“…Confront not only [your] own errors, but also the errors of others. The artist must fight for the good of the group and the image of the ballet…”
For performing artists, there is always that burning desire to be the star-the soloist granted the exclusive opportunity to lead the show. He or she is able to make personal, stylized choreographic decisions, and basks in an audience’s approval and applause. But a ballet really cannot exist without the corps de ballet.
While I did not thoroughly understand this in my early years as a performer, it is a concept that is stamped into our brains the moment we begin a pre-professional career. As a young dancer, I honestly felt like the corps was always being coerced into success with words to inflate their confidence. I didn’t think the corps was really NEEDED. As a newbie to that kind of work, I felt that any boost we received was just an attempt to insure that we didn’t look like a ‘hot mess’. Does the average ballet attendee want to see a ‘hot mess’ corps? No, of course not. Even to the untrained eye, a squiggly diagonal or an incorrect foot or arm leaps out visually, especially when there’s 15 other girls executing the correct version. Despite all this, I didn’t realize the true value of the corps until later in my career.
A skillful balance of peripheral and central vision, quick thinking, focus, and unshakable precision are all crucial characteristics in order to be successful in the corps. These may seem like qualities that 99% of ballerinas possess. However, I speak from an experiential viewpoint when I tell you that it’s not for everyone. As a developing dancer, I myself was trained to live and breathe corps work (it’s that Russian training in me). It requires an extremely observant and specific eye and a whole lot of patience. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Well, all the steps and poses you’re forced to repeat about one million times as a corps de ballet, those will definitely do the trick…
“Even to the untrained eye, a squiggly diagonal or an incorrect foot or arm leaps out visually, especially when there’s 15 other girls executing the correct version.”
While performing on the sidelines (literally) of a full-length ballet can be viewed as a simple onstage challenge, the repercussions of an error are severe for a member of the corps de ballet. From an audience perspective, one could assume that the corps has the easy job. The neat and tidy appearance of a spot-on corps de ballet, can create an aura of visual perfection that makes the eye assume it’s simple to execute. However, the work that goes into creating that pristine en masse visual appeal, is grueling. It is a very different challenge than that of a soloist. Errors onstage or in rehearsal lead to the disappointment and disapproval of not only one’s director, but also one’s colleagues. I’ve been in many a corps where tension frequently escalates due to repetitive corrections and issues caused by the same individuals. But a true professional is able to face these issues and work towards uniting the group, selflessly abandoning what they may feel is the right approach. A wise corps dancer willingly confronts not only their own errors, but also the errors of others. The artist must fight for the good of the group and the image of the ballet, rather than be consumed by self-promotion.
My work in the corps has made me the dancer I am today – meticulous, clean, alert, and strong. Being a corps de ballet dancer requires you to blend, however, your identity is not completely disguised. You can stand out while blending in. Excelling within a corps prepares you for the next level…for something more. If you want to go bigger and better, you’ve gotta have corps strength in order to survive.
*Can you find me in all of these corps group photos?…Why is the corps always wearing white?!