Types and Styles of Ballet

Types of Ballet

Story ballets (not surprisingly!) tell a story. They contain narrative action, characters, and a beginning and end. The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty are famous story ballets from the 19th century; classic stories and novels such as The Great Gatsby and The Three Musketeers have also been transformed into ballets.

PBT company dancers perform in the story ballet The Three Musketeers by Andre Prokovsky, 2010

Plotless ballets have no storyline; rather they utilize the movement of the body and theatrical elements to interpret music, create an image or to express or provoke emotion. Choreographer George Balanchine was a prolific creator of plotless ballets.

PBT company dancers perform in Twyla Tharp’s plotless ballet, In the Upper Room, 2010


Styles of Ballet

Classical ballet is what people generally think of when we talk about “ballet.” Classical ballet reached its height in 19th century Russia through the work of choreographers like Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. It is characterized by the following elements:

  • graceful, flowing movements
  • classical form: turn-out of the legs and pointe work
  • balance and symmetry
  • ethereal
  • emphasis on story ballets and narrative
  • elaborate sets and costumes

PBT principal dancers Erin Halloran and Nurlan Abougaliev in Marius Petipa’s classical ballet, Swan Lake, 2010

 Neo-classical ballet was introduced in the 20th century by choreographers like George Balanchine. It generally includes:

  • increased speed, energy and attack
  • manipulation of the classical form
  • asymmetry; an off-balance feel
  • non-narrative; often one-act ballets
  • paired down aesthetic—simple sets and costumes
PBT principal dancers Christopher Budzynksi and Alexandra Kochis in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette, 2009

 Contemporary ballet is influenced by modern dance. Renowned contemporary ballet choreographers include Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor and Dwight Rhoden. In contemporary ballet, you may see:

  • floor work
  • turn-IN of the legs
  • greater range of movement and body line
  • pointe shoes but also bare feet
PBT dancers in Paul Taylor’s Company B, 2010