The Australian Ballet

From Page to Stage

Ballet is a wordless art form, but it speaks volumes. A single pas de deux can encompass pages of writing, and many of our favourite ballets are based on books. Let's lose ourselves in some literature-inspired classics.

600 x 800 Photo Jeff Busby 2001

Simone Goldsmith and Nigel Burley. Photography Jeff Busby

Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s most celebrated love story, coupled with Serge Prokofiev’s luscious, tumultuous score: it’s no wonder that choreographers from all over the world have flocked to the star cross’d lovers. The most famous Romeo and Juliet ballets are by John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan, and the principal roles in these works are as much prized by dancers as those in classics such as Swan Lake and Giselle.


Jarryd Madden. Photography Jeff Busby

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

How do you make a ballet from a book that relies on literary allusions and elaborate wordplay? It must have been tempting to go broad-brushstroke, but when Christopher Wheeldon was creating his 2011 ballet, he remained remarkably faithful to Lewis Carroll’s intricate novel. His delightful Alice comes complete with a caucus race, flamingo croquet, a Mad Hatter’s tea party and a ‘Who Stole the Tarts?’ court case.

600 x 800 TAB Don Quixote Nureyev Melbourne Photo Jeff Busby 2013 13 min

Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello. Photography Jeff Busby

Don Quixote

Cervantes’ tale of a deluded knight imitating the feats of his favourite literary heroes is often called the first novel – i.e. the first fictional story to be told in prose. In the ballet by Marius Petipa, the 19th-century choreographer who created Swan Lake, the focus is more on the mischievous lovers Basilio and Kitri; but Don Quixote’s love for his imaginary ideal, Dulcinea, gives rise to one of the most exquisite dream sequences in classical ballet.

600 x 800 Manon 2014 Melb 026 min

Amber Scott. Photography Lynette Wills


Abbé Prévost's banned 1731 novel Manon Lescaut was made into a ballet by Kenneth MacMillan in 1974. At the time, MacMillan was shocking the ballet world with gritty, violent, frankly sexual works. From the torrid love of des Grieux and Manon, MacMillan created a modern classic.

600 x 800 Snugglepot and Cuddlepie 02167 min

Lisa Bolte. Photography Branco Gaica

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, May Gibbs’ adorable 1918 children’s classic, makes an equally loveable ballet in the hands of choreographer Petal Miller-Ashmole, who fills the stage with dancing blossoms, shimmering fish, a giant kookaburra, a femme fatale of a snake and the terrifying Bad Banksia Men.

600 x 800 Steven Heathcote Peter Lucadou Wells Equus 1984 photography Branco Gaica min

Steven Heathcote and Peter Lucadou-Wells. Photography Branco Gaica


Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play about a boy whose quasi-sexual worship of horses leads to a dreadful crime seems an unlikely candidate for dance. But Domy Reiter-Soffer’s 1980 ballet makes the contrast between the boy’s painful inhibition and the exultant freedom of the horses powerfully physical.

600 x 800 Amber Scott as Tatiana and Adam Bull as Onegin in Onegin Lynette Wills min

Adam Bull and Amber Scott. Photography Lynette Wills


Books, letters and misreadings are central to Eugene Onegin, a verse novel by the 19th-century Russian writer Alexander Pushkin – and to Onegin, John Cranko’s masterful 1965 ballet. The letter scene, in which the besotted Tatiana writes a passionate declaration of love to the worldly Onegin is transformed into a dream sequence where Onegin walks through Tatiana’s bedroom mirror and sweeps her into a sensual pas de deux.

600 x 800 021 TAB ALICES ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND Ako Kondo photo Jeff Busby min