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A tempting seductress. A mysterious charmer. An entrancing and hypnotising lover. No matter how you describe a femme fatale, French for “fatal woman,” one thing is certain: this archetype of literature, art, and even ballet uses her feminine wiles, such as beauty, charm, and sexual allure, to achieve her goals.

Femmes fatales can be found in many ballets, including the dramatic Manon and the iconic Carmen. Learn more about these beguiling women of ballet in our round-up of the top five femmes fatales.

1. Carmen in Carmen

With its focus on the dark undercurrents of the story, Johan Inger’s re-imagined adaptation of Carmen, which we are performing in spring 2024, is much closer to the original 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée, rather than George Bizet’s iconic opera.

This version focuses on the character of Don José, whose world turns upside down when he meets Carmen. Facing a woman in charge of her own life, body and sexuality, Don José becomes obsessive and cannot take the thought that she can be free – leading to tragic consequences. A sense of foreboding accompanies the viewer throughout the piece. As the tale unravels, audiences explore the iconic story of passion and brutality as perceived by Don Jose’s troubled mind.

Compañia Nacional de Danza’s Kayoko Everhart and Alessandro Riga in Johan Inger's Carmen
Compañia Nacional de Danza, Spain’s Kayoko Everhart and Alessandro Riga in Johan Inger's Carmen

What makes her a femme fatale?

  • Her passion and free-spirited nature.
  • Her command over Don José and his inability to resist her.
  • Her frank sexual appetite and desires – ultimately, Carmen would rather die than live by society’s rules, and her allure and independence ultimately kill her.

2. The Sylph in La Sylphide

Mesmerised by Filippo Taglioni’s La Sylphide, August Bournonville created his own version with a new score by Norwegian composer Herman Severin Løvenskiold. Bournonville’s classic version is the one that survives today, and has continued to be performed regularly by the Royal Danish Ballet since its debut in 1836. Eva Kloborg and Frank Andersen’s recreation is the version which appears in our repertoire.

La Sylphide follows young Scotsman James on the morning of his wedding to his sweet fiancée Effy. He awakens from a dream to see a mysterious and tantalising Sylphide before him. His obsession with her sets off a fateful sequence of events where joy turns to sorrow, love to betrayal and infatuation to tragedy.

Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez in La Sylphide © Laurent Liotardo.

What makes her a femme fatale?

  • She bewitches James with her beauty and otherworldly charm.
  • James is completely enamoured with her, and try as he might, he is unable to catch the Sylph in his arms and make her his own.
  • [Spoiler alert!] In his quest to obtain her, the Sylph dies, and James finally sees that in trying to obtain the unobtainable, he has lost everything (both the Sylph and his would-be wife Effy).

3. Odile in Swan Lake

Arguably the most popular ballet, Swan Lake remains a staple in nearly every classical ballet company. Featuring Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, Swan Lake tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan. She and Prince Siegfried fall in love, sparking a battle against the evil sorcerer Rothbart and his manipulative daughter Odile.

There are two versions of Swan Lake in our repertoire, both choreographed by Derek Deane: one is a proscenium staging and the other is in-the-round with 60 swans, transforming the Royal Albert Hall into a magical lake.

PRESS Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernández in Swan Lake © Laurent Liotardo
Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernández in Swan Lake © Laurent Liotardo

What makes her a femme fatale?

  • Odile is magically disguised as Odette’s doppelgänger in order to help her father, the evil sorcerer Rothbart, trick Prince Siegfried into breaking his vow of love to Odette.
  • At a ball, she tricks Prince Siegfried into promising his love to her while she’s disguised as Odette, and in doing so, the Prince betrays his true love.

4. The Woman in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort

Choreographed in 1946 to Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, Roland Petit’s searing ballet Le Jeune Homme et la Mort follows a one-act libretto by Jean Cocteau. A young, Parisian painter falls hopelessly in love with a cruel and faithless mistress. He waits desperately for her, but when she finally arrives, she torments him. Distraught and confused, the young man succumbs to his despair.

English National Ballet last performed Petit’s “seductive piece” (The Daily Telegraph) in January 2018.

Tamara Rojo and Ivan Vasiliev in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort © Laurent Liotardo.

What makes her a femme fatale?

  • The woman cruelly taunts the young man, only to reject him in the end.
  • She teases him and exploits his weaknesses in a game of cat-and-mouse.
  • She is impossibly beautiful, but ultimately means trouble for the young man.

4. Manon Lescaut in Manon

Manon is one of the masterpieces of 20th century story ballet, by Kenneth MacMillan.

Manon Lescaut’s brother offers her hand in marriage to the highest bidder, but she meets the dashing Des Grieux and falls in love. They elope to Paris, but when Monsieur G.M., Manon’s betrothed, offers her a life of luxury, she can’t resist. Troubles ensue as Manon and Des Grieux are caught trying to cheat at cards to win Monsieur G.M.’s fortune. Arrested as a prostitute and then deported to New Orleans, Manon is reunited with her love Des Grieux before dying of exhaustion as they run from authorities.

Erina Takahashi and Esteban Berlanga in Manon © Photography by ASH

What makes her a femme fatale?

  • She is an impulsive young woman drawn into the world of male desire.
  • She chooses luxury over love and, in doing so, pays the ultimate price.
  • She is both an innocent ingénue and teasing seductress, who ultimately wants to escape a life of poverty.

Fall under Odile’s spell when we perform Swan Lake in-the-round at the Royal Albert Hall from 12th to 23th June. Book your tickets here.