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Press plié: the best music videos to feature ballet

Top music videos prove that ballet can enrich a range of sounds and elevate songs to a whole new level.

By Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer)

25 April 2017 at 4.40pm | 16 Comments

With multi-million dollar budgets, high production values and starry casts, there's no denying the marketing value of a powerful music video. David Bowie's video for Ashes to Ashes was the first to cost more than $500,000 and it wasn't long until the rest of the music industry followed suit, with artists like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Beyoncé spending millions more, transforming their videos from marketing material into works of art.

It's perhaps not surprising that music video directors swiftly turned to the world of ballet and contemporary dance to enhance and elevate their creations, combining pop and classical ballet to striking effect. Here are a few of our favourites.

Sia – 'Chandelier'

Sia's music video puts dancer Maddie Ziegler as the primary focus in this astounding balletic routine. The video has been watched more than 1.5 billion times making it one of the most viewed videos on YouTube ever.

Queen – 'I Want to Break Free'

The second half of this video include a routine performed by The Royal Ballet and choreographed by Wayne Eagling, a former dancer with the Company. To enable him to better portray legendary Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in the Afternoon of a Faun-inspired clip, legendary frontman Freddie Mercury shaved his famous moustache.

Sting – Prelude from Cello Suite. No. 1

Royal Ballet Guest Artist Alessandra Ferri performs a solo for Sting's guitar rendition of Bach's famous work.

Florence and the Machine – 'Spectrum'

Director David LaChapelle enlisted several ballet dancers of California's Southland Ballet Academy to jump around the English musician. LaChapelle said he wanted to reflect the song's infectious sense of ‘light, positivity and authentic joy' through the choreography. Clearly a fan of ballet, Florence and the Machine granted the Royal Opera House the use of their track 'No Light, No Light' for our 2012 promo film High Flyer, which features Principal Dancer of The Royal Ballet Edward Watson.

Poliça – 'Wandering Star'

‘I am a fervent believer that dance is the body’s way of communicating when the voice cannot,’ says ELY, the director of this explorative video. It opens with an elderly woman alone in an art studio. As dancers begin to infiltrate the space, it becomes clear that they are characters who have escaped from paintings.

Blood Orange – 'I Know'

This elegant video features Blood Orange's Dev Hynes with Maria Kochetkova, Principal dancer at the San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Kochetkova teaches Hynes a simple routine and he playfully joins in.

Sigur Rós – 'Valtari'

Over ten minutes of contemporary dance is contained in this beautifully shot film from Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. Two dancers meet inside an abandoned old building and as the track builds, meet to perform a passionate pas de deux.  

Coldplay – 'True Love'

In this video, frontman Chris Martin dons a large inflatable ballet suit and stumbles into a ballet performance. The video ends with him finding his perfect partner, who wears an inflatable tutu.

Kanye West ft. Pusha T – 'Runaway'

Released in the aftermath of an awkward moment at the Video Music Awards in 2009, West's lyrics show his acceptance of the media’s negative perception of him. They are repetitive and crude, which deliberately jars against the beauty of the ballerina's routine.

Belle and Sebastian – 'The Party Line'

Former Choreographic Apprentice of The Royal Ballet Robert Binet created the choreography for the cult Scottish indie pop band. Set in a club, a woman appears to imagine a couple performing a beautiful pas de deux, instead of the drunken 'bump and grind' dancing that is taking place in reality.

Chairlift – Amanaemonesia

Caroline Polachek of Chairlift reportedly practised for two months to perfect her interpretative dance style. It's easy to notice the influence of classical ballet – noted choreographer Juri Onuki (who also worked on Blood Orange's I Know) assisted her on the routine.

Hozier – Take Me to Church

Superstar director David LaChapelle created a viral sensation when he enlisted former Royal Ballet Principal Sergei Polunin to perform to Hozier’s powerful hit.

Taylor Swift – Shake it Off

Taylor Swift’s smash hit from her fifth album 1989includes the singer performing a range of dance in different genres from hip-hop to jazz – but the video opens at the barre with a troupe of ballerinas.

Did we miss any? List your favourite music featuring ballet dancers in the comments below.

This article has 16 comments

  1. Sharon responded on 25 April 2017 at 5:41pm Reply

    You missed Fall Out Boy - American Beauty/America Psycho

  2. Claudia responded on 25 April 2017 at 6:03pm Reply

    I love this list -- Polunin's dancing to Take Me to Church is actually what first got me addicted to watching ballet!
    However, this is a recent new favourite of mine: Roberto Bolle dancing to a cover of Prisencolinensinainciusol, a song which is in a made-up language which is supposed to sound like English.


  3. Isadora responded on 25 April 2017 at 8:43pm Reply

    My favourite Take me to Church by La Chapelle with the stunning talent Sergei Polunin. Very happy to his return at ROH as guest.

  4. Chandra responded on 25 April 2017 at 8:59pm Reply

    Your forgot Herbert Groenemeyer's video for "Demo (Letzter Tag) featuring Polina Semionova.

  5. Liv responded on 25 April 2017 at 9:23pm Reply

    Seeing Polunin's dance Take me to church has awakened my love for dance and ballet. A breathtaking performance, his video is like a drug!

  6. Rebekah Diaddigo responded on 28 April 2017 at 3:28am Reply

    Victoria Canal's City Shoes!

  7. Dave Morgan responded on 28 April 2017 at 1:51pm Reply

    Laura Marling - When Brave Bird Saved

    ...has a couple of sections with more contemporary dance than actual ballet. But there are real dancers in it

  8. Katie Andrews responded on 28 April 2017 at 7:50pm Reply

    My favourite is Keaton Henson 'To Your Health'

  9. I would add Time vs. Money by The Bynars a pretty cool video.

  10. Kings of Convenience - I'd rather dance with you.
    There is no formal ballet in it, but it was inspired by ballet and it's very cute!

  11. Tatiana responded on 5 May 2017 at 7:29pm Reply

    oops, i forgot the link I hope you enjoy!

  12. ML responded on 18 May 2017 at 10:20am Reply

    Sia's 'Chandelier' video starring reality show dance student Maddie Ziegler (aged 11 when the video was made) might be thought provoking or controversial (along with the other 4 videos to Sia's songs which she danced in) but there's nothing balletic about it. Ziegler is very accomplished and gives a brilliant performance in it, though.

  13. Steve Clark responded on 26 May 2017 at 9:05pm Reply

    Does this count ?

  14. Vitoria S. responded on 4 June 2017 at 2:30pm Reply

    I'd also add "Man on Fire" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, featuring NYC Ballet. They are not the main focus of the video, but nonetheless very beautiful:

  15. Sara responded on 4 June 2017 at 2:36pm Reply

    Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud features a lovely lyrical ballet piece.

  16. Steph responded on 15 November 2017 at 8:52pm Reply

    Robbie Williams - Party like a Russian

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