If ballet wasn’t a part of your childhood, it’s quite likely the term ‘ballet repertoire’ has an air of mystery surrounding it. You may even have come across it being offered as a class. So, what exactly is going on in a repertoire class? And can you, as an adult ballet student, experience it?
Ballet repertoire is the term used to describe any dance or part of a dance, that is taken outside of the ballet in which it exists. It can also describe the list of ballets that a ballet company performs. If you are a YouTube ballet fanatic (yes!) then anytime you see a dancer performing a solo, a pas de deux, or a group dance and it is from a larger ballet (for example Swan Lake) it is classed as ballet repertoire. Often these dances (especially the solos) are quite short in length and are used to showcase a dancer’s prowess.
If you attended Elancé’s recent (and super fun!) Class on Stage at the National Theatre, you would have had your own experience of performing ballet repertoire. But wait I hear you say, those choreographies were different from the original ballet, how can they still be classed as repertoire? All ballets have many different versions. You may have come across a contemporary version of one of the big classics, such as Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker or Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. These ballets are an obvious reworking of a ballet classic. They still have the same music and the same essence of the story. This also holds true for different choreography within the classical ballet technique. However much a choreographer may change the steps, with the same music and story, it remains the same ballet.
All repertoire is not equal! It can range from an exquisite solo from the principal dancer in a ballet, right through to the corps de ballet performing a beautifully patterned group dance, and everything in between. If your ballet experience is limited, then a group dance with repeating ballet sequences will be less daunting. It’s always a wonderful experience to be dancing with other people, rather than just alongside them. This will also give you insight to just how intricate the corps de ballet’s work can be! If you are working at a more advanced level, it might be fun (and challenging) to try a solo. It’s important to know what will be offered in a repertoire class and to be guided by your teacher.
If you have the luxury of more than one repertoire class to choose from then it’s important to consider a few things…
Firstly, will you be guided through the process? There is nothing worse than feeling all at sea when you are learning something that should be uplifting. It’s important that you are seen in the studio and worked with, rather than be disregarded as just another body to maneuver around.
Secondly, has your teacher reworked the choreography to be within your skill level? It’s important that your teacher has come to the class with a realistic understanding of your abilities, and to have adapted the choreography so that is challenging and rewarding. No one wants only to be challenged – it’s important to have the reward at the end so that upon reflection you can feel proud and uplifted by your efforts.
Lastly, you want to know that there is enough time in the class to feel like you are making good progress. Will it be a new choreography every week? Or will you have the opportunity to practice and refine your work to perform something magnificent, something that you are proud of?
Ballet repertoire is lots of fun, and by learning different variations you will gain insight into how ballets are structured and how (unlike our class situation) dancers actually dance together!
And the next time you are at the ballet? You will have even more appreciation at how much work is required for the dancers to look so calm and effortlessly beautiful!