10 Ballets For When You'd Rather Watch Your Literature
When American Ballet Theatre announced yesterday that it would be adding Jane Eyre to its stable of narrative full-lengths, the English nerds in the DM offices (read: most of us) got pretty excited. Cathy Marston's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel was created for England's Northern Ballet in 2016, and, based on the clips that have made their way online, it seems like a perfect fit for ABT's Met Opera season.
It also got us thinking about what other classic novels we'd love to see adapted into ballets—but then we realized just how many there already are. From Russian epics to beloved children's books, here are 10 of our favorites that have already made the leap from page to stage. (Special shoutout to Northern Ballet, the undisputed MVP of turning literature into live performance.)
Northern Ballet in David Nixon's The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Star-crossed lovers? Check. Wild party scenes? Check. The 1920s aesthetic is just bonus.
Dutch National Ballet in John Cranko's Onegin (Alexander Pushkin)
It's a novel in verse, but it still counts! Cranko's pas de deux work vividly paints the emotional turmoil of Pushkin's characters, such as this sequence in which Tatiana imagines being loved by the haughty Onegin.
The Royal Ballet in Liam Scarlett's Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
It's spooky, it's sensational, it's a deep meditation on the nature of humanity—oh, and it's alive.
Northern Ballet in David Nixon's The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
All for one and one for all! (And we're all in for this epic fight choreography the dancers took to a famous Abbey in their hometown of Leeds, England.)
Charlotte Ballet in Sasha Janes' Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)
The Brontë sisters had a knack for writing complex, tempestuous relationships—great fodder for pas de deux like this one.
The Washington Ballet in Septime Webre's Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie)
Sword-fighting, pirates, pixie dust and a ticking crocodile? This one simply flies off the page.
Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier's Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
Some would argue that Tolstoy's epic is the greatest literature ever written, but you can't argue with the fact that the titular heroine is a deliciously complex character to tackle.
The Royal Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
Why is a raven like a writing desk? We still might not know the answer to Carroll's riddle, but we do know that Wheeldon's blockbuster production is so full of incredible moments (like Steven McRae stealing the show as a tap-dancing Mad Hatter) that we had trouble narrowing it down.
Atlanta Ballet in Michael Pink's Dracula (Bram Stoker)
There's a reason it seemed at one point like every ballet company in America had a production of Dracula in its repertoire.
Northern Ballet in Jonathan Watkins' 1984 (George Orwell)
Just in case the dystopian nightmare conjured by Orwell wasn't vivid enough in your own imagination.
Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.
My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
It's Nutcracker time again: the season of sweet delights and a sparkling good time—if we're able to ignore the sour taste left behind by the outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed in the second act.
In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."
An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.
"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.
With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.