Ballet-movies are either filmed versions of live performances or actual films made with the essential content and steps of the original ballet, with some cinematic techniques to enhance it just as with other movies.
The great Cyd Charisse, one of MGM’s great ballet-dancers in movies, as here in Silk Stockings from 1957. Her greatest movie appearances are probably in Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon. Singin’ in the Rain is always at the top of ‘Greatest Musical Films’ and it is known worldwide, as can be seen here:
Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds in the poster for the film:
But there are ballets in other films and theatrical works such as musical comedies. Some of the most famous of these are the dream-ballets in such musicals as Oklahoma! and Carousel. The opening to the film of Broadway’s West Side Story is ballet for the New York street gangs by the choreographer Jerome Robbins. Here are some of the ‘Jets’, the gang opposing the sharks, dancing on the old streets of the Upper West Side in the film version of West Side Story.
Ballet-movies can therefore be defined loosely or more rigorously. In the looser definition, films which contain ballet sections are found inside a movie which uses the ballet and its music as part of the story. A film that includes ballet is in a context greater than ballet, since the rest of the film is either spoken or sung, as with musicals. A tightly-defined ballet-movie is only the ballet, such as dozens of Swan Lake movies or filmed performances, Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadere, and performances of one-act ballets of Balanchine and others. These can have very straightforward performances, as all of those on Choreography by Balanchine, which are essentially the same as a stage performance but with some close-ups and no audience as in the theater. These can be found online in complete sets on dvd and vhs as, for example, eBay in either vhs or dvd, but often it is possible to purchase parts of the complete set of this Balanchine collection.
Vocal scores of the most famous musicals as well as piano-reductions of full-length ballets like Swan Lake are also available online for those who want to become more intimate with the music. I had the vocal score of West Side Story as a young teen.
It is usually the largest world companies that have films of their ballets. These include the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet. Regional ballets have begun to branch out more into filming their ballets.
Although you can find some full-length ballets on YouTube, the quality is never as good as that in a theater (very rare by now), videotape, dvd, or television program.‘Swan Lake’ pas de deux danced by members of the Kirov Ballet, St. Petersburg.
YouTube is useful for a kind of ‘shopping’ for a certain ballet, such as Sleeping Beauty or Romeo and Juliet, so that you can know what ballet-movies you want to purchase to see at their best.
It requires some knowledge of dance companies and dancers to be 100% sure you get exactly what you would most like, but with you will not go wrong with looking for those performances by the big world companies while you get more knowledge about the art. Since these filmed performances are mostly very inexpensive, you can even get one that you don’t think is ideal, and then try another. This happens with everybody. You can learn from the reviews of purchasers, although it is usually better to research well-known media, such as The New York Times, Dance Magazine, and The New Yorker, for example, where there are experts to help guide you.
Movies which contain ballet but are not wholly ballet-movies you can find just like any other movie, although there are so many of the older ones that contain ballet, that it is important to do a full search if that is the main interest. A more popularized ballet was used in American movies as far back as the late 20s, but now more famous are such works as Agnes de Mille’s choreography for Oklahoma!: