Ballet/dance is unique among the fine arts in that there is no reliable notation scheme for recording its content: neither the individual moves nor the combinations of steps in duets and larger formations on the dance floor. Ballet is handed down person to person, and the most recent recipient then improvises. Until quite recently, ballet was in the same position as epic poetry was before writing was invented and Homer wrote down the Odyssey. Ballets were created, performed, and lost. Only the most successful works survived by being handed down.
Motion picture photography had the potential to record choreography, but it was vastly too expensive to be useful for most projects. Motion pictures also opened up the possibility of showing ballet in movie houses, but this was rarely commercially feasible. Flash forward to 2007 to the development of high-definition video and the creation of the first practical HDVD---the Blu-ray disc. Now relatively cheap technology allows practical notation of dances and an economical way for ballet lovers to see the dances in their own homes. This is the most important thing to happen to ballet since our urancestors danced around bonfires.
This new era for dance began with for us HT owners when Opus Arte published its Paris Opera Ballet Swan Lake in 2007. Now more than 6 years have passed, and it's time to make a report about the progress we have made.
I count 72 ballet titles that have been published in HDVD. I excluded 6 of these for hopelessly obsolete picture and sound quality (consumer fraud), which leaves 66 ballet titles to consider. I have provided reviews and screenshots for all of these but for a couple of titles graded "D."
Nobody can prove what the 10 most popular ballets are, but here's a typical list you might find on the Internet (in order of alleged popularity): Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliette, Giselle, The Nutcracker, La Bayadère, The Rite of Spring, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, and Cinderella. We have a good to wonderful HDVD for each of these ballets, and I've provided a link from each to the best title available. There are two very famous older ballets that we still don't have: La Sylphide and Coppélia. (We have a "dark" Coppélia version that's not suitable for kids. We still need a standard comic Coppélia.)
The best longer list of traditional ballet titles would probably be found in 101 Stories of the Great Ballets by George Balanchine and Francis Mason, which was last updated in 1975. In addition to the Top 10, the Balanchine book mentions three titles we now have in HDVD: Spartacus, La Fille mal gardée, and Jewels.
It follows then that there are 88 ballets titles what were well known and respected in 1975 that we are still waiting on in HDVD. And, of course, there were other old ballets, such as Raymonda, that Balanchine didn't discuss. So there's a lot left for us to explore and enjoy from the traditional ballets.
I've arbitrarily defined ballet before 1975 as "traditional." So let's define ballets made after that year as "modern." On this website I use the term "ballet and dance" to include most choreographed modern dancing so long as it has any connection to the basics of classical ballet and is performed as high art. I also cover flamenco, which I consider to be folk dancing elevated to high art. So how many modern ballet and dance HDVDs do we have? Well, of the 66 ballet and dance titles I mentioned above, right at half, or 33, are of works created since 1975. (The older 33 include a lot of duplication such as 5 versions of Swan Lake and traditional ballets that Balanchine didn't mentioned in his book.)
So if you are interested in modern dance, there is already quite a lot for you to consider. This ranges from something as sweet as the Royal Opera Ballet in Alices's Adventures in Wonderland to as bold as C(H)ŒURS at the Teatro Real where volunteers from the opera chorus join the radical les ballets C de la B in two hours of wild performance art before the dancers, naked, challenge the chorus singers to show solidarity by stripping on the final exit (some do).
So what's the best way to learn more? Go to the Alphalist. Scroll down the 3rd column for "B" or "D" and then note the grade, etc. Then click, read the review, and enjoy the screenshots. There is no other place on the Internet where you can get such efficient and complete coverage of the best that is out there.
To speed things up, I also offer you my purely arbitrary personal list of the best 10 modern ballet and dance HDVDs. The top three are my super-favorites; then follow 7 titles in alphabetical order:
1. The Little Mermaid. Neumeier. San Francisco Ballet. Proves that a ballet company with modest resources can compete with the titans. An astonishing performance by Yuan Yuan Tan gives this title a level of spirituality that is often present when you see a person dance live, but is hard to capture in a recording.
2. Orpheus and Eurydike. Bausch. Paris Opera Ballet. Old myth and music; surreal dance and theater. The only ballet I know of that has a opera singer teamed up with the dancer for each major role. Everything is mysterious and exquisite.
3. La dame aux camélias. Neumeier. Paris Opera Ballet. The la traviata soap opera story again, this time to music of Chopin. Wonderful dancing by Agnès Letestu and Stéphane Bulllion. Everything is so gorgeous and elegant---the only time in my life I caught myself drooling over dresses.
4. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Wheeldon. Royal Opera Ballet. Fresh take on old book with charming performance by Lauren Cuthbertson.
5. Amelia. Édouard Lock film. Unique world of Lock logic captured in a famous film that you can now enjoy in your own home.
6. Bodas de sangre and Suite flamenco. Gades. Teatro Real in Madrid. Probably the best recording ever of serious flamenco works.
8. McGregor Triple Bill. Wayne McGregor. Royal Opera Ballet. Includes Chroma, a piece that has terrified dancers all over the world. (Will my company try to do that?).
9. Petite Danseuse de Degas. Bart. Paris Opera Ballet. Poignant new "biographical" ballet with a curious tie-in to the art of sculpture.
10. Siddharta. Preljocaj. Paris Opera Ballet. Beautiful, stately modern rendition of the Prince Siddharta story.