The life of a ballet dancer requires great physical and mental discipline, not to mention lessons from a young age. Once a trained ballet dancer joins a company, there are several different positions he or she may audition for, from ensemble jobs to highly-prized soloist roles. Ballet dancers travel and experience creative satisfaction in their work. The salary scale for ballet dancers fluctuates, however, from $19,332 to $36,415 per year as of May 2010. Principal dancers and members of big city companies like the New York City Ballet earn a lot more, sometimes upward of $1,500 per week.
A dance company’s ballet master or mistress oversees the troupe’s rehearsals and helps choose and create new works. They teach classes, hire and train dancers and choreograph ballets. A ballet master needs an extensive background as a dancer and teacher to attain this position. Peter Martins, the master of the New York City Ballet as of May 2010, was a principal dancer with the company and performed as a guest artist with other companies before taking over the reins at the NYCB.
The prima ballerina, or lead female dancer in a ballet company, performs such demanding roles as Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty" and the dual role of Princess Odette and Odile in "Swan Lake." It takes exceptional talent and grace to become a prima ballerina, and future prima ballerinas begin pre-ballet training as early as four or five years of age, with formal lessons starting at age eight. Famous prima ballerinas include Margot Fonteyn, Anna Pavlova, Maria Tallchief and Janet Collins. The prima ballerina embodies the look and style of a consummate ballerina, and often represents her company off the stage. The male equivalent of a prima ballerina is a ballerino or danseur. Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov are among the most famous principal male dancers for their roles in "Don Quixote" and other productions.
A soloist in ballet refers to a dancer who performs alone on the stage, as opposed to a couple or the corps de ballet. A soloist isn’t a principal dancer or prima ballerina, but performs major roles in productions such as "Romeo and Juliet," "Giselle" and "The Sleeping Beauty."
Corps de Ballet
The corps de ballet -- French for “the body of the ballet” -- makes up the group of dancers who perform behind (and in some cases, instead of) the soloist. These dancers comprise the swans in “Swan Lake” or the flowers and snowflakes in “The Nutcracker.” The corps de ballet performs synchronized movements and stays in a strict formation while dancing. They are the “chorus line” of the ballet.
Character dancers provide comic relief or color to a production. Sailors, peasants and other minor characters inject a sense of setting into the ballet. A character dancer provides a vivid contrast to the classic ballet of the principals and employs characteristics of national and folk dance. Character dancers wear shoes or boots made of leather with low heels, depending on the roles they portray. "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker" contain scenes featuring character and folk dancing.
A coryphée ranks between the corps de ballet and solo dancers, performing in small ensembles like the Four Swans (pas de quatre) in "Swan Lake." French and Russian classical terminology sometimes refers to these dancers as secondary soloists.
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