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corps dancers we love as if they were stars


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#91 Helene

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 11:36 AM

The original poster argued that the choreography for the corps in Balanchine's work makes it that much easier for dancers to be recognized individually. Balanchine wasn't that interested in unison -- for the Mariinsky, corps unison is one of the goals -- and, on the whole, is a lot more dynamic than in the "after Petipa" choreography that Mariinsky dances most of the time. At NYCB, a senior corps role is "Concerto Barocco," the corps-only "Le Tombeau de Couperin," or Act II Divertissement couple in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," all of which demand and energy and dynamics that "Kingdom of the Shades," Wilis, and the white acts of "Swan Lake" don't; their virtues are different.

I've always found that, despite the unison, my eye is drawn to specific dancers in the Bolshoi, Mariinsky, and Paris Opera Ballet corps, even if I don't know who the dancers are.

I don't know what the contract structure is for the Mariinsky or Bolshoi these days, but once in POB or RDB, it's essentially a guaranteed contract until mandatory retirement age, and for the vast majority of dancers in the companies, they will remain corps for their entire career. At NYCB, there is a year-to-year contract, and the average career of a corps dancers is quite short. (There's economic incentive, or at least reward, to replace older corps members with new ones, as there are salary ladders that increase with longevity.) There is always a trade-off between experience and the new: performances by experienced dancers who've been performing in the corps of "Swan Lake" for two decades can be deep or rote, just as performances of new corps members can be energized or superficial. What is nearly universal is dancers' wish to be recognized and to dance featured roles, and being a lifetime corps members isn't what most aspire to, at least originally.

At NYCB Principals make up 28% of the company and Soloists another 11%. (The Mariinsky corp is 24% larger than the entire NYCB.) When nearly 40% of the company advances is in the upper ranks, apart from some Lifetime Achievement awards, to get there, they had to have plenty of opportunities for featured corps roles, demi-soloist and soloist roles, and, in many case, principal roles, opportunities which are rare for most Mariinsky corps members. The Mariinsky, Bolshoi, and Paris Opera Ballet companies, are very hierarchy oriented -- Nureyev caused a huge fuss when he broke ranks on this in Paris -- even though the Principals+First Soloist in the case of the Mariinsky (total of 27 vs. 24 for NYCB's Principals) are a much lower percentage of the company on the whole, which is not surprising, since the Petipa/Ivanov-based classics rarely have more than three leads and a handful of featured roles like "Peasant Pas" or Clemence and Henriette in "Raymonda," whereas a triple bill of "Concerto Barocco" (3 leads and fantastic small corps parts), "Agon (4 leads, four demi-soloists, and corps), and "Symphony in C" (4 leads, 8 demi-soloists, and corps) gives a lot of dancers lots of opportunities to be noticed.

As far as the Mariinsky having the best corps de ballet in the world, that would depend on the rep and the time. Both the Mariinsky corps and the NYCB corps have had their up and down years, and their schools have had bumper crop and fallow years. From film and the few performances I've seen of them live in the Balanchine rep, they certainly don't do Balanchine as well as the NYCB corps. From what I've seen of the Mariinsky on tour -- all in the post-Soviet years --I prefer the Bolshoi corps' combination of energy and technique, and their performances in "Jardin Animé" was the best corps dancing in any classic I've ever seen.

As far as every Mariinsky corps member being able to be a soloist in any other company in the world, I'd also disagree, and I think companies with their own company styles, like Paris Opera Ballet might also take issue with your assertion. Every Mariinsky corps member most certainly wouldn't be ranked as soloist at NYCB, either.

#92 sandik

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 12:32 PM

Helene, these are some very thoughtful comments, but this one took me by surprise.

(The Mariinsky corp is 24% larger than the entire NYCB.)


If you'd asked me, I probably could have said it was one of the largest corps, but I don't think I knew this particular comparison.

#93 Helene

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 12:38 PM

I counted 105 on the roster for the Mariinsky corps, and 85 dancers in NYCB (not including apprentices, which weren't listed). NYCB had over 100 dancers at its biggest, but those years are gone.

#94 sandik

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 04:26 PM

I counted 105 on the roster for the Mariinsky corps, and 85 dancers in NYCB (not including apprentices, which weren't listed). NYCB had over 100 dancers at its biggest, but those years are gone.


Wow. The logistics are pretty staggering.

#95 Helene

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 04:45 PM

I suspect it makes going on maternity leave a lot easier to schedule than say, at PNB. On the other hand, the Mariinsky splits the company up to tour and present in St. Petersburg concurrently.

I'm only mentioning NYCB in terms of Balanchine performances, but there are other companies, like PNB and Ballet Arizona that do amazing work in Balanchine works in corps and featured roles -- they're not on four-eight weeks straight three times a year, so they tend to dance every performance as if it's a privilege -- and the San Francisco Ballet corps did a stellar job in the Balanchine "Coppelia." I've only seen Miami City Ballet on film.


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