Kings and Queens and Ballet

Kings and Queens and Ballet

At the time of the Coronation of King Charles III and his Queen, Camilla, it seems appropriate to take a bit of a dive into the relationships between royalty and ballet.  We discovered so many interesting bits and pieces to explore that this blog has a multitude of links to other articles and videos for your reading / viewing pleasure.

Ballet has had many connections with royalty around the world throughout history. Ballet as an art form originated in the royal courts of Europe during the Renaissance period, and it was often used as a way for monarchs to showcase their power and wealth.

Many European monarchs, such as Louis XIV of France, were enthusiastic patrons of ballet and helped to promote its development. In fact, Louis XIV himself was a skilled dancer and often performed in ballet productions.

Throughout the centuries, ballet continued to be associated with royalty and nobility, and many royal families have had close ties to ballet companies and performers. For example, in Russia, the Imperial Ballet (now known as the Mariinsky Ballet) was closely associated with the Romanov dynasty, and many members of the royal family were patrons and supporters of the company.

In the modern era, ballet has become a more democratic art form, but it still maintains some connections to royalty. For example, Queen Elizabeth II was a long time patron of the Royal Ballet in London, and has been succeeded in that role by King Charles. Queen Camilla is Vice Patron of the Royal Academy of Dance.

Queen Camilla presents Mikhail Baryshnikov with the RAD’s highest honor, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award in November 2022.

Overall, while ballet's connection to royalty has diminished somewhat over time, it still maintains strong historical and cultural ties to many royal families around the world.

Queen Elizabeth II opening the Royal Academy of Dance new headquarters in Battersea UK - 1974. 

There are several ballets that feature coronation scenes or other references to royalty and royal events, including:

  • "The Sleeping Beauty" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: This ballet features a grand coronation scene in which Princess Aurora is crowned as queen. Here is a link to Sleeping Beauty Act III Grand Pas de Deux (2021) - Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov
  • "Swan Lake" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: While "Swan Lake" does not have a specific coronation scene, it does feature a grand ball in which Prince Siegfried is presented with potential brides from royal families.
  • "Coppélia" by Léo Delibes: This ballet features a wedding celebration in which the main character, Franz, is crowned as the prince of the village.
  • "La Bayadère" by Ludwig Minkus: This ballet features a grand procession and ceremony in which the Rajah of India is crowned.
  • "The Firebird" by Igor Stravinsky: While "The Firebird" is not specifically about royalty, it does feature a scene in which a prince is crowned as king.

Although we haven’t heard that ballet is going to feature in King Charles’ coronation, it has been performed at coronations and other royal events throughout history. One of the most famous examples of ballet being performed at a coronation is the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1896. The coronation was a lavish event, and the Imperial Ballet (now known as the Mariinsky Ballet) was commissioned to perform a special ballet for the occasion. The ballet, called "The Coronation of Tsar Boris," was choreographed by Marius Petipa and featured music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The ballet was a great success and was performed again in St. Petersburg the following year.

Ballet has also been performed at other royal events, such as weddings and state visits. For example, in 1962, the Royal Ballet in London performed for President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during their state visit to the UK. The performance included excerpts from "Swan Lake" and "The Sleeping Beauty," among other ballets.

Whilst not of royal blood, there are several dancers who are often referred to as "ballet royalty" due to their exceptional talent, their contributions to the art form, and their influence on the world of ballet. Some of the most famous ballet dancers who are considered ballet royalty include:

  • Rudolf Nureyev: Nureyev was a Russian ballet dancer who is widely considered one of the greatest male dancers of all time. He rose to fame in the 1960s as a principal dancer with the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg and later defected to the West. He went on to have a successful career with the Royal Ballet in London and the Paris Opera Ballet, among others.
    • Margot Fonteyn: Fonteyn was a British ballet dancer who is widely considered one of the greatest ballerinas of all time. She had a long and illustrious career with the Royal Ballet in London and was known for her beautiful technique and her ability to convey emotion through her dancing.
    Here Nureyev and Fonteyn dance SWAN LAKE - act 3 Pas de Deux
    • Mikhail Baryshnikov: Baryshnikov is a Russian-American dancer who is also considered one of the greatest male dancers of all time. He rose to fame in the 1970s as a principal dancer with the Kirov Ballet and later defected to the West. He went on to have a successful career with the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, among others.
    • Anna Pavlova: Pavlova was a Russian ballet dancer who is often credited with popularizing ballet around the world. She was known for her ethereal style and her ability to convey emotion through her dancing. She toured extensively and founded her own company, the Pavlova Ballet Company.

    As we celebrate the coronation of a real life King and Queen, ballet has often featured Kings and Queens as central figures around which the plot revolves;

    • King Florestan "The Sleeping Beauty": the father of Princess Aurora.
    Here Steven McRae performs 
    The Sleeping Beauty – Prince Florimund Act III variation (Petipa; Steven McRae; The Royal Ballet)
    • King Mark in "Tristan und Isolde": King Mark is a character in this ballet based on the famous medieval legend. He is the king of Cornwall and the uncle of the knight Tristan, who falls in love with Isolde, the king's fiancée.

    • King Louis XIV in "Le Roi Soleil": This ballet is based on the life of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, who was a great patron of the arts and played an important role in the development of ballet in France.
    • King Albrecht in "Giselle": King Albrecht is a character in this romantic ballet about a peasant girl who falls in love with a nobleman disguised as a peasant. King Albrecht is engaged to be married to a princess but falls in love with Giselle, leading to tragedy.
    • King Shahryar in "Scheherazade": King Shahryar is a character in this ballet based on the famous collection of Middle Eastern folk tales, "One Thousand and One Nights." He is a tyrannical king who marries a new bride every day and orders her execution the following morning, until Scheherazade comes along and tells him a new story every night to keep herself alive.
    • Queen of the Wilis in "Giselle": The Queen of the Wilis is a supernatural being who leads a group of spirits that haunt the forest at night. She plays a central role in the second act of "Giselle" when she condemns the disguised nobleman Albrecht to dance to his death.
    • Queen Mother in "Swan Lake": The Queen Mother is the mother of Prince Siegfried, the hero of "Swan Lake." She wants her son to marry and produce an heir to the throne, which sets in motion the events of the ballet.
    • Queen Anne in "The Sleeping Beauty": Queen Anne is the mother of Princess Aurora, the heroine of "The Sleeping Beauty." She is responsible for organizing the christening of her daughter and inviting all the fairies except for the evil fairy Carabosse, who puts a curse on Aurora.
    • Queen of Hearts in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland": The Queen of Hearts is a character in this whimsical ballet based on the famous Lewis Carroll novel. She is a tyrannical monarch who orders executions at the drop of a hat and is obsessed with playing croquet.
    • Queen of the Dryads in "Don Quixote": The Queen of the Dryads is a character in the third act of "Don Quixote." She is a beautiful and powerful fairy who is courted by the hero Basilio.

    No list of ballet Queens would be complete without mention of the fabulous Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

    The ballerinas of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are not your average ballet dancers. The NYC-based, all-male comedy ballet company features dancers performing classical ballet pieces like Swan Lake and Les Sylphides in drag.

    Here Dancers Robert Carter, Alberto Pretto, and Haojun Xie give us an inside look at their journeys to becoming members of the Trocks.

    Since many ballets feature royalty or royal themes it's difficult to determine which ballet is the "most royal," However, some ballets have stronger connections to royalty than others, either through their subject matter or their history of performance for royal audiences.

    One ballet that has particularly strong royal connections is "Swan Lake" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The ballet features a royal court and tells the story of Prince Siegfried, who falls in love with the Swan Queen, Odette. "Swan Lake" has been performed for many royal audiences over the years, including the Russian Imperial Court, the British Royal Family, and the Spanish Royal Family. It is also one of the most frequently performed ballets in the world and has become a cornerstone of classical ballet repertoire.

    Another ballet with strong royal connections is "The Nutcracker" by Tchaikovsky. While the ballet is not specifically about royalty, it is often associated with the holiday season and is a popular favourite of many royal families. The ballet has been performed for audiences including the Russian Imperial Court, the British Royal Family, and the Spanish Royal Family.

    Other ballets that have connections to royalty or royal themes include "Giselle" by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, which features a nobleman and a group of royal hunters, and "Cinderella" by Sergei Prokofiev, which tells the story of a young girl who becomes a princess.

    While there are no known instances of royal family members who have become professional ballet dancers, there are several instances of royals who have shown an interest in dance and have even performed in ballets for special occasions or charitable events.

    One notable example is Princess Grace of Monaco, who was a former Hollywood actress and became the Princess consort of Monaco after her marriage to Prince Rainier III. Princess Grace was a trained dancer and had studied ballet at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She was known for her grace and elegance, and often incorporated dance into her public appearances and charity events. She also performed in several ballets, including "The Nutcracker" and "Coppelia" in Monaco.

    Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is a ballet costume and set designer. Pointe Magazine has a nice profile of her here

    Other royal family members who have shown an interest in dance include Princess Diana of Wales, who was a patron of the English National Ballet and frequently attended ballet performances, and who even took to the stage at the Royal Opera House in December 1985 with Wayne Sleep

    Coming back to the new Queen, far from being a passive admirer of dance, Queen Camilla is an active dancer herself. Here she talks to Tatler magazine about her personal interest in ballet.

    Camilla, as Queen Consort, meeting members of Bosman Ballet Flow Silver Swans in Christchurch, New Zealand in November 2019

    Here in our home of New Zealand the royal connection to ballet continues. The New Zealand Ballet was established in 1953 as an independent charitable trust. In 1984 Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of New Zealand granted the title Royal to the company making it the fourth ballet company to receive this honour, along with The Royal Ballet in the London, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet. 

    We hope you enjoyed this blog 👑.

    Happy Dancing!


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