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Ballet Dancer Top Trumps (categories)

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In a separate forum discussion it was discussed that Polunin 'Trumps' Coviello on Strength and Technique, which I could agree to, however it reminded me of the Kids game 'Top Trumps'.

First I wondered what would be the 5 characteristics by which you would judge all Ballet Dancers male and female?


I would proffer:



Acting Skills /Style

Stage presence/Energy

Classical Lines/Proportion



After a set of characteristics is agreed I would say a game of offering the scores of dancers :)


Top Trumps of ballet characters as chosen by Scottish Ballet http://www.scottishballet.co.uk/kids-section/trumps-game2.html

Edited by SwissBalletFan
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I can see how this would be fun with characters (as per the SB game) but if you were to start scoring actual dancers on attributes that are highly subjective, we'll have nothing but arguments and I'd rather we didn't go there.


they have to be objective attributes then, even if they aren't ideal or if it's unclear which end of the spectrum is 'best'.  here's a more cynical take   ;)


  • leg length
  • ground clearance in a grand jete
  • brilliance of smile measured in lux
  • fee commanded
  • number of guest artist contracts held simultaneously
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When casting a ballet the relative weight to be attached to factors such as technique, stage presence, and acting skills  will depend on the type of ballet being cast. Suitability is nothing more or less than a portmanteau term encompassing  what the dancer needs to bring to a particular role. Some dancers have an extraordinary range others are limited by the very gifts that make them outstanding in a particular part of the repertory.


Technique looms large at present.Rather than a means to an end it has become for many dancers and audience members an end in itself.The performance of the Rose Adagio is not judged by the dancer's musicality but by the duration of the balances and, for some, a performance of the role of Odette/Odile is to be judged solely on the basis of the dancer's success in executing the thirty two fouettes.Even at a time when expressiveness was highly regarded most  people,including dancers, would have put technique at the top of the list of factors considered by choreographers  and skilled stagers when casting ballets. However technique does not seem to have been as significant in their decisions as people suppose.It could even be that the current obsession with technique deprives us of many fine performances as companies tend to cast principal dancers in major roles and promotion  seems to be almost exclusively based on technique.


 According to David Drew when Nijinska was selecting the Bride in her revival of Les Noces for the Royal Ballet she did not ask any of the female dancers in the company to dance, she merely asked them to adopt a very simple pose and selected Beriosova for the role.No one who saw her in that role would argue with Nijinska's choice but Drew clearly seemed surprised by her method of selection forty years after the event.Sibley in a tribute to Ashton said that he did not always select dancers with the strongest technique when he was casting ballets but that he his decisions were always right.In his autobiography Hans Brenna, who was famous for his stagings of Coppelia and the Bournonville repertory, spoke about casting dancers for these ballets.It is clear from what he said that in selecting a dancer for a particular role their technique was a secondary consideration to the other elements that they needed to bring to the character they were playing. He could work on their technique but not on their ability to play a particular role successfully. 


Of course I recognise that things are somewhat different if you are casting a purely abstract work but even with ballets without any element of storytelling casting is rarely just a question of technical skill.. A dancer who is a technician may be be appropriate for one role and wholly inappropriate for another,It may  come down to the quality of their movement.One role may require obvious attack another may require simple elegant apparently effortless movement.One role may require elevation another fast clean footwork. It may be necessary for the dancer to create a mood  in which case he or she needs to possess the right sort of stage persona and presence.


The problem quite simply is that you can't  reduce how you judge a dancer's suitability for a role to five or more elements which you rank in order of importance,Even if you identify the essential elements, the order in which you rank them will not remain constant, and will vary from ballet to ballet.

Edited by FLOSS
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My theory is that it is because more and more artistic directors are asked to 'justify' their casting choices... Perhaps without even realizing they are doing so or why, they have been slowly but surely resorting more and more to casting by a measurable criteria: height of extensions, number of pirouettes or fouettees, height of jump, amount of instep !


The amount of and gist of posts regarding this on balletcoforum, is perhaps going to help. Perhaps many posts on the ROH website as well could help the ADs realize that they need to use more subjective criteria and revert to the suitability by personality, temperament, movement and musical qualities of dancers for roles being cast.


Artistic Directors will be ciriticised anyway, because not everyone holds the same views about this - but that is what an AD is for, to use their experience and nouse to produce the best possible performances of each ballet every time - while still taking into account the need to give opportunities, even unlikely ones on occasion, in which case the surrounding cast needs to be very sound.

The expectations of principal dancers that they will perform every principal role, which has arisen, is a problem, as is that of their particular audience - and is self perpetuating, as it means that the audience may never see the right type of dancer to enhance a ballet, and so will never know how the role was meant to be - and consequently how the ballet was meant to be. At worst this leads to a first rate ballet being thought to be second rate as has been already pointed out...


There is a necessity to educate the audience which is part of the ADs' role.

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Betterankles, what you say here makes a lot of sense, and I totally agree about the "one dancer fits all" attitude. But this does intrigue me: 


My theory is that it is because more and more artistic directors are asked to 'justify' their casting choices... Perhaps without even realizing they are doing so or why, they have been slowly but surely resorting more and more to casting by a measurable criteria: height of extensions, number of pirouettes or fouettees, height of jump, amount of instep !


Who do they have to justify their casting choices to?  Boards, I suppose?  Who else?  Not sponsors, I would hope.  Judging by comments on here, they don't always get it "right" in the eyes of the ballet fans, at least :)

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