Help a Newbie appreciate the Corps de Ballet...
Posted 03 February 2010 - 04:10 PM
Posted 03 February 2010 - 08:03 PM
What is the role of the corps? In story ballets, it might seem evident: the Wilis in "Giselle" are ghost maidens, girls who die unmarried and dance in the forest at night; the "swans" are really maidens (they're only swans by day, and we're seeing them at night), friends of Odette, enchanted with her. Sometimes they dance beautiful patterns that are lovely to look at (and go with the music), sometimes they are part of the story (the Wilis like to dance men to death; more subtly, the swans are happy after the Prince swears his love to Odette). Ini Spartacus, the men are an army. In a Balanchine ballet, the corps may be part of the ballet's architecture. In any ballet, the corps sometimes echoes the ballerina, sometimes dances phrases before she does, to prepare your eye (the way an overture prepares your ear for the score).
At its best, a corps should show the company's style. It's more than just dancing the same steps at the same time (although that often helps!). It shows the look of a company, what bodies are considered beautiful by that particular aesthetic, as well as technical things -- how the arms and fingers are held are different from company to company, the way the pointes are used.
There's lots more, but that's a start.
Posted 03 February 2010 - 08:27 PM
Posted 04 February 2010 - 07:07 PM
Posted 04 February 2010 - 07:37 PM
I'd say the next time you see a ballet or think about a ballet you have seen, try to picture it without the corps. Think about how different it would have looked. Even if you look at the corps as back up singers (which is not what they always are), think about how a recording would sound without that element.
Just a suggestion.
Posted 04 February 2010 - 10:10 PM
It also defines the stage space. Approximately two-thirds through the White Swan pas, the swans make a diagonal line across the stage, drastically reducing the stage space and making the pas that much more intimate. You'll see a lot of semi-circles and three-sided boxes framing the action in Petipa, and they sometimes expand and contract (even by as little as the dancers' changing weight from their inside legs to their outside legs). I really like watching the kaleidescopic movements of the floor patterns -- why I rarely choose to view ballet from orchestra level.
The corps' choreography often complements the principals' choreography and brings the principals' choreography into sharper relief. Towards the end of the "I Got Rhythm" section (the finale) of Balanchine's Who Cares?, the women all crouch as the men do a double air turn. This not only makes the five men in the second row -- the soloist guys -- easier to see, it also emphasizes the height of their jumps.
There's lots to look for in the corps de ballet -- including potential up-and-comers . I hope you enjoy.
Posted 05 February 2010 - 12:59 PM
You should take a look at the descent of the shades in Bayadere. The POB version is stunning! you will soon appreciate the role of the corps! so many dancers moving as one and creating the effect of being a living kaleidoscope is something that would touch everyone's heart! the magic of romantic ballets is more in the corps,rather than in solos! What would Giselle be without all the Willis?what would Swan Lake be without all the swans?what would Donqui be without the whole corps dancing spanish-like or without the Dryads?Then you also have to realize that the corps does a very tough job of trying and moving as one,sometimes withoutgetting attention because they are just on the back of Pas de Deux and Solos. It means you have to trust the others,you have to listen and constantly look and follow the others,you have to adapt to the average of the corps when it comes to positions,arms and legs. You have to disappear in the name of the group. Believe me,it requires a harder job than dancing your variation alone,doing what you want and getting much applause because you stick out more!
Posted 06 February 2010 - 10:55 AM
Even standing still, the corps can take your breath away -- Think about the curtain going up on "Symphony in C" or "Serenade." I know a woman who became a major benefactor of the ballet, upon seeing one of those moments for the first time. Go to as many ballets as you can, iczerman, and, sooner or later, one of those magic moments will be yours.
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