You know how it goes sometimes. Mom decides young Billy needs culture. Mom dresses Billy in a suit and tie and drags him to see The Nutcracker. Billy alternates between snickering at the men’s tights or snoring with his head bent forward. Mom pokes Billy in the ribs multiple times during the performance. Mom and Billy both swear afterwards that he’ll never attend another ballet.
Of all the arts, ballet and opera seem to struggle the most to stay relevant to a young contemporary audience. Which is a shame because they both so beautifully combine high skill and deep emotion. And ballet is particularly unique in that it communicates story through movement and music alone which gives it universality and the ability to touch people from all around the globe.
But how to help our kids (or ourselves!) appreciate art forms that might not appeal to us?
We’ll talk about opera in an upcoming post but one trick for appreciating dance is to watch ballets and contemporary dance pieces that spring from interests we DO have. For instance, if little Susie likes fairy tales then introduce her to ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or Hansel and Gretel. If Johnny enjoys action films, watch clips from The Three Musketeers.
Not sure which ballets fit the different categories? Here’s a list to get you started.
Ballets by category:
The Three Musketeers by David Nixon, music by Malcolm Arnold
Billy the Kid by by Eugene Loring, music by Aaron Copland
Le Corsaire by Joseph Mazilier, music by Adolphe Adam
Carnival of the Animals by Christopher Wheeldon, music by Camille Saint-Saëns
The Dying Swan (originally The Swan) is a solo choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905 to Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des animaux
The Great Gatsby by David Nixon, music by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett
Don Quixote originally by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, music by Ludwig Minkus
Lord of the Flies by Matthew Bourne, music by Terry Davies
Frizak the Barber by Marius Petipa, music adapted by Ludwig Minkus
The Concert by Jerome Robbins, music by Chopin
Pirates of Penzance – The Ballet! by Daryl Gray, arrangements of music by Arthur Sullivan
Sleeping Beauty by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, music by Tchaikovsky
Cinderella by Rostislav Zakharov, music by Sergey Prokoviev
Hansel and Gretel by Kathleen Sinclair, music by Edvard Grieg
Cleopatre by Michel Fokine, music by Arensky
Mayerling by Kenneth MacMillan, music by Franz Liszt
Anastasia by Kenneth MacMillan, music by Tchaikovsky
Edward II by David Bintley, music by John McCabe
Brandenburg by Jerome Robbins, music by Johann Sebastian Bach,
Beethoven Romance by Peter Martins, music by Beethoven
The Fool on the Hill by Gillian Lynne, inspired by the Beatles’ songs
Billboards by the Joffrey Ballet, music by Prince
Apollo by George Balanchine, music by Igor Stravinsky
Orpheus by George Balanchine, music by Igor Stravinsky
Night Journey by Martha Graham, music by William Schumann
Coppelia by Arthur Saint-Léon, music by Léo Delibes
Giselle by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, music by Adolphe Adam
Swan Lake by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, music by Tchaikovsky
La Sylphide by August Bournonville, music by Herman Severin Lovenkiold
Romeo and Juliet by Kenneth MacMillan, music by Prokofiev’
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by George Balanchine, music by Mendelssohn
Winter’s Tale by Christopher Wheeldon, music by Joby Talbot
As You Like It by Matthew Bourne, music by Ilona Sekacz
Keep in mind some of the titles will be easier to find than others. Some are available on DVD and Netflix, some are on YouTube (or at least you can watch clips), and some will be performed live by dance companies (be sure to check your local company’s schedule for the season and look up titles to see if any have themes you or your kids might like).
Don’t force your children to watch a whole ballet unless they want to. For recorded performances, show them the exciting bits. When seeing a live performance, it’s perfectly fine to leave at intermission.
Something else: I’ve seen a number of ballets but I’ve not seen all those listed. Check content before letting young children view them.
Also, some of the titles in the list above could be in more than one category, so feel free to adjust to your family.
Once you and your kids have explored ballets and other dance pieces based on your interests then you might broaden the scope and try others a little more outside your comfort range. And, in time, you may find you appreciate ballet for its own sake.