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Dancing in the corpsHow long?


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#1 Tymps

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Posted 27 February 2008 - 12:04 PM

I've been wondering something. Why is it that some dancers are promoted into the corps and stay there for years and years while others spend about 20 minutes in the corps before they're promoted to soloist?

Does the (enter the job title of whoever promotes ballet dancers) feel that some dancers aren't suited to be soloists, so they stay in the corps until they leave or get fired? Do dancers choose to stay in the corps ("Yeah, thanks for thinking of me, but I kinda like dancing in the back. Why don't you promote her over there?")? Is it due to the fact that some dancers have the talent to get promoted to soloist quickly, while others need years of performing experience first?

The same thing happens with soloists. Some are promoted to principal the same year they become soloists, others have to wait a few years.

I just feel like if I were a 6-year corps member, I wouldn't be jeteing for joy if some apprentice was brought into the corps and then bumped up to soloist 6 months later.

I don't have anything against people who stay in the corps for a very short time, or a long time, I just think it's odd that there's such a difference in the time spent.

#2 Farrell Fan

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 10:46 AM

This is something I've wondered about, too. Years ago on the crosstown bus to Lincoln Center, my wife asked the question of Delia Peters, a wonderful dancer who spent her entire long and memorable career in the NYCB corps. After thinking about it for a while, Delia shrugged eloquently and said "I dunno." Perhaps others have some thoughts.

#3 Cygnet

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 11:11 AM

I've been wondering something. Why is it that some dancers are promoted into the corps and stay there for years and years while others spend about 20 minutes in the corps before they're promoted to soloist?

Does the (enter the job title of whoever promotes ballet dancers) feel that some dancers aren't suited to be soloists, so they stay in the corps until they leave or get fired? Do dancers choose to stay in the corps ("Yeah, thanks for thinking of me, but I kinda like dancing in the back. Why don't you promote her over there?")? Is it due to the fact that some dancers have the talent to get promoted to soloist quickly, while others need years of performing experience first?

The same thing happens with soloists. Some are promoted to principal the same year they become soloists, others have to wait a few years.

I just feel like if I were a 6-year corps member, I wouldn't be jeteing for joy if some apprentice was brought into the corps and then bumped up to soloist 6 months later.

I don't have anything against people who stay in the corps for a very short time, or a long time, I just think it's odd that there's such a difference in the time spent.


There are many factors that can determine the career timeline and trajectory of a corps member or soloist, and yes (in some cases) Principal Dancers. Some of these factors are: Talent, attitude and temperament of the dancer; the Artistic Director; choreographers (resident and/or guests); company repetiteurs/coaches; the management's policies; the company's
annual budget; audience favorites; Artistic Director's favorites; individual patrons/lobbyists, and prayers.

#4 SanderO

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 11:22 AM

It seems like a ballet company has a pyramid like structure: large corps, fewer soloists and the fewest principals. The presumption is that a dancer wants to move up the pyramid, and in a sense they seem to HAVE to move up the pyramid, unless they move horizontally from another company where they had an "elevated" status. But I suppose some dancers enjoy being a corps member with fewer demands. But how DO they get noticed for advancement?

I suppose not all dancers are suited to be principals for any number of reasons, skill, body type, and "personality" and having to find room at the next level if they are advanced. And then you also have to consider that the corps too much be filled. Corps work can be very demanding without the virtuosity we see in lead and solo roles. I would think that the corps is a physically safer place to be. No?

Opera doesn't seem to work the same. Singers seem to suddenly appear cast in supporting rolls and then perhaps move into principal roles as there doesn't seem to be the corresponding "corps".

#5 Ostrich

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 11:32 AM

"Yeah, thanks for thinking of me, but I kinda like dancing in the back. Why don't you promote her over there?"

:thumbsup:

A few reasons I can think of for the non-promotion of dancers from the corps would be:

1. No reason at all. Bad luck/oversight.
2. Adequate technique for corps work, but no further potential/development.
3. "Early bloomer" - shows lots of promise as a student but slacks off once accepted into a company.
4. Reaches emotional or technical plateau. I have often wondered about Ekaterina Shipulina of the Bolshoi. She seems a magnificent dancer - I am quite unable to take my eyes off her in some roles (lilac fairy, queen of the dryads), but her progress up the ranks looks like it has stopped at first soloist.
5. Emotionally too highly strung to cope with solo/principal roles (seriously, I have seen this happen to students, at any rate, more often than one would think. Lovely in class, or in a group, but put them on stage alone and they fall apart).

#6 Helene

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 10:59 AM

Some times it's money, or factors driven by money. Francia Russell often spoke about how she'd have liked to promote deserving people, but didn't have the budget. Peter Boal mentioned this in Q&A's his first year. PNB has had, for a number of years, a relatively small number of soloists compared to principal dancers and corps. PNB is more like an hour glass than a pyramid.

As a result, if you don't have additional money for promotions (or principal dancers leaving, freeing up budget), you get a glut of deserving dancers in the corps or, in some companies, soloist ranks. Then an artistic director has a dilemma, especially in medium sized companies, because morale would go sideways if only some got their due, when the promoted were among a larger group of corps dancers who were cast often in soloist roles and excelled in them. Every time I hear "there will be two promotions" I get a knot in my stomach, because, in a moment, I can think of six dancers for whom promotion would be justified.

More recently, in several Q&As, Peter Boal has said that he couldn't move all of the deserving corps members to soloist even if he had the money, because then he'd have no corps for the larger ballets. Instead, he casts them prominently in soloist and sometimes principal roles. The "democratic" tendencies of contemporary and modern dance roles that he's programmed more extensively give a lot more prominence to corps dancers and soloists than ballets that are more hierarchical.

At Ballet Arizona, there are two major ballerinas -- Paola Hartley and Natalia Magnicaballi -- and recently, the young Ginger Smith who are cast as the leads in the full-lengths and "La Sylphide." Among the men, Astrit Zejnati is the major male dancer, has been cast as the male lead, sometimes sharing with one of the younger men, a few years ago Michael Cooke, and recently Ross Clarke. Although all of these ballets have other featured roles, a work like "Nine Sinatra Songs," which the Company will perform in an upcoming triple bill, provides fairly equal featured roles to many more dancers. The Balanchine triple bill, the last program of the season, does the same across an entire program. Two artistic directors with different emphasis on how to solve the problem of giving corps dancers challenges that outweigh rank.

There's the hierarchy on the program -- although Ballet Arizona, for example, doesn't have any ranking on the program -- there's money, and there are roles. Balanchine has been quoted by a number of dancers saying that the raise is more important than the rank. There were always a number of soloists at NYCB who were in Soloist Oblivion -- they had the rank, but attending three-four times a week, even when the principal ranks were decimated by injury or exhausted towards the end of the Spring Season, you could barely find them. Soloist was a tricky spot at NYCB, unless it was a resting ground for a quick trip to Principal.

#7 SandyMcKean

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 11:20 AM

One factor that's been implied in this discussion but not singled out, is just plain old ambition. I find it hard to believe that a ballet company is all that different compared to other enterprises that pursue the production of a quality product. Some people are content to remain "comfortable", others push their "bosses" to notice them, to give them opportunities, and yes, some even indulge in competitive "one ups manship".

I feel this instinctively every time I sit a Q&A session at PNB. Some dancers seem to relish being in the limelight, sitting on a stool next to the artistic director, holding a microphone in their hands, looking out onto a sea of hundreds of fans, other dancers seem to want to crawl into a hole. I believe I can find a pattern there where the more "outgoing" and engaged dancers I see at these Q&A's are also the ones that seem to get promoted the fastest. I don't think this observation is a coincidence.

#8 printscess

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 12:10 PM

But I suppose some dancers enjoy being a corps member with fewer demands.

In many companies, a member of the corps is dancing much more than a soloist or principal. In many ballets for example you may need 10 corps members, 2 soloists and 2 principals. Due to last minute injuries or scheduling conflicts, there are 2 or 3 casts to a ballet, so 30 corp members need to learn the rolls. May corps members learn soloist and principal roles in the same ballet. IMHO, the demands are greater on a corps member.

#9 Helene

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 12:59 PM

I remember reading a quote from one of the long-time NYCB corps men -- I think it was Peter Naumann -- who said for him it was comparitively easy, going to work every day to dance, while his wife had to care of the kids and run the household. (Whoever it was had four.)

It must be an odd phenomenon, though, in such a young profession, to watch a 20-year-old phenom shoot through the ranks, someone who hadn't been born when you entered a company. I don't see nearly as much of that in business, even in high tech, even if half of my co-workers were born after I finished graduate school :)

#10 Ray

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 01:42 PM

One factor that's been implied in this discussion but not singled out, is just plain old ambition. I find it hard to believe that a ballet company is all that different compared to other enterprises that pursue the production of a quality product. Some people are content to remain "comfortable", others push their "bosses" to notice them, to give them opportunities, and yes, some even indulge in competitive "one ups manship".

True enough about ambition, but I wonder if the idea that dancers can move up through the ranks is a distinctly American phenomenon. And why assume that staying in the corps is tantamount to remaining comfortable? In important ways ballet is not like a business--I think the lowliest corps member has more responsibility and than a low-level administrator or clerk in a business.

I feel this instinctively every time I sit a Q&A session at PNB. Some dancers seem to relish being in the limelight, sitting on a stool next to the artistic director, holding a microphone in their hands, looking out onto a sea of hundreds of fans, other dancers seem to want to crawl into a hole. I believe I can find a pattern there where the more "outgoing" and engaged dancers I see at these Q7A's are also the ones that seem to get promoted the fastest. I don't think this observation is a coincidence.


Well, some of those loud voices are less articulate and thoughtful than others, despite their "relish." And some stars are painfully shy.

#11 SandyMcKean

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 02:46 PM

Ray, you are taking me far too literally; plus you are adding a judgment angle to my observations that I didn't intend, nor do I believe such a judgment is warrented.

I did not say that ambition is the only factor that determines promotion; but I am only saying that I believe it to be a factor. I'm not sure what you mean by "comfortable", but what I meant was that some dancers seem perfectly content to remain in the corps. I have little doubt that there are comforts in staying out of the spotlight, in not having to live up to the expectations of others (especially unreasonable expectations), in not being as competitive as others, in not having critics tear you apart. And furthermore you totally misinterpret my comments about those dancers who are outgoing in public. I am talking about "who they be" not about loudness or shyness. Qualities like commitment, ambition to be the best, and leadership are far more subtle than the simple parameters you seem place on them.

You cast a negative light on these distinctions as if you yourself have been a victim of ambitious people. That is certainly not where I was coming form.

#12 Ray

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 08:22 PM

Ray, you are taking me far too literally; plus you are adding a judgment angle to my observations that I didn't intend, nor do I believe such a judgment is warrented.

I did not say that ambition is the only factor that determines promotion; but I am only saying that I believe it to be a factor. I'm not sure what you mean by "comfortable", but what I meant was that some dancers seem perfectly content to remain in the corps. I have little doubt that there are comforts in staying out of the spotlight, in not having to live up to the expectations of others (especially unreasonable expectations), in not being as competitive as others, in not having critics tear you apart. And furthermore you totally misinterpret my comments about those dancers who are outgoing in public. I am talking about "who they be" not about loudness or shyness. Qualities like commitment, ambition to be the best, and leadership are far more subtle than the simple parameters you seem place on them.

You cast a negative light on these distinctions as if you yourself have been a victim of ambitious people. That is certainly not where I was coming form.


Sorry, I did mean to add that your comments on ambition were suggestive for discussion, not that you were "promoting" ambition in any absolute sense. And I really am interested in the American-ness of ambition w/in ballet companies. And as for "comfort," I was responding to your use of the word--again, as a suggestive jumping-off point for further commentary by all, not as something that you, as you accurately put it, are using in some kind of judgmental way.

While I haven't myself been the "victim" of ambitious people, I guess I've been around enough of them to be a wee bit cynical when they speak in public. This does not only apply to dancers, natch! As I get older, the human costs of ambition often just look less worth it than they did to me when I was younger.

#13 Helene

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 10:26 AM

... but I wonder if the idea that dancers can move up through the ranks is a distinctly American phenomenon.

Dancers in US companies have very short contracts, and they must prove themselves useful year after year. A dancer who has been in the corps for 10-20 years can be replaced easily by a younger, more eager, cheaper dancer. If no dancers make their way from the school, for those companies that have them, then going to the pre-professional program looks like a dead-end, unless it feeds into equally prestigious companies.

That isn't -- or at least wasn't -- true of the Royal and state-sponsored companies in Europe, where being a dancer was akin being a civil servant, with pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment while still healthy, and a guaranteed end date. In Soviet times, being a member of a company, whether principal or corps, meant prestige and perks for the dancer and the dancer's family, and being in the corps was a prize. While thwarted ambition and politics is demoralizing in any environment, it's a different experience to know that a job is guaranteed versus having to prove oneself repeatedly, waiting for the contract talk, especially when there is new artistic direction.

#14 canbelto

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Posted 01 March 2008 - 12:03 PM

I think it also depends on the size of the company. A very large company, like the Bolshoi, needs a very large corps de ballet for its big productions. In those companies, I think it's much easier to get overlooked and spend a good amount of time in the corps de ballet.

#15 Figurante

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Posted 06 March 2008 - 05:11 PM

This subject can basically be applied to any rank in a company. Promotions aren't just based on talent. Age is a determining factor, as well as sponsors for specific dancers, financial stability in the company, the dancer's work ethic/attitude, seniority, and how well the dancer's respond to given opportunity, among other things. I know in a few companies, corps de ballet members will get promoted to soloist after serving seven years. Corps de ballet members can also be promoted to say, 5th year corps. This would go unnoticed to everyone because their actual rank hasn't changed, but their salary has.
Slightly off-topic....
This subject is also being applied to second company/trainee members, apprentices and new dancers in many companies. For some dancer's it takes up to five years before you even get INTO first year corps de ballet. A lot of companies are now making dancer's who are under contract beneath the rank of corps de ballet complete two years of each rank before reaching corps de ballet. It makes me wonder about the integrity of the companies in the respect of cheap labor/saving money. In most companies like this, second company members/trainees, apprentices, and new dancers are used as full corps de ballet members in all productions for a total of five years. Why such a lengthly term of servitude?! In personal experience, I don't think age is the number one reason. Some companies even have 25-27 year old apprentices! It's hard in situations like this to wonder where your career may be going. Especially since the dancer's career lifespan ends somewhere close to 35/40.


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