Corps de Ballet is a classical ballet term that refers to the dancers in a ballet that dance as a group. It is also a rank within a ballet company’s structure.
A Corps de Ballet role in a ballet does not usually have a particular name for each person, as opposed to soloist or principal roles where the a dancer may be dancing the role of “Juliet,” “Aurora,” or “Prince Siegfried.” Even though the corps de ballet does not have an individual name for each dancer and is often listed last in a cast list, it is no less important than any other role in a ballet. A good corps de ballet must work as a very good team, as they tend to do the same choreography but in unison or making complicated patterns at the same time.
Timing is of course important in all roles of classical ballet, but even more important for every member of the corps de ballet to be focused. It is much easier to spot one corps member out of twenty standing out of place or being a count late than a principal missing a mark or changing an arm in a variation as the mistake is simply more noticeable.
Even though corps simply means “body” in french, corps de ballet and corps are often meant to mean the same thing. If someone says “I have corps rehearsal now…” they’re simply saying they have a rehearsal for the section of a ballet that involves just the corps de ballet.
Corps de Ballet as a rank in a classical company
A dancer in the corps de ballet can also refer to a dancer who has a corps de ballet rank in a professional ballet company. This rank is a step up from an apprentice or trainee position and considered a “full company member” position. While a dancer in the corps may usually always dance corps parts in a ballet, it does not mean they can never dance a soloist or principal role either. Often times corps dancers are given soloist opportunities to prove their technique and performing ability in front of a packed audience. This opportunity is really the only way to get promoted in a company. Though it could happen, it is extremely unlikely a dancer would ever be promoted to a soloist position having never danced a soloist role.
While the corps de ballet is usually the lowest rank in a company, it is usually the largest since it is common in a classical ballet to need twenty corps dancers but only 2 soloist or principal dancers. This often means that a corps dancer will end up performing in more shows than a soloist dancer, simply because there are not enough soloist or principal roles to have every dancer of those ranks be in every show.
The rank of corps de ballet shouldn’t ever be confused with an entry-level position. Some professional dancers go through a long performing career of 15-20 years and never get promoted. This can be for many reasons, among them being skill level, ability to perform under increased pressure on stage, timing of new or leaving dancers, and sadly, politics. A long career as a corps de ballet dancer is nothing to be ashamed of, and a dancer retiring as a corps member could be as every bit dedicated, hard-working and passionate about ballet as a principal dancer.