Hierarchy in the theatre

by Henrik on February 28, 2010

As kingdoms and castles, there’s a hierarchy in any theatre worth noticing;

The director is King (or Queen). He holds your faith in his hands. His will is your law, and will be fulfilled, whether you like to or not (unfortunately, some directors use this position in ways that is very inappropriate. I think I’ll post something on that another time).

As all kings in the old glorious days, where the king wore tights and danced ballet (Louie XIV of France is one of the great founders of our fine art), he always keeps an arsenal of advisors around him. So also the directors. Read my posts on characters in the theatre to better understand who these advisors are. Anyway, the Kings advisors may be old stars from our dancing world, choreographers, experienced teachers or members of his administrative crew. They might have a say in who get’s a role, a job, what performances they might show next season or who’s going to be employee-of-the-month. But in the end, as with old Louie, the director has the final word. The sense of democracy in a theatre is weak, at best. Then again, old Louie didn’t ask anyone their opinions either.

King Louis XIV of france

Good-old Louie, casually dressed for sunday lunch…

Amongst the dancers, there are also ladders to climb. On top are the soloists, the principals. They get the leading roles, the highest salaries, they might even get a say in some matters mentioned above. They get the curtain calls, and represents the opera-house or theatre on TV, on festivals and as guest performers on other stages. If you’re still dancing, that’s were you’d wanna be.

Of course, most of us are not. We belong to the big group, the people of old France, le corps de ballet - the background dancers. They have no say in anything. They are the subjects, and will do as they’re told, or else… The dancers in the corps are the real heroes, though! They work the most, and get’s least attention from anyone. Still they are the most vital part of any performance. Read my post on the corps here.

There are levels to climb inside the corps as well, though. On top, there’s the older, most experienced dancers, those who just didn’t have what it took to get to the top, to mingle with the soloists, but were good enough to hang in there, doing the occasional smaller solo and dancing in all the performances. They know all the stories, all the gossip, and all the steps of any performance.

Under them are the more talented dancers, maybe heading towards the solo place once that ballerina finally get’s off her throne (or pointe-shoes) and joins the elite of the kings advisors.

Then, there’s a group of just dancers. They’ve been there a while. They’re not exceptionally good, but not bad either. They’re just there. You don’t notice them, but they walk in the corridors, find their places in the lines and try not to stick out. They are the chameleons. They blend in.

In the bottom, there’s the new people. Those who just joined. They are a human free-for-all emotional thrash-can. Need to get anything out of your system? Give it too the new guys! They get picked at, yelled at, sent for coffee and directed around a lot. But they also get helped and smiled at more than others, for being a new person to get to know and place in the system. As a new guy, you might even be lucky enough to be taken under the wings of some of the bigger birds in the company. After all, you can only be new for so long…

Much thanks to one of my readers for the idea for this post! Have any topics you’d like to hear about? Drop me a line, and I’ll do my best! :)

Until next time,


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous February 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I think your blog is great! You write in a way that makes me understand how it's like to be a professional dancer. It is interesting to read about the world of ballet.


Henrik February 28, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I'm glad to hear that – that's sort of the idea! Keep coming bakc for more ;)


Anonymous February 28, 2010 at 10:55 pm

It was great but some remarks:

Le corps de ballet, not la

What about quadrilles, sujets, choryphées…?



Catherine March 1, 2010 at 7:33 am

Great post! I love the description you give–so true!


Henrik March 2, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Mark: Thank you! Will change the French grammar – it's been a while since I knew the french articles :)
As for the quadrilles and so on – Will write more on it later :) Thank you for the idea! H

Catherine: Thank you :)


Anonymous March 10, 2010 at 4:36 am

Well… that's quiet interessting but to be honest i have a hard time visualizing it… wonder what others have to say..


Anonymous March 14, 2010 at 5:34 am

Amiable post and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you seeking your information.


Oda May 25, 2010 at 11:15 am

This is great! I actually wrote an English assignment that is resembling to this last year. Fun to see that others think of it the same way. Great blog, btw :)


Henrik May 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm

glad you like it :)


David September 7, 2010 at 3:02 am

You are a very good writer and storyteller. You should become a ballet promoter / book writer / marketer. God knows that ballet companies try to promote their companies and ballets. Yet perhaps they actually are only promoting to people who already go to ballets.

Have any topics you’d like to hear about? Yes. I own many of the ballet books that I see here in America. What are some of the great ballet books in Europe??


Henrik September 7, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Thank you for the compliments! Maybe some day I will, although I’m not sure where I could get a job like that…
It’s true what you write about ballet companies only promoting their work to people/audience already in the field – although some companies are getting better at this! I saw a really cool ad for the Boston Ballet on the net, those would make me bring my friends to their performance even if I didn’t know any dance at all.

I’m not really into books on ballet, so I can’t recommend so much.. But I read a really cool book by Colum McCann called “the dancer”, it is a novel on Nurejevs life, really cool written. Other than that, we of course have out technical books and so on, but as I said, I’m not really an authority.. I’ll let you know if I come over something cool, though!


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