Hierarchies in ballet companies
Posted 11 January 2002 - 03:21 PM
three for the NYCB, the ABT and the RDB (corps de ballet, soloist, principals), I don't know about Russian companies... At the Paris Opera, the promotions depend on the annual competition (except for the principals), while in other companies it is the choice of the artistic director.
So what are your thought about hierarchies? Do you think they are useful, or that they should be modified or abolished? Are they important for ballet companies in your opinion?
Posted 11 January 2002 - 05:07 PM
Nowadays, as you say, Estelle, at NYCB and ABT there are three dancer categories, and three different type sizes -- and the principals get their photos in the program.
I think this hierarchy is fine because it presumably gives the dancers something to strive for, the press department something to report when someone is promoted, and us something to talk about. Occasionally, I've been puzzled by a given dancer's remaining in the corps years after she or he merited promotion to soloist or principal. I'm thinking specifically of Delia Peters, a charming and totally individual dancer who never made soloist. And that was before Peter Martins.
Posted 11 January 2002 - 05:49 PM
There are always dancers who look as though they're about to be promoted and aren't. I've learned that sometimes it's because they are very good in a few roles, and we think we want to see them do everything -- but the direction knows their limitations.
The Royal Danish Ballet had only two ranks until 1992: solo dancer and ballet dancer. The star men got promoted very early, usually at 20, 21 or 22; 26 was considered a very late promotion. Women usually got promoted in their mid-twenties. There was another rank of First Solo Dancer, but it was only given five times in the company's history.
I think the hierarchy question is now part of the contemporary/classical question. If you're a small company of only 20 members, you probably aren't going to worry about titles. Can a company dance "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" without ranked dancers? (I mean grand-scale versions of those ballets, not mini ones.) I wonder. Does hierarchy create ballerinas?
One of my disappointments with much of the contemporary (not modern) dance that I see today is that the dancers are all so anonymous. When ABT did Kylian's "Sinfonietta" here a few years ago, I was shocked during the curtain calls when I realized who was dancing -- I hadn't checked the program, and I thought they were all corps. The stage was full of principals. They danced beautifully, but there was nothing in the ballet that let any one of them look like an individual.
After much pondering, I drew the conclusion that while the lack of hiearchy makes a company LOOK as though it's more democratic, it's not, in the sense of fostering individuality. A hierachy allows people to achieve individuality.
Posted 11 January 2002 - 07:36 PM
I alway liked hierarchies for ballet companies, but the democratic listing for modern companies. That may be a double standard, but considering the differences in the forms, it makes sense.
Posted 13 January 2002 - 06:57 PM
On the flip side, a ballet audience can be very uninformed...and mistake good stage presence/performing ability for greatness. (without fabulous techinique.)
Since I am probably being somewhat blasphemous, I would also like to say that there are, of course, dancers who would become famous no matter who are the judges. Fonteyn, Barishnykov, etc. And I beg Suzanne Farrell's pardon for the above comment. She is one of my favorite dancers, and I think fits under the aforesaid category.
Am I making any sense? I don't know if I got out what I am thinking...
Posted 29 January 2002 - 01:25 PM
The director of a company is not God. A director keenly aware of that Fact of Life, is likely to give everyone a chance.
It also means doing away with the notion of the Jack-of-all-Trades dancer, because no-one is ever really a star, really first-class, in every single role and style.
Jean Babilée said in a recent interview - and he was the star-to-end-all-stars at the Paris Opera after the War - that he had quit the Opera in his prime because "they kept on trying to make me dance stuff that I knew I was going to be hopeless at", or something to that effect.
What can be stifling about formal hierarchies, is that the Director inherits the whole teetering edifice, and feels duty-bound to cast people by rank.
To give one example: Miteki Kudo, the exquisite daughter of Noëlla Pontois, has stagnated at the rank just under premier danseur for several years. As a "mere" sujet, we are never going to see her Sylphide, her Aurora, her Giselle, although she could probably out-sylph them all. It is a terrible pity, and a terrible waste !
At Paris, until a slew of étoiles began to retire recently, one never got a chance to see "the underlings" do anything much but lift a bit of scenery on stage. The present Vacant Room at the Top has certainly improved things from that standpoint ! When people in the corps realise that they may well find themselves doing something sparky the next week, it changes the moral "tone" throughout the troupe.
Were I a Person of Power, I would, at least so far as Paris is concerned, abolish all those ranks. I'd also abolish the notorious Concours. It's no more fair, really, than the "old" system of favouritism: first, it amounts to Trial by Nervous Breakdown and second, it fosters extreme conformism. People are so focused on the Concours year-round, because their roles and salaries depend on it, that they avoid doing ANYTHING that might rock the boat.
Two ranks are enough: soloist, and corps. "Etoile" is a title that should not be bandied about. It is deserved only by people who have something unique to communicate, and who, ghastly as they may be in some roles, have a true, independent artistic personality. I'd doubt that more than two or three men and women per decade, have that quality in any theatre in Europe.
Posted 29 January 2002 - 01:43 PM
Posted 29 January 2002 - 04:09 PM
Posted 29 January 2002 - 04:27 PM
Posted 29 January 2002 - 05:26 PM
Emily Coates was another, but she left and has found great success with White Oak.
Posted 29 January 2002 - 05:36 PM
Some of the solists-who-remained-soloists are a tad upset, though. In the old system, they were at the highest rank (albeait the highest of only two ranks) for many years; now, some have been bumped down to plain-old 'Soloist' (below the new designations of 'Principal' and 'First Soloist')....Amosova is an example of one who went from the highest level to 'Soloist.' At least Tarassova & Zhelonkina are 'First Soloist.'
Principal (Ballerina & Premier Danseur)
Soloist (sometimes termed 'Second soloist')
Character Soloists .... now have their own category
Corps de Ballet
Bolshoi categories are the same.
This is one of several modernizing changes that have been instituted by the new Gergiev & Akimov regimes, at the Kirov & Bolshoi theaters, respectively. Jobs-by-contract is another.
[ January 29, 2002: Message edited by: Jeannie ]
Posted 29 January 2002 - 11:18 PM
Posted 30 January 2002 - 12:24 PM
Joseph Mazo's 1974 book, Dance is a Contact Sport, has a lot in it about Peters. At that time she'd been in the corps for ten years. I think she remained in it for ten more. Mazo portrays her as someone who had a life outside the theater and whose friends mostly had nothing to do with ballet. "She is a dancer, not A DANCER," is how he puts it. Whether or not this was the case, it's a fact that for many of those years she was in the corps, she was also going to college, and then to Fordham Law School across the street from Lincoln Center. She did become a lawyer, and after she'd left the company and joined a law firm, she could sometimes be seen on the promenade in the company of men in pinstripe suits.
Posted 30 January 2002 - 12:52 PM
Posted 01 February 2002 - 03:19 AM
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