The 8 best pas de deux in the history of ballet

Ah pas de deux, the crème de la crème of the ballet world. These showstopping dances for two people are the high point of every ballet – from The Nutcracker to Giselle. So pop on those leg-warmers and enjoy 8 of our favourites.

Ballet pas de deux asset

What is a pas de deux?

Maybe you know your ballet positions inside out and are proud to call yourself a bunhead – in which case, skip this bit and head to the videos below.

But if you're a bit of a newcomer, here's the lowdown: a pas de deux is basically just a dance between two people. It's usually between a man and a woman and it's always a centrepiece for the dancers to show off their technique and acting chops.

A pas de deux usually comes at a high point of drama and is often between lovers. Get the tissues ready, guys…

1 The Nutcracker – Marius Petipa

Let’s kick off with one of the best-loved of all ballets – Marius Petipa’s iconic choreography for Tchaikovsky’s magical music.

Here, Mikhail Mikhailov and Ekaterina Bortiakova dance the iconic roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince in this pas de deux from Act II:

 

2 Sleeping Beauty – Marius Petipa

Princess Aurora and her Prince grab all the headlines in this famous Petipa ballet (with music by Tchaikovsky). And fair enough – she falls asleep for a hundred years, he rescues her. It’s a great story.

But, for the ballet geeks, some of the best moments come courtesy of a clutch of other fairy tale characters that make an appearance in.

Here’s the pas de deux by the Bluebird and Princess Florine from the Final Act:

Picture Gallery: Life lessons from the great ballets

3 Manon – Kenneth MacMillan

The opera world was obsessed by the story of Manon – a woman torn between worldly wealth and true love. Massenet and Puccini both wrote great operas based on her story and the great British choreographer, Kenneth MacMillan was inspired to create a ballet set to music by Massenet (though not from his Manon opera, confusingly).

By Act III, Manon is clearly (SPOILER ALERT) not long for this world. Here’s the heart-breaking final pas de deux between Manon and her lover, Des Grieux.

 

4 Romeo and Juliet – Kenneth MacMillan

This is another Kenneth MacMillan classic – with Prokofiev’s gorgeous music. Here’s one of our favourite moments, the Balcony pas de deux:

 

5 Giselle – Marius Petipa

This ballet – by Adolphe Adam and choreographed most famously by Marius Petipa (him again!) – has become a much-loved classic. Happily, it is not usually given its full name – Giselle, or the Wilis .

Here’s a summary: Giselle is in love with a man, turns out he’s not who he says he is and is engaged to someone else. WHAT A TWERP. She takes it badly, goes mad and dies. At which point she becomes a Wili (yeah, they still feature).

Here’s one of the most beautiful pas de deux performed by two ballet legends:

 

6 Alice in Wonderland – Christopher Wheeldon

In 2011 the Royal Ballet commissioned Christopher Wheeldon to create a new full-length ballet. And the result was a modern classic.

Here’s one of the loveliest moments from his Alice in Wonderland – a pas de deux between Alice and the Knave of Hearts.

 

7 Swan Lake – Marius Petipa

Another Tchaikovsky ballet with the classic choreography of Marius Petipa. In the Black Swan pas de deux the ballet dancer can really indulge their dark side, and generally have a great time.

Also – fun fact – the Mariinsky Ballet dance a version of Swan Lake with a happy ending. Odette ends up with her prince and lives happily ever after. Sort of takes away the edge, doesn’t it?

8 La fille mal gardée – Frederick Ashton

A heavyweight of English ballet, Frederick Ashton created more than 100 works in his lifetime and shaped the style of the Royal Ballet.

One of his best-loved works is his final ballet – La fille mal gardée – which uses music by Ferdinand Hérold. It is a delightful, comic story of a headstrong young woman who falls in love with someone she’s not supposed to.

Here’s the ribbon dance, performed by Natlia Osipova and Steven McRae:

Play

La Fille mal Gardée – ribbon dance

Steven McRae and Natalia Osipova perform an iconic dance from Frederick Ashton's ballet

03:13

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