As for hierarchy, the late medieval and Renassaince images of Heaven say a great deal:
I guess this was passsed on to ballet through the courts, especially that of Louis XIV. Monarchy worked very hard to absorb the "sacred" into its rituals.
Hierarchy has been based on so many qualities, and larger ballet companies seem to have absorbed many of them:
-- Ranking systems for dancers (based on ability, seniority, or influence).
The multi-level organizational structure in Paris and St. Petersburg was nearly as elaborate as the hierarchy of angels (each with its own function) in the middle ages.
-- Rank defining one's status and function
: Higher status was given to the pas de deux than to the character dance. Principals are given more time on stage than are demi-soloists or members of the corps.
But back to Kathleen's point
about that hierarchy is directly related to what is expressed in a ballet, and how the story is conveyed. One way of approaching this is through the music.
Something directly connected to ballet as performing art form is the way that choreography inevitable reflects the structure of the music.
I don't know much about music history, but it seems to me that most serious music up through the first half of the 20th century put a high value on structure and order. Balanchine was particularly fond of highly organized music.
One element of "hierarchy" is an emphasis on distinctions. Structure AND distinctions. This is reflected, in music, in separation between (for example) the various kinds of andante and allegro, each often getting its own section of the piece. Think of the rather traditional narrative plan of Symphony in Three Movements
: (1) Allegro,speed and tension; (2) Andante, a time to rest; (3) Con Moto: back to the tension of the first movement, but more so. Each section calls on different sets of qualites from the dancers. The finale brings it all together: distinction resolves itself into a kind of community.
, with its structure of Prologue, with 3 themes, quite short, for demi-solists and four variations -- longer and each quite different, for higher-ranked dancers -- and then the finale to the final variation, drawing in everyone back (as in the Stravinsky) into the piece's own form of communal exp
Classical structure allows for closing with a bang. It almost always leaves us, as the curtain falls, with a vivid image of the stage full of dancers. This image almost always involves the highest ranking dancers at the center with the lower ranking dancers gathered round. As an image, it provides resolution and closure.
It's hard to imagine a classical or neoclassical choreography working as successfully with the structure-less structure we find in many contemporary composers. I enjoy listening to the music of Reich, Part, Glass, et al
. , but can't imagine what Balanchine would have made of them.
Edited to add
: Sealings has just posted, on another thread, a link to Vishneva dancing to Pierre Lunaire
I'd add that to the list in the paragraph above. I love this piece and know it well ... but it could never be a platform for classical/neoclassical ballet. (As Ratmansky, the choreographer, has been wise to understand.)