Surviving in the Corps

March 18, 2009

The best way to stand out in the corps is to blend in. Class—not rehearsal—is the time to try for an extra pirouette or a higher arabesque. “The corps de ballet can either make or break a classical work,” says Betsy Erickson, ballet mistress for San Francisco Ballet. And, long before most dancers become soloists or principals, they get their start as members of the corps de ballet. Succeeding in this important job is as much about impeccable technique as it is about having the right outlook. Here are some tips to help you shine in the corps.


Use your eyes.
Boston Ballet corps member Heather Waymack stresses the importance of using your peripheral vision. This is the surest way to maintain lines as you move across stage. Also, keep an eye on the dancer in front of you. “No matter where she goes, no matter what she does, it’s your job to follow her,” says Martine Harley, ballet mistress for Houston Ballet.


Remember the details.
In order for the corps to look uniform and cohesive, everyone’s lines must match and the choreography must be executed with acute precision. Both Erickson and Harley say one of the most common mistakes new corps members make is not paying attention to details. Make a habit of absorbing the feedback you receive from rehearsal directors as fast as possible. “The ballet masters will see you as the person who never has to be corrected twice,” says Harley.


Get noticed the right way.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, the best way to stand out in the corps is to blend in. You don’t want to stand out because you’re not executing the choreography with the same lines, angles and rhythms as everyone else. “You want to stand out because you’re doing it the best,” says Boston Ballet corps member Gabor Kapin. Knowing all the steps and executing them exactly as they were choreographed demonstrates what a diligent, reliable dancer you are. Also, “Class is very important in letting people see how much you’re improving and seeing if they can put you into roles other than corps,” explains Waymack. In other words, class—not rehearsal—is the time to try for an extra pirouette or a higher arabesque.


Keep up your training.
Often when you’re training in a school setting, you have numerous classes each day devoted to developing technique. But, as Pamela Robinson-Harris, interim artistic director of Ballet West, points out, “When you get into a company situation, there are 45 dancers in class; it’s not the same kind of class that you’re used to as a young dancer.” Classes are structured differently and there are fewer of them, explains Anthony Randazzo, ballet master for Boston Ballet. “It’s hard for [dancers] to keep themselves in the kind of condition and shape that they had when they were training.” Randazzo recommends requesting permission to attend school classes to ease the transition.


Remember how important you are.
When you’re just one dancer in a large group, you may feel that your hard work is unnoticeable or insignificant. “There isn’t such a thing as a small part,” says Kapin. “All the parts are important.” Corps roles are as essential to a production as any other, so stay positive and take pride in your work. “To know that you’re part of an amazing corps de ballet is a very gratifying experience. So, it’s really not something to be dismissed,” says Harley.


Line Notes


Ever wonder how a corps de ballet maintains its perfect spacing? Pamela Robinson-Harris, interim artistic director of Ballet West, offers these tactics for staying in place:

  • To create a sharp diagonal line, align your shoulders so that they are directly behind the shoulders of the dancer in front of you.
  • For a more shallow diagonal line, place one of your shoulders so that it is directly behind the spine of the dancer in front of you.
  • When moving in a circle, follow the dancer in front of you on the outside edge of the formation, rather than the inside. This ensures that the circular shape doesn’t collapse.