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A fantastic corps?


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#1 Diana L

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 05:09 PM

On another thread someone commented on young kids always wanting to get into NYCB. I recently had a conversation with a 12 year old who is going to SAB for a summer session and her ideal also is NYCB.
I suppose I'm playing devil's advocate because I don't think NYCB's corps is all that fantastic. I believe ABT is the company of "stars" but there corps dancers seem to know their positions whereas at City Ballet I feel as though I'm watching a competition sometimes to see who can get noticed with their leg up higher.
My question is what makes a corps great and who's got one that is now? :confused:

#2 Juliet

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 06:17 PM

I refrained from commenting on this in the earlier thread, because it was not part of the discussion per se.

I don't think people (especially 12 year olds) necessarily want to train at SAB and join/be exposed to NYCB because they think the "corps is all that fantastic." They may like the repertory, the training, the milieu....there are as myriad reasons as there are dancers. I have never heard one student at SAB or elsewhere mention the excellence/lack of excellence of the company's corps as a reason for their wanting to receive training there.

I don't necessarily think that any one school in the US is an ideal training ground for ballet corps work. It is not part of the American balletic tradition as it is at say, the Royal, Bolshoi, or Kirov. Years ago I used to look to ABT and admire the coaching and beautiful musicality of all those dancers.....now, dancers join companies from schools all over the world and it requires a good deal of rehearsal time and coaching to achieve this look.....perhaps it is not possible with such a variety of dancers' training and the current lack of rehearsal time.

Kirov and Royal Ballet remain my very favourites to watch for beautiful corps de ballet work--it was a wonderful treat to see this weekend here in Washington, and we look forward to the return of the Kirov and Bolshoi as well.

#3 Terry

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 06:36 PM

I think a major part of "what makes a good corps" is from the ballet company's school training. Nevertheless, IMO, I think NYCB's corps isn't really a great corps (neither is ABT's). They all seem to have great technique, I often find the dancers to be sloppy and unclean. But who says that the corps need to be "clean" and "precise"? Perhaps, the heart of the question is, what IS a corps de ballet? :) The best corps at the moment, IMO is the POB. The standard is so high that you don't see any individuals really stick out, unless they dance individually. Another amazing quality of the POB corps are the men. IMO, the RB, the ABT, etc., have a few nice men, but the standard varies greatly amongst a few of the dancers that the dancers don't seem to come together. The women may look fine in these corps, but I'm always disappointed not with the women, but mostly with the men when I see these companies.

One of the most important elements I always look for in a corps is "uniformity." Even if there is one spectacular dancer in the corps, if she/he looks as if she/he is trying so desperately to "stick-out," I find the dancer less attractive. I think this "corps" issue is a difficult problem b/c uniformity in the corps could mean that there is less of a unique personality for each of the dancers. If the corps is meant to possess the uniformity, the precision, and a refined quality of dancing, then perhaps a dancer's originality may happen to be sacrificed, as I see with some of the POB dancers. I think some of the SAB students and students of other schools should be able to have more opportunities to watch (on-live) other companies abroad. Perhaps the problem of idolization is coming from the fact that they only often see their home companies and fail to see many others. Or perhaps it is the Balanchine style which makes it easier for the soloists/principals to be more impressive than the corps -- I really don't know. I'm sorry if I'm making a bold statement, but I'm also curious to know how others view this issue.

[ 06-12-2001: Message edited by: Terry ]

#4 samba38

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 11:05 AM

You're exactly right that no 12-year-old dreams of the NYCB corps because they all imagine they will some day be S.Farrell reincarnate. The problem is that the American corps work -- a gaggle of individualists trying to break out - is often all they see. I think this sacrifices an important lesson that all the dancers are there to serve the whole. Somehow stars do emerge in the Royal and the POB but it's because they have the full range, superb control and discipline to deliver on the smallest detail as well as the showiest solo. They know they are there in service to the music and choreography, not just to their own glory.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 11:18 AM

Just curious, but I'm wondering if one of the differences is that children at the schools in Paris and St. Petersburg are given constant feedback as to where they are in the pecking order, and what their career potential is. I think by the time they graduate, they know they're on star track, or will have a chance at character roles when they're 35, if they hang in there, or are going to grace the Lake for life. But Americans -- corps is not in our makeup. We're all going to be stars. (Also, NYCB corps was never a corps in the way POB and the Kirov -- and the Royal, once -- was, but 99% of its core repertory uses a small group of dancers, almost demisoloists. Probably for the reasons discussed here and above.)

#6 mbjerk

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 11:59 AM

Do not forget that perhaps Balanchine enjoyed a "messy" corps of individuals versus a "clean" corps of dancers. I remember seeing ABT and NYCB do Theme and Variations in the same day (isn't NY wonderful!). ABT was wonderful as a "classical" corps de ballet - musical, technical and together. NYCB was musical and technically proficient, but not one body position exactly matched the next. The energy was fantastic though. When I spoke with friends from both companies at Maggie's the next day, it seemed each corps correctly danced per its artistic instruction from above.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 12:21 PM

I think in the great corps, there's individuality as well as uniformity. I don't have a photo handy of the Kirov corps, but we have one of the Paris Opera Ballet corps on the main site (a press photo from "Swan Lake.")
[url="http://"http://www.balletalert.com/ballets/Petipa/Swan%20Lake/swanlake.htm"]http://www.balletalert.com/ballets/Petipa/...ke/swanlake.htm[/url]

When I first looked at it, I thought, "How beautiful, they're all alike." Then I looked at each dancer, and saw there were subtle differences (not just in bodies and personalities, but in the way the hands were held, etc.) I think in a company with a School (not the building), in one where the dancers are used to dancing together, this is what happens. (And I agree with Michael. I've always thought/read/heard that Balanchine liked a messy corps -- or at least hated corps that were so uniform that the dances looked like robots.)

[ 06-13-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

[ 06-13-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#8 ~A.C~

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 03:53 PM

The main reason that American company corps aren't very ideal for most is because the corps is seen as "background" for he pricipals. A sort of heirarchy develops. Dancers in a corps want only to break out of that and become a pricipal solo artist. Little attention is ever given to these dancers' precision, these days.

For a 12-year-old, the NYCB may seem like the perfect haven of dance now, but somewhere down the line, she will discover the truth about taking part in such a group. She only wanted to become part of it because she wants to get above it.

[ 06-13-2001: Message edited by: ~A.C~ ]

#9 mbjerk

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 05:53 PM

Of course in the old days, the corps was seen as the learning ground. As Alexandra said of Fille -"it looked like they grew up knowing the ballet" (I paraphrase). One learned the style and discipline of the ballet in the corps and if worthy then danced the soloist and principal parts later according to talent/ability. This stopped at ABT with Misha, who brought immediate stardom to younger members.

Unfortunately here in the US we do not have a large gene pool from which to select our ballet students, more like first come first serve. And we are a very individualistic, me first society. These combine to create a feeling that the corps is a waste of time or a no woman's land.

#10 Diana L

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 09:08 PM

I always wondered if the transition from corps (dancing every night, no pressure) to soloist (not being cast as often but you're not a principal yet) was hard. As a principal it seems as though they have to carry the company.

#11 felursus

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Posted 14 June 2001 - 02:38 AM

To answer Diana's point first: a soloist may be required to perform in the corps, as a soloist or take on a principal role. As a result, the soloist may have a HARDER time and may be required to dance even more. This was a comment made to me by Angel Corella on the day he heard he had been promoted to principal. He was in the middle of a run of evenings of multiple ballets and was in the corps for one, was a soloist in another and a lead in a third. It gets tiring and makes a dancer at risk for injury. Corella said that he mostly felt relief at his promotion because he couldn't be required to dance in the corps any longer.

In terms of what makes a good corps de ballet, I think it has to do with good training in the same style (thus companies whose graduates tend to have come from the same school have a leg up), where they are well-rehearsed and not driven to the point of exhaustion all the time, and where they have developed a good feeling for each other - enabling them to almost breathe as one.

The Royal Ballet girls had that quality in the late 60s. At that time I would say they could do the vision scene from Bayadere better than the Kirov ever did. By the mid 70s they had lost that quality. I had the impression that during the McMillan era more emphasis was placed on the men and as a result the women suffered somewhat.

I think the problem with many US companies is that the corps members have all been trained differently and come from a wider range of ethnic backgrounds than in Britain or France or Russia. The NYCB corps is made up of girls who all want to stand out and be noticed. They aren't really "corps oriented." I think the same holds true for ABT. I don't mean to imply that people in the POB or the RB don't want to be noticed and get promoted, but they probably get more "brownie points" for being good members of the corps. Here, if you stick out because you're good - better than the rest - you get promoted. In some places they might not get rewarded for sticking out too much - it would imply that they aren't doing their job properly.

#12 Manhattnik

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Posted 14 June 2001 - 09:38 AM

The corps that impressed me the most in recent memory was the Bolshoi's, when they did Kingdom of the Shades at the State Theater, and then a bang-up Symphony in C. I still get chills down my spine remembering how they did the big ecarte in Shades as one.

As far as NYCB's corps, well, it's a different animal altogether, as is NYCB, and while the corps must certainly fall short if measured by the standards one would use for a Bolshoi, POB or Kirov corps, that really isn't the point.

First of all, said corps would crumble to dust if faced with the kind of rehearsal/workload/learning curve demanded of the City Ballet corps.

Moreover, I agree with Michael. Under Balanchine (during my time in the audience), NYCB's corps was magnificently sloppy, and charged with a kind of almost-neurotic energy that I've never seen elsewhere, and that marked it as very much a New York City institution.

In City Ballet, we don't have the single, organic animal of a corps that we have in some of the above-mentioned companies, but we do have a collection of individuals. It's hard for me to bemoan the lack of uniformity in the corps when I know about half of the dancers by site, and when I've seen, over and over again, how quickly and professionally they pull themselves together even when it's clear their dress rehearsal is often the first night of a revival.

Comparing what's been gained with what's been lost, I'm more than happy with City Ballet's corps right now. If I want to see the Kirov's corps, well, I can always get a video out of the library. Or wait until Universal Ballet gets here in August....

To clarify -- if you look at NYCB's corps with an eye for only the same qualities that distinguish the world's other great corps, you'll not only be disappointed, you'll miss the particular qualities that make NYCB's corps, to my eye, equally great, albeit different.

[ 06-14-2001: Message edited by: Manhattnik ]

#13 Yvonne

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Posted 14 June 2001 - 09:38 AM

All of this interesting talk about the "corps" makes me think over and over about Toni Bently's book "Winter Season", (which I'm sure most of you have read)....

To me it's a great example of a good dancer who (for whatever reason), never made it out of the corps. So then, she is faced with the question...do I stay or I do I go now?? Does she stay and accept the fact that for her, the corps will be it - can one learn to be content with that and dance just for the dances' sake - or does it have to be ALL or NOTHING??

I think often in America, it is drummed into our heads from an early age, that in the pursuit of one's dreams...,it always has to be "all or nothing". Perhaps the quality of a corps might be improved if one looked at it as a position to take pride in (after all, how many aspiring dancers even make it into the corps of a major ballet company) - to learn and grown into roles - to serve the dance. Instead of a place where one is only concerned with how they are going to be "noticed" and move up and on as quickly as possible!

Can any dancer truly accept (after a period of time), that for them it will always be the corps - and be satisfied with it? Who knows....I certainly don't! :)

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 14 June 2001 - 11:33 AM

I think there are dozens of Toni Bentley's in dozens of corps all over the world. Back in the Ballet Russe days, there really wasn't a corps in the sense that we think of it today. They did "Swan Lake" 2nd act and "Les Sylphides," but the other, character ballets had roles for everyone and someone in the corps would have a dozen small parts. The Royal under Ashton seemed to accommodate both. Reading the roster of Ashton's last season, one sees a list of names, nearly all of whom became more familiar later as soloists or principals. It seems the corps was more of a training ground, than a job in and of itself, which it is in other countries. I think NYCB is, and was, like that (training ground).

I have to say, remembering that there are people from many countries who read this board, that the notion that other corps would "crumble to dust" if faced with the challenges that NYCB faces does not take into account the very different aesthetics that rule elsewhere. Not every company thinks that it's noble in and of itself to throw dancers onto the stage unrehearsed, and to schedule more ballets in the repertory than it can possibly rehearse, and the notion that this is absolutely better than anybody else anywhere ever is something we Americans certainly wouldn't tolerate it if we had to hear it, constantly, from Russians or Parisians. I'll always argue that quantity is not, in and of itself, "better" than quality, and NYCB might well crumble to dust if faced with dancing the repertory of other companies -- and having to dance them in that style, not just do the steps. They couldn't do "La Bayadere" or "Folk Tale," to name two, and I wouldn't want to see them in Ashton's "La Fille mal gardee, either." This doesn't mean it's not a great company, but .... Company partisanship is fine, but I really do think it needs to be placed into context.

#15 liebs

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Posted 14 June 2001 - 12:00 PM

Your point is well taken Alexandra. I think it is possible to love different companies and different corp de ballet for many reasons. I can adore the extravagant energy and individuality of NYCB and love the purity of the Russian companies as well. For me, it will never be either or.


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