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Length of time in the corps


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I was recently asked about 'typical' length of time a dancer in a national ballet company might spend in the corps. I replied that this depends on many factors (budgets, company size, injuries, casting, director preferences etc.) - but I'm wondering if there are any trends/recent changes? Also, there are many dancers who have risen from the corps very quickly (or who weren't there at all), but what about principals who spent many years in the corps before making a rapid rise through the ranks?

 

Thanks

Yaffa

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I've been wondering about the longevity of corps dancers too. When a dancer realises that her career is almost certainly going to end where it started - in the corps - and she mostly has to look forward to 500 outings of being a swan or a wili, would that be enough of an encouragement for her to stay in the company until she's past 40 like many of the principals do? Or do the corps members tend to retire younger?

Edited by Melody
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I've been wondering about the longevity of corps dancers too. When a dancer realises that her career is almost certainly going to end where it started - in the corps - and she mostly has to look forward to 500 outings of being a swan or a wili, would that be enough of an encouragement for her to stay in the company until she's past 40 like many of the principals do? Or do the corps members tend to retire younger?

 

I get the impression (although I'm sure someone will be able to come up with examples to contradict) that most corps dancers will have retired by their early 30s, although whether that is down to the physical demands of the job or to disillusionment with their prospects, I wouldn't like to say.

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I get the impression (although I'm sure someone will be able to come up with examples to contradict) that most corps dancers will have retired by their early 30s, although whether that is down to the physical demands of the job or to disillusionment with their prospects, I wouldn't like to say.

 

Which could have been, say, a 16 or more year career.

 

Last time I saw National Ballet of Cuba, 3 years ago, some of the corps dancers looked very mature and I think looking on stage that corps dancers at, for example, POB can look mature.  I don't seem to have noticed this as much in smaller companies.

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In her book "The Everyday Dancer" Deborah Bull gives a good insight and answer (on p. 90 and 91).

 

It took her 11 years to reach Principal rank. "Progression up through the ranks is entriely down to the discretion of the company director and so it's influenced not only by individual progress but by factors over which a dancer has no power at all....and to reach the rank of Principal you need to have several leading roles already within your repertoire, danced while still officially at soloist level".  

 

I recall (somewhere in her book but I can't find that page) she also wrote that if a Corps dancer has not been picked out for a stand-out role within 18 months after joining the corps, a dancer is most likely never to get out of the corps. 

 

I agree with Alison, most corps dancers will leave by the time they are in their late twenties.

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Looking at the biographies of the current RB dancers:  it seems that for the best corps dancers it has taken them only 3 to 4 years to get out of the corps, but for some of the current Soloists it took 5 to 10 years to reach this rank. 

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It may be different in really large and traditional companies such as the Mariinsky or POB, but in the UK companies it would be a mistake to think that the corps dancers only ever dance as part of a group in which they are indistinguishable from the other dancers in the group eg swans, Willis, peasants and courtiers. Many corps dancers, certainly at ENB (which I watch the most), are cast in soloist or even leading roles. For example, in the recently commissioned Maliphant two of the lead couples out of the three were experienced corps dancers (the other cast was Alina Cojacaru and Junor Souza). My impression is that dancers who think that they are not going to progress beyond the corps start planning a second career earlier and have often made the transition by their early thirties. Some corps dancers prefer to broaden their career within dance by concentrating on choreography or becoming involved in outreach work with schools, youth companies etc.

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I was talking about this recently with someone I met at a party, who was in the Corps at the RB during the 1970s.  She went to White Lodge at the age of 10, progressed smoothly through the school, went into the company, and stayed in the Corps for the whole of her career. 

 

Reading between the lines, I think she found the whole thing a bit puzzling, as she said herself that she had been at the top of the class at the RB school all the way through.  I would have expected someone like that to make soloist at some point, but she said she never seemed to be noticed much once she joined the company, and didn't know why. 

 

Part of the problem was that she joined in the 1970s, when Sibley and Dowell were Principals.  Apparently there was very little movement amongst the senior ranks at that time. 

 

I asked her if she had thought about joining another company, but she said she had married someone who worked at the Opera House in a non dance capacity, and couldn't really leave.  All in all, she gave the impression of being a bit bewildered and disappointed about the whole thing. 

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By my reckoning and going on the current online lists of dancers:

 

  • in the Royal Ballet, 16 out of 21 First Artists have been in the Company for 5 years or more, 2 out of 21 Artists are entering their sixth year there, and one has been in the corps for considerably longer
  • in English National Ballet (where the list does not appear to be fully up-to-date), 5 out of the 7 First Artists have been with the Company for 5 years or more and 15 out of 31 (!) Artists have been there for 5 years or more

It used to be the case in the RB that almost everyone, even the most promising, served for 2 years as an Artist. Now, promotion can come considerably faster for the most talented and almost everyone seems to achieve the rank of First Artist eventually.

 

At ENB, dancers who would surely be regarded as Soloists in many companies are simply put up to First Artist. However, more than 20 listed Artists and First Artists there have danced featured roles, or even leading roles, many of them on a regular basis.

Edited by capybara
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At ENB, dancers who would surely be regarded as Soloists in many companies are simply put up to First Artist. However, more than 20 listed Artists and First Artists there have danced featured roles, or even leading roles, many of them on a regular basis.

 

Do they get paid extra if this is the case? 

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I was talking about this recently with someone I met at a party, who was in the Corps at the RB during the 1970s.  She went to White Lodge at the age of 10, progressed smoothly through the school, went into the company, and stayed in the Corps for the whole of her career. 

 

Reading between the lines, I think she found the whole thing a bit puzzling, as she said herself that she had been at the top of the class at the RB school all the way through.  I would have expected someone like that to make soloist at some point, but she said she never seemed to be noticed much once she joined the company, and didn't know why. 

 

Part of the problem was that she joined in the 1970s, when Sibley and Dowell were Principals.  Apparently there was very little movement amongst the senior ranks at that time. 

 

I asked her if she had thought about joining another company, but she said she had married someone who worked at the Opera House in a non dance capacity, and couldn't really leave.  All in all, she gave the impression of being a bit bewildered and disappointed about the whole thing. 

 

Sylvie Guillem once stated that "Talent alone is not enough to get you out of the corps and to the top of your profession". 

 

Anyone joining top companies clearly has sufficient talent yet only a few of those dancers will become Soloists and Principals. To get out of the Corps de Ballet (through two ranks), dancers need a variety of skills besides their talent: an "x-factor" that makes them stand-out, greater physical and mental stamina, suitability to dance Soloist/Principal roles, personality, strong stage presence, exceptional artistry, not being injury prone, very fast learners, etc.

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I thought that at the big Russian companies (at least in the past) dancers were identified either as corps dancers or as potential principals when they joined the company from school. Does anyone know whether this still happens?

 

Capybara, thank you for the statistics. It's interesting to see how few First Artists ENB has. I rather suspect that the reason for this is financial. Really, the ranks are meaningless if dancers routinely dance roles 'above' their level - although they are not meaningless to the dancers themselves both financially and in terms of prestige.

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Capybara, thank you for the statistics. It's interesting to see how few First Artists ENB has. I rather suspect that the reason for this is financial. Really, the ranks are meaningless if dancers routinely dance roles 'above' their level - although they are not meaningless to the dancers themselves both financially and in terms of prestige.

 

Which is why I asked the question about pay. 

 

I think I would be very annoyed if I regularly danced 1st soloist or even Principal roles on First Artist's pay!

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Which is why I asked the question about pay. 

 

I think I would be very annoyed if I regularly danced 1st soloist or even Principal roles on First Artist's pay!

 

I have a strong suspicion those Artists/First Artists dancing above their corps rank have to content themselves with a corps salary, although they are likely be paid overtime  (I hope for them!). It is unfortunate for those dancers but the only way for cash-strapped companies to make savings and keep their head above the water. 

 

What does strike me is that the RB seems to promote their most talented dancers much faster (well, at least since Mr. O'Hare became AD) compared to the ENB  (I don't know about BRB).

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I gathered from reading interviews with dancers (Ballet Association and Dancing Times) that they officially start a working day at 10:30am (daily class) but most of them are much earlier at work as they need to warm-up or do Pilates. Their day is finished when the performance finishes (10:00/10:30pm). That's a 12 to 13 hour working day (with apparently a one hour lunch break...if!) so they work let's say 12 hours a day, from Monday through to Saturday evening,  that makes for an incredible 72 hours week . I don't know the salary of a corps dancer but wonder how much they eventually are being paid an hour?

Edited by Nina G.
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It is unfortunate for those dancers but the only way for cash-strapped companies to make savings and keep their head above the water. 

 

 

Really? In some companies (no names mentioned, of course), there seems to be plenty of money for some things but not all that much for lower ranked dancers' salaries.

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At his Ballet Circle talk Xander Parish indicated that the system of allocation at graduation still applies at the Mariinsky.The coaches then select the potential principals who they will coach. I imagine that the same sort of system applies at the Bolshoi too.

 

It is not really clear what the Royal Ballet does,if anything, to develop its dancers. In large part it seems to be down to the personal taste of the Director ,their choice of repertory and their choice of choreographers to work with the company which determines the progress of individual dancers. The disbanding of the Touring Company in the 1970's did not just mean the loss of the character dancers it also meant the loss of a training ground for choreographers and dancers.

 

One of the reasons why de Valois established the Touring Company in the early 1950's was to enable young dancers to develop and gain experience away from the pressure of the opera house stage. Making a debut in a major role and knowing that you are going to perform it at least once a week during the course of a tour is a far less fraught experience than making a debut at the opera house feeling that it is make or break because you have the one performance in which to prove yourself and that if you do get a second chance it is likely to be at short notice with little time to prepare. 

 

A significant number of the dancers who were the big names in the Royal Ballet in the 1970's had performed in the touring company.They had had the opportunity to learn their craft  by performing regularly rather than being "the flavour of the month" for a time and then dropped in favour of another "flavour of the month".I am not sure that the company has ever successfully addressed the question of how it develops dancers since the Touring Company was disbanded.I can recall sitting through debuts in Swan Lake by dancers who had once been promising but had been left on the back burner for so long that they were no longer capable of delivering the goods and by others who were very promising at their debuts but who were, for whatever reason,. unable to stay the course.

 

In recent years the company has got into the habit of hiring its principal dancers from outside the company.Some of those recruiting decisions made sense  but some still seem bizarre. It has also, it seems to me, got into the habit of hiring dancers who see ballet not as a theatrical art in which mood is created or a story is told but as the opportunity to display technique. It will be interesting to see whether Kevin O'Hare is any more capable of dealing with issue of developing dancers than his predecessors have been. At least one of his recent recruits suggests that there is hope for the future.

 

However I still feel that the advice that I would give to a young dancer who had the choice of joining BRB or RB would be join BRB because you will get the experience there that you need to develop as an artist and  you will progress if you have it in you. I know that in any one year there are only a limited number of vacancies at the RB  but I wonder how many of those who take up contracts abroad feel that they have lost out or whether they take them up believing that they have a far greater chance of developing and progressing away from the RB than in it.

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I gathered from reading interviews with dancers (Ballet Association and Dancing Times) that they officially start a working day at 10:30am (daily class) but most of them are much earlier at work as they need to warm-up or do Pilates. Their day is finished when the performance finishes (10:00/10:30pm). That's a 12 to 13 hour working day (with apparently a one hour lunch break...if!) so they work let's say 12 hours a day, from Monday through to Saturday evening,  that makes for an incredible 72 hours week . I don't know the salary of a corps dancer but wonder how much they eventually are being paid an hour?

 

How many companies put on a performance every night (except when on tour)?  (In RB) if there is a performance, there is also a 60/90 minute break at dinner time.

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You have covered some very interesting points Floss. 

 

I have always wondered if the RB regularly coaches their most talented prospects? They surely coach them in a major debut role BUT do those First Artists and Soloists who do show potential to reach the top have an allocated coach such as dancers have in Russian companies?  

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I gathered from reading interviews with dancers (Ballet Association and Dancing Times) that they officially start a working day at 10:30am (daily class) but most of them are much earlier at work as they need to warm-up or do Pilates. Their day is finished when the performance finishes (10:00/10:30pm). That's a 12 to 13 hour working day (with apparently a one hour lunch break...if!) so they work let's say 12 hours a day, from Monday through to Saturday evening,  that makes for an incredible 72 hours week . I don't know the salary of a corps dancer but wonder how much they eventually are being paid an hour?

 

I know dancers work incredibly hard but I don't think it is as bad as that at the RB. They are supposed to finish rehearsals an hour early if they have performances (think they finish rehearsals at 18:00, 18:30 on non-performance days?). And they don't have performances every night - maybe 3-5 a week? Sometimes two on Saturdays of course. But I think there's a limit on the number of hours they can work, the number of breaks they have. How much pressure there is to work outside of that I don't know but I guess they must get paid overtime otherwise?

 

Which is why I asked the question about pay. 

 

I think I would be very annoyed if I regularly danced 1st soloist or even Principal roles on First Artist's pay!

 

 

I could have sworn I read somewhere or was told years ago that the RB dancers get additional pay for performing roles above their rank - maybe someone else could confirm.

 

 

You have covered some very interesting points Floss. 

 

I have always wondered if the RB regularly coaches their most talented prospects? They surely coach them in a major debut role BUT do those First Artists and Soloists who do show potential to reach the top have an allocated coach such as dancers have in Russian companies?  

 

 

From interviews I've read by dancers it sounds like in the corps there's barely enough time for normal rehearsals and I guess dancers would be pretty lucky to be singled out unless they were scheduled for a role. Maybe one of the few exceptions I can think of is Johan Kobborg who looks from the outside to have encouraged some dancers early on, like Steve McRae particularly by including him in his galas. McRae was quite an obvious talent early on of course :-)

 

I like Melissa Hamilton's backstory a great deal. I imagine that kind of intensive coaching could be incredibly valuable, even as late on in her development as she got it.

Edited by Sunrise
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How many companies put on a performance every night (except when on tour)?  (In RB) if there is a performance, there is also a 60/90 minute break at dinner time.

Sure :)

and in that 60/90min. dinner break they also have to do their make-up, hair, put on their costume, eat, rest after a long day of rehearsals, and warm-up again.

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I'm not saying that it was a good thing and I know that the physical demands on the body today are arguably greater, but in the past RB dancers, certainly those in the touring company, had an incredible workload, often performing eight shows a week many weeks of the year. When you read about stars such as Nureyev and Markova they often performed every night in a run. I think that today's RB dancers actually have things relatively easy compared with dancers in some other companies. They have comfortable quarters at the ROH where they can relax and rest between rehearsals and performances and don't have to contend with uncomfortable backstage areas in 'tour' theatres, B&Bs and the challenge of eating healthily and economically when they are away from home.

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I have known three dancers in major companies who spent their professional careers in the corps -- and actually preferred it.  Two of them could have moved on/up - but did not wish to.  Not everyone seeks the limelight.  They loved to dance, loved the theatre, loved being with their friends, the hours of rehearsal suited their lives outside the theatre, didn't want the stress and competition at the other levels.  

 

There is a hierarcy within the corps and a dancer with much experience is a very valuable asset to the company. She/he is a leader within the corps and also acts as a repository of the history of how the ballet is performed.

 

I don't like to use words that indicate "moving up" - because for some it is not - perhaps "moving on" is a better choice.

 

I think this is true in other vocations/professions.  Many love being nurses and don't want to be doctors.

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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