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levels within a company

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I was reading Deborah Bull's book "Dancing Away" and she mentions a level within the company called a coryphee.I'm not sure whether this is above or below the corps, but I'm interested to know whether all companies have this level, which I've never come across before.

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I think the term is still used in Paris -- I'm sure Estelle will know. When those hierarchies were established, a dancer's contract had very strict rules about what a dancer could be expected to do. At a certain rank, you would no longer dance in a group larger than eight, or four. In the 19th century ballets, the ballerina always has eight friends -- think of the Pas de Vendanges in Giselle, or Swanhilda's friends who accompany her into Coppelius's workshop. Those would be the coryphees, I think. (Ivor Guest's "Romantic Ballet in Paris" has a lot of interesting tidbits about contracts, and life backstage, as well as facts and figures.)

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"Coryphée" in US balletspeak seems to be used often for "member of a small corps de ballet". In the Paris Opéra, it was the first step forward out of the multitude of the corps, and below the file leaders, who were first and second quadrilles, because they formed groups of four. Above them were the sujets, who performed in pairs or trios or even short solo passages short of an actual variation.

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That's interesting, about being contracted to dance in smaller groups only. What would they do if the ballet in question didn't have smaller groups?!

I thought the four little swans were usually danced by students? I have a photo postcard of the royal ballet swan lake corps, with two lines of grown-ups and in the middle is a line of younger girls. They look extremely young, but are probably older than they look, maybe mid teens. It's kind of funny that a dancer's first real role, apart from party child in the Nut, might be in this group of four (like a coryphee) and then if they are eventually accepted into the company they could be on the back row of the corps :)

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I know the picture you mean. In that RB production, there are 8 Little Swans from RBS, but they don't dance the Cygnets which I think is the 4 Swan dance you are thinking of. The Cygnets are usually just four dancers from the company who are not very tall!

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In the mad old bad old days of nineteenth-century ballet, when the performance was something of a girlie show, those dancers at the farthest upstage rank of the corps were not there by height, as is commonly done today. They were sometimes referred to as the "ballerines prés de l'eau" - the ballerinas next to the water - as there was often a fountain or lakeside on the backdrop, and these upstage dancers were the oldest and least pulchritudinous members of the corps. The sweet young things were placed farther downstage, so the gentlemen of the Jockey Club could get a good look at them!;)

The four "little swans" are a sort of First or Second Quadrille or Coryphée act, the two "big swans" are more like Lesser Sujets. In Giselle, Moyna and Zulma are definitely Greater Sujets, at least.

It must be remembered that nineteenth-century opera ballets were highly dependent on the patronage of the wealthy men of that era, and when they came to the show, they wanted to see their girlfriends dance if they were to continue to be backers of the company. Prudent ballet masters made sure that there were plenty of roles in all cadres to go around.

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Thanks for clearing that one up - I assumed that the little swans would do the cygnet dance ... clearly just making things up as I go along!

It is funny to think of ballet the way it was in the past. Things have changed such a lot since things like swan lake were written. It would be very interesting to see a ballet performed the way it was in the past. You see pictures of dancers from the past and they look very different to the way dancers look now.

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Someone asked about a dancer sometimes getting to do a solo and then being back with the corps. Many companies have contracts that specify what a dancer can/cannot be asked to do. One thing is that he/she can be asked to do a role that is normally assigned to someone either one rank below (not to mention the joy of being asked to do something normally assigned to someone one rank above) - so soloists at ABT can have a very, very busy life indeed. They can be asked to dance with the corps, and do soloist roles in the same performance, while if they are lucky also do principal roles. It can get to be exhausting. Principals, on the other hand, can never be asked to dance in the corps. I had a conversation with a dancer, now a principal, and then a soloist, who complained that he was fearful of getting injured because he was dancing in every ballet because of this. When offered a principal contract, he felt somewhat torn: he said he felt that he wasn't ready for it yet, but he acknowledged that life would be "easier", as he could no longer be required to do corps roles.

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In Deborah Bull's book (currently my bible on life as a ballerina) she says that the opposite is sometimes true: when on tour, the corps dance every performance, and consequently get injured more often, than the soloists and principals who usually only dance every second or third performance. I suppose these things work both ways. If you had to do solos and corps in the same ballet, that would probably be worst of all :)

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At the first performances of Makarova's staging of the "Kingdom of Shades" scene from La Bayadere, the first shade "out of the gate" in the corps was soloist Nanette Glushak, now Director of the Capitole Ballet of Toulouse. Poor woman! Something like forty-five arabesque - penché - posé repeats -- arrrggh! My thighs spasm just at the thought!

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As it has been written, in the POB hierarchy, "coryphée" is more or less the equivalent of "demi-soloist" (and "soloist" is "soliste" in French). The terme is used for both males and females, it comes from Greek but I don't know much about its etimology.

The POB hierarchy now is:

-étoile (=principal)

-premier danseur (for men)- première danseuse (for women) (=first soloist)

-sujet (=soloist)

-coryphée (=demi-soloist)

-quadrille (=corps de ballet)

Major Mel, either the terminology has changed or you made a mistake about the quadrilles (though indeed, it would be more logical if it was for people dancing in groups of four).

Earlier (I don't know exactly until when, perhaps the 1950s) there were two more categories: the quadrilles were divided in premiers quadrilles and seconds quadrilles,

and the sujets in petits sujets and grands sujets. To get up in the hierarchy, the only way is the annual competition (except for the étoiles, who are chosen directly by the director of dance, and might be picked up in any category, for example I think that in the 1940s Michel Renault was only a coryphée when he became an étoile at the age of 17),

so the careers couldn't be very quick!

Today the hierarchy is less strict, and sujets and even coryphées can be given major roles from time to time. However, a rule I've heard about is that the premiere of any series of performances must include all the dancers of the highest rank among those which are cast for each role. For example: assume that you have one principal and two premieres danseuses in the role of Aurora,

then the principal must dance the premiere,

if you have two sujets and two coryphées for the role of Puss-in-Boots, then one of the sujets must dance the premiere, and so on. It probably can cause some problems when there are some last-minute injuries...

Also, while the coryphees and sujets still can be asked to dance "basic" corps de ballet roles, the premiers danseurs can't. I remember reading some comments of newly promoted premiers danseurs saying that they were relieved because, even if they weren't sure to be given interesting roles, at least they wouldn't have to dance corps de ballet roles any longer!

Major Mel, the anecdote about the "ballerines près de l'eau" (with a grave accent- "prés" with an acute accent means "meadows" so at first I wonder about what those "water meadows" where ;) ) is fascinating! And I know a dancer (Delphine Baey) who danced the same "first shade" role as Nanette Glushak, it must have been tiring indeed (and in general, it seems to me that "La Bayadere" must be a rather tiring ballet for the female corps de ballet, isn't it?)

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Estelle, I was using an antiquated hierarchy that must have existed long about the time of Leo Staats, if not before. As for the mistaken orthography of prés/près, I can only plead ignorance, and the knowledge that "meadow" is also an archaic synonym for "swamp" in English! As for the taxing nature of the corps work in Bayadere, I agree wholeheartedly!

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I've just returned to this Board after a couple of year's absence, but I think I can help with Beckster's original query.

In the late 1970's/early 1980's, when Deborah Bull joined the company, there were four ranks of dancer - in order, artist, coryphée, soloist, principal.


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