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Ballet has the power to evoke strong emotions through its storytelling, choreography, music, and performances. Which ballets are the most likely to bring audiences to tears? Here are five ballets that will break your heart: Romeo and Juliet, Giselle (in two versions), Manon and Swan Lake. 
Video: Jurgita Dronina and James Streeter in Swan Lake © Laurent Liotardo

Swan Lake

Swan Lake is a timeless classic. Whether you watch it for the first or 100th time, it always brings out deep emotions.

The themes of love, deception, and the struggle between good and evil can really resonate. The ending is incredibly moving and tear-inducing: Prince Siegfried and the Swan Queen Odette meet their fates, as swans flood the stage, Tchaikovsky’s powerful music ringing through the auditorium.

Watch Derek Deane’s Swan Lake online on Ballet on Demand.

Experience Swan Lake in-the-round live at the Royal Albert Hall in June 2024.

A dancer playing the role of Giselle is shown from the chest up over a Romantic woodland background. She is holding her arms on her chest and looking down while wearing a white dress.
Video: Dancer: Alison McWhinney. Photo © Jason Bell. Creative Direction: Charlotte Wilkinson Studio


Giselle is a classic Romantic ballet. Mary Skeaping’s traditional production, which English National Ballet performs, has been called “utterly heartbreaking” by critics – for good reasons.

In the first act, peasant-girl Giselle is driven mad after finding out the one she loves, Albrecht, a Duke, is betrothed to another. Her shock, sadness and anger can’t help but touch the audience, in a scene that is iconic.

The second act, set in a ghostly forest, is also particularly poignant. Despite what he has done to her, Giselle decides to save her beloved Albrecht from the Wilis, vengeful spirits of jilted brides who make men dance to their death. The moody atmosphere, lush melodies of Adolphe Adam’s music, and the overall themes of forgiveness and redemption contribute to the ballet’s ability to bring tears to our eyes.

English National Ballet performs Mary Skeaping’s Giselle at the London Coliseum, 11-21 January 2024.

Video: Tamara Rojo as Giselle and James Streeter as Albrecht in Akram Khan's Giselle © Laurent Liotardo

Akram Khan’s Giselle

Choreographer Akram Khan reimagined the classic ballet Giselle (listed above) in 2016. Since then, English National Ballet has performed this version around the world, meeting with a powerful emotional reaction wherever it’s been seen.

This contemporary take grabs you from the start with its ominous score (by Vincenzo Lamagna) and passionate choreography, and the stunning images it presents will stay with you for a long time. These audience members sum it up better than we could:

Watch Akram Khan’s Giselle online on Ballet on Demand.

Buy tickets for upcoming live performances of Akram Khan’s Giselle.

Alina Cojocaru and Joseph Caley in Manon © Laurent Liotardo.


Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Manon is the tragic tale of a young woman’s descent into a world of greed, lust, and manipulation, set in the 18th century.

It’s impossible not to empathise with the title character, who is in love with a penniless student, but is lured to become the mistress of a rich gentleman. Like hers, our heart swells witnessing the giddiness of first love – before breaking during the final, tragic pas de deux, full of intense lifts and partnering. A devastating rollercoaster of emotions.

Watch Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon on Ballet on Demand.

Jurgita Dronina and Aaron Robison in Romeo & Juliet © Laurent Liotardo

Romeo and Juliet

This ballet, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s music, tells the famous tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet, based on William Shakespeare’s play.

The themes of young love and family conflict, and the untimely deaths of the two protagonists, evoke feelings of heartbreak and sorrow. The final scene, which begins with Romeo finding Juliet seemingly lifeless, is particularly emotional: no matter how much we know the tragic ending will come, we always hope against hope that it would be a different one.

Each of these ballets is renowned for its ability to connect with audiences on an emotional level, often leading to tears as viewers become engrossed in the stories, the music and choreography and the artistry of the dancers’ performances.

Whether you watch these ballets online, at the cinema or in a theatre, we hope they will resonate with you.