Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Adolphe Adam and many others of their time, composed music specifically for ballet. When a new ballet was commissioned, there was someone writing a score for it, then someone making a choreography.

More recently, new classical ballets do appear, but they are choreographed to music that has not originally been written for the purpose. Examples of such ballets are L'histoire de Manon and Mayerling.

Since, clearly, there is demand for new classical ballet, why are new scores for ballet not being written, or at least not written nearly as often as new ballets are made? E.g., Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is the first full-length score for the Royal Ballet in 20 years (source). Why 20 years with no new scores, and then a ballet for children, as if afraid to write for adults?

3 Answers 3


Opera, ballet, and music in general has changed. It is getting smaller, and there is more growth in the "chamber" realm. I personally know composers of both chamber operas and "chamber" ballet/modern dance. The number of performers is much smaller, and the venues they perform at are much smaller.

This music is being written, but it will fly under the radar more since it is not being performed in huge venues with big marquees and a big advertising budget. They are often privately funded, though they may sometimes get grants from arts councils.

The composer I know who writes for dance is intimately connected with the dance troupe, since he is also the accompanist. He has written both percussion accompaniment as well as sound-design recordings. Everyone in the group works together to design the whole program, including the choreography. He is basically commissioned to write the music portion of it, though other people come up with the premise.

As far as why larger ballets are not written, I have to assume it is the same problem as for orchestras, and that is money. Orchestras don't often have the budgets to take risks on programs that patrons may not come to see. Newer works are more expensive to put on because of the rental of scores and other factors. I imagine large dance companies and the ensembles that play with them face similar challenges. This, and the fact that the public has become conditioned to expect and enjoy only the old favorites, means that smaller projects have a better chance at (modest) success.

  • Ah, so the Royal Ballet commissions a ballet for children, and recently also an opera for children (Coraline), because it's an "excuse" to present something new to a crowd that expects the old stuff? Jan 6, 2019 at 8:32
  • I don't know. I guess one could say that these are "lower risk" projects because the stories have already been made into movies with wide appeal.
    – Heather S.
    Jan 6, 2019 at 12:17

It's probably because there are just fewer ballet companies than there once were.

It's a lot like why there are fewer operas being written today. In a world of increasingly scarce arts funding, a composer would be writing a work that would require not only a concert hall, a conductor, and orchestra, but also a full dance troupe (or vocalists, for an opera), their own instructors, set designers, producers, and so on. And when you consider how few performance opportunities there would be for the work that they wrote, it's much smarter for them to take those months/years of work and write other pieces that have a much better shot at being performed.


It still is......You just have to look for it......Mainly of small independent dance companies.

  • 3
    Can you add some examples of smaller dance companies and the ballets they've commissioned?
    – Aaron
    Jul 26, 2020 at 0:31

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