Corps Dancers on the Ballets they Love to Perform

There is something exhilarating about seeing a group of dancers move as one. Even though audiences often focus on the principals, corps dancers are ballet’s unheralded champions. Performing virtuoso steps in a solo can test nerves and technique, but think about the difficulty of maintaining your place in a stage picture that is constantly moving. Each dancer must breathe with twenty others as if they share the same pair of lungs. While it is often likened to a well-oiled machine, seeing corps work as merely mechanical misses its subtlety and strength. In actuality, dancing in the corps demands dedication, focus and artistry, qualities that take years to nurture.


Whether you talk to a dancer who just joined the corps or to one who has spent her entire career there, each will tell you that it can be artistically fulfilling.
DS asked seven corps dancers from leading companies about what it’s like to dance everything from classical masterpieces to contemporary works. Why do dancers bond with a particular piece? What makes one ballet more challenging than another? Here is an intimate look at corps dancers’ personal favorites.

 

Rebecca Johnston, Pacific Northwest Ballet


Ballet:
Concerto Barocco
Choreographer: George Balanchine
Years in the corps: 8

I love the simplicity of this ballet: the white costumes, the pure classical lines, the Bach violins.  The contradiction is that it’s so difficult to perform! We’re onstage the entire time and it’s important to be clean and precise without looking careful. The movement is so technical; from the knees down everything cramps, and there’s no chance to stretch. But if the music inspires you, you don’t dwell on how tired you are. It’s great to come offstage and feel like you’ve really done something. Sometimes being in the corps involves a lot of standing in the background and posing; after I dance Barocco I feel like I’ve done a principal part. 

 

Sarah Wroth, Boston Ballet


Ballet: Swan Lake
Choreography: Mikko Nissinen after Marius Petipa
Years in the corps: 4

The feeling of being onstage is almost a spiritual one. After months of rehearsal dancing closely with the same 23 women, a team spirit is formed. You are onstage, all with a starring role, and the more you move and breathe together, the more the audience will love the show.  Watching a polished corps execute Swan Lake is like watching a beautiful piece of silk blow in the breeze. If you space out and forget a step, you bring the whole corps down with you. When the curtain comes down, the fatigue from the show is put off for one moment as the corps smiles at a demanding job well done.

 

Jacquelyn Reyes, American Ballet Theatre


Ballet: La Bayadère’s “Kingdom of the Shades”
Choreography: Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa
Years in the corps: 3

The ‘Shades’ scene in La Bayadère is one of the most technically challenging to dance, so in that way it is very fulfilling. When it is performed well it almost feels like you are a school of fish breathing and moving in unison. Descending down a ramp in a series of arabesques is no easy feat; then you proceed to do a rigorously slow adagio all in unison! If one person wobbles, it might affect your balance; if you falter it will affect the performers around you.  It’s a true test of mental and physical stamina.

 

Margaret Karl, San Francisco Ballet


Ballet: Eden/Eden
Choreography: Wayne MacGregor
Years in the corps: 5

Eden/Eden’s movement is very extreme. It focuses on the controversial issue of cloning, which intrigues me more than a fairy tale ballet or a plotless piece. In addition to the dancing, the piece has a recorded music track, a live orchestra, a vocal track discussing cloning and video projection. I get a huge rush from performing MacGregor’s movement, which asks me to use my body in an exaggerated and flexible way. Knowing you are a part of something that pushes the envelope and is forcing the ballet world to evolve is a rush.

 

Kyra Homeres, Miami City Ballet


Ballet: “Rubies” from Jewels
Choreography: George Balanchine
Years in the corps: 3

When the curtain goes up, the audience always gasps. All of the dancers are in a necklace formation around the stage. The lights, backdrop and costumes add a higher element of excitement. I become extremely anxious before performing it because the energy is different from any other ballet, bold and spicy, which makes it incredible to dance.  It’s challenging in its precise timing but fully worth the reward of the cheering audience at the end. It’s so exciting, and I never lose steam. It gives you such a high.

 

Garen Scribner, San Francisco Ballet


Ballet: Artifact Suite
Choreography: William Forsythe
Years in the corps: 4

A lot of pieces are incredibly difficult but it doesn’t seem like the audience realizes it; in Artifact it’s very clear. The movement is nearly impossible, so that doing it is almost a spiritual experience. Various sections express acceleration, abandonment and extremity. Forsythe uses dynamic timing and sweeping, exaggerated port de bras as well as an unusual departure from classical form, all to slow, haunting chords on the piano. The ballet showcases the corps’ dynamic attack and recklessness within the movement. After 40 minutes of non-stop dancing you feel like you might pass out. However, walking offstage and having Forsythe give you a high five is extremely rewarding.

 

Amanda Weingarten, Miami City Ballet


Ballet: Ballet Imperial
Choreography: George Balanchine
Years in the corps: 3

Ballet Imperial is the most intense corps work for women that I have experienced. The first note sounds and the ladies raise their arms to fifth position in perfect unison. Then the men walk to them slowly, the girls lower their arms to accept the hands they stretch out and the ballet begins. The most challenging aspect of Ballet Imperial is its length and the stamina that demands. There’s a moment toward the end when the women run in a sweeping circle before executing what we call the ‘pointe class’ section. It requires clear footwork and sharp lines, and a focus among the women that can be difficult toward the end of a piece. When the curtain goes down you feel like you have run a 10k marathon! 

 

Matthew Murphy is a corps member of American Ballet Theatre. For more on Matthew, visit www.rantingdetails.com.

 

Photo: Courtesy Boston Ballet

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