This Halloween, We're Ranking the Spookiest Ballets in Dance History

October 25, 2020

When people think ballet, they think elegance and grace—pretty tutus and pink shoes. Yet the plots of some of the most famous ballets could rival any Hollywood horror flick. Most ballet companies have their Nutcracker in the wintertime, and a fun story ballet in the spring, but what about #SpookySzn?

We’re ranking the *spookiest* ballets on a scale from 1-5 Wilis—aka the beautiful dancing ghosts from Giselle. For the sake of this list, 1 will be “slightly concerning” (think, “forgetting your ballet shoes at home”) and 5 will be “abject terror” (as in, “forgetting the choreography for your solo and freezing like a deer in headlights”).

Without further ado, let’s boo-rrée down the list.


Let’s start with the obvious choice. Giselle is *literally* a ghost story. After the show’s leading lady dies of a broken heart/heart defect (still unclear), Giselle returns in Act II as a member of Queen Myrtha’s cohort of scorned ghost women, called the Wilis. In fact, some historians believe the phrase “the willies,” originates from the Wilis in Giselle. Queen Myrtha and her #GirlSquad of ghosts proceed to haunt Prince Albrecht (Giselle’s ex) and attempt to dance him to an early grave. Pretty spooky if you ask us. Add in the misty blue lighting, shadowy trees, and the fact that Act II takes place in a *literal* cemetery and we’ve got a scary story to tell in the dark.

Also, can we mention how many Wilis there are? That’s a lot of women betrayed by their lovers. Maybe the real fright in Giselle is the patriarchy.

Score: 4 out of 5 Wilis.

“Swan Lake”

Despite the Black Swan Hollywood treatment, Swan Lake—the ballet—is more tragedy than thriller. Sure, we have an evil sorcerer and a curse, but that’s pretty standard fare for Romantic-era ballets. When Prince Seigfried falls for Rothbart’s trick and betrays Odette, it’s more sad than terrifying. Swan Lake earns one point for the scream queen herself Odile, and one for the complete downer of an ending.

Score: 2 out of 5 Wilis.


We know what you’re thinking: “Coppelia, the comedic ballet? What’s it doing on this list?” Well, hear us out. Dr. Coppelius builds lifelike dolls and wants to imbue them with life, Dr. Frankenstein-style. He’s fully prepared to sacrifice Franz, the leading man, to do so. Um okay, Annabelle. We’re pretty sure haunted dolls deserve their own horror category on Netflix.

Swanhilda is basically the final girl of the ballet world, and no, we will not be accepting constructive criticism on this analysis. She stays behind after all her friends are gone to confront Dr. Coppelius and save Franz. We’d put Swanhilda in the same category as Sidney Prescott from Scream and Laurie Strode from Halloween.

However, we must deduct points for Coppelia‘s happy ending.

Score: 3.5 out of 5 Wilis.

“Sleeping Beauty”

Honestly, Carabosse (Sleeping Beauty‘s resident evil fairy) is a pretty iconic villain. Her theme music is intense, her sinister pantomime is terrifying, and her rat posse? Powerful. But ultimately, we know the plot of Sleeping Beauty too well to find it frightening. Plus, the entirety of Act III is a party.

Score: 1 out of 5 Wilis.

Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty”

This version is literally a different story. Would it be fair to call Matthew Bourne the Tim Burton of choreographers? We think he would be okay with that comparison. After all, this is the man who choreographed an Edward Scissorhands ballet.

Bourne takes the classic fairytale and sprinkles in some vampires—this was 2012 after all, AKA peak Twilight era. We also see some creepy Gothic fairies, and a truly disturbing baby Aurora puppet (see above on haunted dolls). Bourne’s adaptation leans in heavily to the vampire genre tropes, complete with a love triangle between Aurora’s childhood love Leo and Caradoc, son of the evil fairy/vampire Carabosse. We also witness a nightmarish sequence when a faceless Aurora dances with the evil vampires, and…a club scene? Things get weird in Act II.

Score: 4.5 out of 5 Wilis, with .5 added for the baby Aurora puppet.

“La Sylphide”

Speaking of Tim Burton, La Sylphide gives off some classic Tim Burton Corpse Bride vibes. The ballet features a young man who falls in love with an enchanted spirit called a sylph. Right when he’s about to marry his (human) fiancée, the sylph puts his wedding ring on her own finger and lures him into the forest. This ballet also features a coven of witches, ghostly apparitions, and a man who’s afraid of commitment. Sounds pretty spooky to us.

Score: 4 out of 5 Wilis.

“Rite of Spring”

Don’t let Ari Aster see this ballet. Or maybe do, if you’re into that kind of thing, because Rite of Spring could be retitled Midsommar: The Ballet. Igor Stravinsky’s score is intense enough on its own, but when you add in the primal nature of the choreography and the intensity it builds, the whole thing feels like a pagan sacrifice going off the deep end.

Score: 5 out of 5 Wilis.