watch a beautiful Spesivtseva's solo-(sans the diagonal).

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