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Having on a number of occasions said to myself, “who on earth would give that dancer such an unsuitable role?” I am curious to know who makes those decisions.

Who in a ballet company decides which member of the company performs each role. Also, would a guest choreographer be able to choose his dancers?

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It depends on the company. Often it's the Artistic Director for principal and soloist/demi-soloist roles, although in large companies, the corps can be assigned by a Ballet Master/Mistress or other person in charge of the corps, since scheduling for rep companies especially is a huge puzzle, taking into consideration union contracts, dancers' other rehearsal commitments, injuries, etc. Children in US companies audition for roles in the big ballets, which sometimes means finding kids who can fit into the costumes.

Often guest choreographers get to choose dancers. Balanchine allowed Robbins to cast his own ballets, and there are numerous written accounts where Balanchine allowed Robbins and other choreographers to pick dancers first during festivals or galas. Not all AD's are that generous, and some commissions come with a cast in mind, especially ballets created for occasions, where the monarch's favorite dancer might be cast, the ballet is meant to showcase all of the principals, or the work is a retirement/leaving commission. In some situations the hierarchy of a company restricts the pool: Suzanne Farrell wrote in her memoir that when she staged "Scotch Symphony" post-perestroika for the Mariinsky, she chose a young dancer for the lead and hit a brick wall until she used a dancer higher up the food chain.

Reading and listening to Q&A's, AD's have cast dancers against type or before they're fully ripe to stretch them, and sometimes, like a couple of NYCB seasons in the mid-80's that I can remember, because there was almost no one standing towards the end of the spring season, or because a dancer is a quick study, and they need a last-minute substitution. Merrill Ashley wrote in her memoir about going home after rehearsals and just missing getting asked to sub for an injured dancer, while one of her rivals at the time was in the theater and got the nod. Arlene Croce wrote about being glad when Balanchine stopped casting Merrill Ashley and Karin von Aroldingen in "Emeralds", which she and many others considered, at best, an experiment at stretching both that went on far too long.

Sometimes it's just personal taste on the part of the AD, who sees something that the rest of us don't. Often the AD has a lot of Principals and Soloists and has to cast them over the course of a season, where that season is at least somewhat dictated by box office. They have to spread it around. It's even trickier when the AD inherits dancers from a previous administration.

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“who on earth would give that dancer such an unsuitable role?”

I don't mean this as a criticism, but rather as a way to expand your thinking (also, not everyone is likely to agree with me on this). I suggest that rather than asking yourself the question above, you might ask yourself:

"What would have it be that it appears to me that this dancer is mis-cast? I wonder what I'm missing?"

It could be a bad casting decision, but far more likely there is a constraint it might be interesting to understand (see Helene's excellent post above), or it's an opportunity for you to better understand that dancer's capability or potential.

In my experience Artist Directors, Ballet Maters, and choreographers have excellent eyes for what dancer is best for what role (as you would expect).

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Thank you for your informative and thorough response. It answers my questions perfectly. From now on, I will take note of the Artistic Director’s name as well as the choreographer’s.

In most cases, it is admiration that I feel for whoever did the casting. For instance, I have watched the DVD, The Rite of Spring with Alexandra Iosifidi, at least a half a dozen times in the last few days. Every time I am astounded at how brilliantly she fits the role of the Chosen One. I wonder if Millicent Hodson chose her or if she was picked merely because she was the tallest.

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This thread, which discusses how a young, up-and-coming, pegged as a future star dancer at New York City Ballet, Chase Finlay, has been cast as "Apollo" shows how ballet fans question the cast list with as much scrutiny as sports fans do the starting lineups:

I forgot to mention earlier that in a recent movie about Paris Opera Ballet, there is a scene in which Brigitte Lefevre, the head of the company, discusses casting with a guest choreographer, and her message to him is a cautious [paraphrase] "But of course you can use whomever you want, but if you're planning to cast any of the stars, the part better be worthy of them."

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