From Book to Ballet

Dance Ambassador Champion Johanna Hadley takes a look at dance adaptations of the written word. A veritable library of dance. So kick off your shoes, make a cup of tea, curl up in your favourite chair and enjoy;

From Book to Ballet
Chapter One

Ballet over the years has taken inspiration from many things – in this blog we will look at a few examples of Ballets which have been inspired by books.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon
Music by Joby Talbot
Commissioned by The Royal Ballet and National Ballet of Canada
Premiere – 28th February 2011

This much-loved classic book by Lewis Carroll, has been cleverly adapted into a full-length ballet production, which is as exciting and enchanting as reading the book for the very first time. The production makes full use of modern-day stage technologies, for example, when Alice drinks the potion – something which many of the older, more traditional ballets, are unable to do due to their age. The musical score was the first full-length score for The Royal Ballet in twenty years. There have been some slight changes to the story, for example Alice, rather than being a child, is portrayed as a teenager with her first romance.

Coppelia based upon Der Sandmann and Die Puppe, by E.T.A. Hoffmann
Originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon
Music by Leo Delibes
Premiere 25th May 1870

Coppelia, is a comic ballet, based around the story of a doll, ‘Coppelia’. Dr Coppelius, the local toy-maker has a beautiful life-size doll, ‘Coppelia’, who sits in his balcony window in the town square. Franz, becomes fascinated with her, believing her to be real, and pushes aside his love, Swanhilde. Swanhilde, so infuriated with the way how Franz is paying more attention to the doll than her, decides to sneak into Dr Coppelius’ workshop along with her friends. I won’t ruin the rest of the story for you, as what happens in the workshop is hilarious!

This is probably one of my favourite ballets! The following clip is of the very famous ‘Mazurka’

Prodigal Son based on the parable from the Gospel of Luke
Choreographed by George Balanchine
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Premiere 21st May 1929

Based on the parable in the Bible (Luke 15:11-32), this ballet was created for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. It is the last ballet of the Diaghilev era, as Diaghilev died later that year. Although the story is dramatised more than the parable found in the Bible, it still has the same theme of sin and redemption, ending with the Prodigal Son’s return to his father (as seen in the following clip)




Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Choreography (version as known today) originally by Leonid Lavrosky
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Premiere on 11th January 1940

Romeo and Juliet, arguably one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, was originally, when Sergei Prokofiev composed the music, claimed, by the Bolshoi Ballet, as ‘undanceable’. The musical score is now very famous – perhaps you may recognise the following music from the BBC One’s ‘The Apprentice‘?


It was originally thought that the ending for the Ballet version of Romeo and Juliet should be a happy one, but this never happened for fear of an aftermath from the musical and theatrical community. Despite the many ‘ups-and-downs’ at the start of this Ballet’s history, it has now become a firm favourite amongst Ballet audiences, and considered a ’classic’.

The following video shows the ‘Balcony Scene’ between Romeo and Juliet – it is known amongst dancers as the ‘Heart Attack’ scene, as it is just so long and tough for the dancers that whenever you are dancing it, you feel like you are having a heart attack – and yet, you wouldn’t believe it watching how effortlessly beautiful the dancing in this scene is!


How many more of the following books have you read that have been turned into Ballets? Or maybe you have even been lucky enough to see the Ballet version too?

Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott-Fitzgerald
The Nutcracker – from The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann
Sleeping Beauty – Charles Perrault
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Taming of the Shrew – William Shakespeare
The Three-Cornered Hat – Pedro Antonio de Alarcon
Manon – Abbe Prerost
Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare


The story doesn’t end here
Chapter Two – to follow soon!


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