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5 of our favourite ballet pas de deux

Dramatic and romantic moments in ballets including Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet are classical dance’s beating heart.

By Paul Kilbey (Content Producer (Ballet))

14 October 2016 at 11.00am | 29 Comments

Pas de deux (dances for two) lie at the heart of many a ballet. They can be great technical showpieces, but they can also be dramatically potent – and, of course, are often both at the same time. Here are a few of our favourite examples of pas de deux from across The Royal Ballet’s repertory:

Swan Lake

Petipa and Ivanov’s Swan Lake features one of the most famous of all pas de deux. In the ‘Black Swan’ pas de deux the evil Odile seduces Prince Siegfried with her brilliant technical display, paving the way for the tragedy ahead as Siegfried’s affections unwittingly transfer from Odette to Odile. Though it is most famous for its dazzling 32 fouettés, this pas de deux also serves a key dramatic purpose, changing the course of the ballet’s plot.


In Giselle, on the other hand, it is already too late for the heroine when she and her love dance their final pas de deux. Giselle has already died following her abandonment by Albrecht: it is only Giselle’s spirit, deep in the woods, that remains. But there is an emotional significance to their final dance together, as Giselle forgives Albrecht for the wrong he has done her. What’s more, the pas de deux prolongs the action until dawn, meaning that Albrecht, who is trapped in a dance to the death, has the chance to escape.

Marguerite and Armand

Pas de deux are often integrated seamlessly into the narrative of Frederick Ashton’s ballets – not least in Marguerite and Armand, his sensationally dramatic take on the story of La traviata. The lead couple partner each other many times over the course of the work, but their opening pas de deux is particularly explosive, as Armand bursts in to the party and declares his love. Even as signs emerge of the illness that will contribute to Marguerite’s downfall – that ominous cough is ever-present – the two of them are swept away with passion.

Romeo and Juliet

An emphasis on emotionally searing pas de deux is something that unites Ashton’s work with that of Kenneth MacMillan, who went straight to the pas de deux when starting a project. In Romeo and Juliet, three of them – one near the end of each act – chart the course of the young lovers’ relationship, from the first flush of love, through the sorrow of parting, to devastation when Romeo finds what he believes to be Juliet’s corpse. The first-act Bedroom pas de deux is perhaps the ballet’s most famous sequence, a breathtaking evocation of the heady ecstasy of newfound love.


MacMillan’s work can sometimes seem far removed from the world of Petipa and Ivanov, but perhaps they are closer together than we think. In his three-act Anastasia of 1971, MacMillan gave the central pas de deux of Act II to a historical character: Mathilde Kschessinska, who as prima ballerina assoluta of the Mariinsky Theatre danced under both Petipa and Ivanov. Her pas de deux in Anastasia gracefully conjures up the world of Imperial Russia. Remarkably, the real Kschessinska was still alive at the time of the ballet’s premiere: aged 98, she had survived the Revolution, emigrated to France and spent her later years teaching ballet luminaries including Maurice Béjart and Margot Fonteyn. She died just months after her fictionalized self had arrived on the Covent Garden stage for one last grand pas de deux, created by Antoinette Sibley and her partner Anthony Dowell.

What is your favourite Royal Ballet pas de deux?

This article has 29 comments

  1. C J MacPherson responded on 15 October 2016 at 2:21pm Reply

    My all time favourite is the 'swamp' pas de deux from Manon. It is utterly heartbreaking and heartstopping in equal measure. Will never forget seeing Jonathan Cope and Sylvie Guillem dance it. One of the best moments in all ballet, in my opinion.

    • Elizabeth Davies responded on 4 May 2017 at 2:44pm

      Agree with you entirely re final pdd Manon, especially if it's Guillem and Cope,

  2. Sharon Smithers responded on 16 October 2016 at 11:40am Reply

    My favourite pas de deux is Romeo & Juliet balcony scene. It is so romantic & beautiful by Kenneth Macmillian ! Very classical.

  3. Cinta responded on 16 October 2016 at 11:57am Reply

    I like vm all 5 Pas de deux, but for the passion i choes Marguerite&Armand. Thanks!

  4. Phil Molyneux responded on 16 October 2016 at 12:00pm Reply

    What a great idea, please continue with this from time to time.....and thankyou x

  5. Brett responded on 16 October 2016 at 12:12pm Reply

    Giselle act 2 PDD
    Manon bedroom PDD
    La Fille Ma gardee Fanny Elsser PDD
    Onegin Final act PDD
    Spartacus Act 3 Pas de deux
    Christian Spuck ,Grand Pas de Deux, DAS ORIGINAL
    Agon Pas de deux

    on the opposite end my absolute worst pas de deux is the Grand Pas de deux Classique

  6. Paul Bridgwater responded on 16 October 2016 at 12:55pm Reply

    Of this selection, Romeo and Juliet. Beyond this selection I would say Ashton's Cinderella, especially with Alina Cojucaru. Hate Swan Lake!

  7. Peter Field responded on 16 October 2016 at 2:21pm Reply

    My Favourite Royal Ballet pas de deux?
    Manon, final pas de deux

  8. Nick responded on 16 October 2016 at 6:27pm Reply

    Alessandra Ferri and Wayne Eagling performing Swan Lake in 1984 has to be my favourite as prior to that I had no interest in dance whatsoever. Since then, anything Alessandra Ferri has danced in. She and Federico Bonelli in Woolf Works, exquisite.

    I love the pas de deux in After The Rain. Unfortunately, and though I've not seen Ms Ferri perform it, Marienela Nunez and Thiago Soares were heartrending when they performed it at Covent Garden earlier this year.

    Lauren Cuthbertson was sublime in Within The Golden Hour, as indeed were Francesca Hayward and Valentini Zucchetti.

    And then there's Natalia Osipova of course.

    So many!

  9. Sophie Lerro responded on 16 October 2016 at 7:05pm Reply

    The technique of the dancers is above perfection,but I am accustomed to seeing the black swan as haughty, with very strong deliberate movements,not at all likeable,which makes it obvious that the prince is under a spell. To me,it does not favor the story if the black swan is so likeable. makes Sigfreid seem very weak

  10. Witte Van Witte responded on 16 October 2016 at 7:28pm Reply

    My favourite PDD is Marguerite and Armand. The version with Rojo and Polunin, in 2012, was outstanding.

  11. Graeme Williams responded on 17 October 2016 at 6:25pm Reply

    An easy question: any PDD danced by MS Nunez but if pushed the Swan Lake featured here (but with ...... yes, you guessed.)

  12. karenb responded on 18 October 2016 at 9:54pm Reply

    Manon final act Guillem/Cope and Onegin final with Nunez/Soares. Heartbreaking.

  13. Anne Battye responded on 19 October 2016 at 6:44pm Reply

    The pas de deux at the end of Two Pigeons, it always brings tears to my eyes.

  14. Andrew Deakin responded on 22 October 2016 at 3:55pm Reply

    Thanks for this engaging look at the pdd. My favourite pdd is the black swan. It is a pivotal point in the story, showing the Prince succumbing to temptation and unwittingly betraying his ideal love. The narrative intensity and exposition of character in this pdd seem unique among ballet's pdd. Most pdd are decorative, demonstrating the feelings of the characters at a particular point in the story. The black swan pdd, however, uses choreographic complexity to dramatise a definitive and climactic point in the exposition, and marks the beginning of the tragic ending of the swan legend. The 32 fouettés display Odile at her most alluring. Their complexity and brilliance excuse the Prince's betrayal, and give the final tragedy a universal significance in place of a simple story of personal failure.

    For sheer theatrical brilliance, my favourite pdd performance is the wedding pdd from Don Quixote, as danced by Paloma Herrera and Ángel Corella in a video available on YouTube.

  15. Rebcca E Hargreaves-Gillibrand responded on 10 December 2016 at 8:51pm Reply

    From this selection: 'Romeo & Juliet' - something about the quiet strength & pace of the male lead, and the engaging manner of the female principal.
    I liked Marguerite; Odile should be more aloof, enticing, complex, dangerous - presentation too pleasant for this role.
    Favourite Pax-de-Deux: the 3 of 'Romeo & Juliet'.

  16. Dudley Ristow responded on 31 December 2016 at 11:33am Reply

    The Tango pas de deux in The Golden Age as is the last one in the final act.

  17. Rebecca Laird responded on 16 April 2017 at 1:21pm Reply

    I love both the act 2 white swan pas de deux in your first photo and the entrée and adage black swan pas de deux.

  18. Wendy McDermott responded on 16 April 2017 at 1:23pm Reply

    How can one choose?! Macrae / Morera final pdd in Frenkenstein was heart wrenching, but also loved most recent Macrae/Lamb pdd in Rubies for its joie de vivre

  19. Andrea responded on 16 April 2017 at 2:21pm Reply

    The final pas de deux in Manon as danced by Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta in the Royal Ballet DVD. I never saw this live, but I don't think anything was lost on camera. It was heartbreaking. They put EVERYTHING into that performance.
    I would have loved to have seen Alessandra Ferri dance Manon.
    Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae were wonderful in Rubies. They're a great partnership.

  20. Michael Sharpe responded on 16 April 2017 at 6:34pm Reply

    Onegin final pdd
    Diamonds pdd
    Two Pigeons final pdd
    Ashton's Cinderella ballroom pdd
    Symphony in C 2nd movement pdd
    Fille Mal Gardee final pdd
    Emeralds walking pdd
    Romeo & Juliet balcony pdd (especially as danced recently by Yasmine Naghdi & Matthew Ball.

  21. Dorothy responded on 12 January 2018 at 7:12pm Reply

    I saw Acosta and Osipova in Giselle and was overwhemed by the grace and emotion in their performance together. They’ve set the bar high.

  22. ELIA AMATO responded on 12 January 2018 at 7:18pm Reply

    Onegin final pdd
    Manon final pdd
    White Swan pdd
    Black Swan pdd
    R&J balcony
    La Bayadere shades act

  23. Darrius Gray responded on 12 January 2018 at 7:27pm Reply

    By far the pas de deux from Anastasia! I remember Viviana Durante and Bruce Samson performing it from Tchaikovsky Tribute. Clearly the most difficult pas I've ever seen and beautifully executed by them!

  24. Ana responded on 12 January 2018 at 8:14pm Reply

    Alessabdra Ferri - Rudolp Nureyev

  25. Marilyn weston responded on 13 January 2018 at 10:10am Reply

    David wall and lyn seymour in mayerling
    And their pas de deux in romeo and juliet

  26. Peter Easson responded on 13 January 2018 at 4:20pm Reply

    Perhaps not strictly a classical pas de deux but Sir Kenneth's choreography for the beach ballet in Carousel and its dance section for Louse and the "barker" is wonderful. It shows MacMillan's genius.

  27. Marian Westlake responded on 27 January 2018 at 3:33pm Reply

    Agree with the first comment: The "swamp" pas de deux from Manon. The very first performance created for Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. Absolutely dramatic, heartbreaking and so convincing.

  28. Jenny responded on 22 February 2018 at 5:53am Reply

    Final pas de deux in Mayerling with Edward Watson and Mara Galeazzi for sure! So much passion and power!

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