What does a ballet choreographer do?

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What is a Ballet Choreographer?

Ballet choreographers are artists who design and create the movements and sequences performed by dancers in ballet productions. Drawing on a profound understanding of ballet technique, music, and storytelling, they shape the very essence of these productions, showcasing dancers’ technical abilities and emotional connection and commitment to each performance. They are custodians of tradition, preserving and passing on the rich heritage of classical ballet while also crafting new works that reflect the spirit of their time.

Ballet has been called the body’s poem. By this definition, then, ballet choreographers – the most famous among them being George Balanchine, Marius Petipa, Twyla Tharp – are the poets.

What does a Ballet Choreographer do?

A ballet choreographer working with ballet dancers.

Duties and Responsibilities
The role of the ballet choreographer involves several key tasks:

  • Conceptualizing – Ballet choreographers develop a vision for the ballet, considering the music, story, theme, and artistic expression they want to convey through movement.
  • Creating – They experiment with, design, and choreograph the steps, gestures, and patterns that form the dance sequences.
  • Rehearsing – Choreographers work closely with dancers during rehearsals to teach, refine, and perfect the choreography. They provide guidance on technique, interpretation, and expression to ensure that dancers bring their vision to life on stage.
  • Collaborating – Choreographers often collaborate with other artists, including composers, costume designers, and lighting designers, to discuss creative decisions, coordinate schedules, address any logistical issues, and integrate their choreography seamlessly into the overall production.
  • Directing – During performances, choreographers may be involved in directing the dancers backstage, ensuring that the choreography is executed according to their vision and maintaining the artistic integrity of the production.

Types of Ballet Choreographers
Now that we have a sense of the potential scope of the ballet choreographer’s work, let’s look at some different types of ballet choreographers, each with their own artistic approaches, styles, and areas of focus:

  • Classical Ballet Choreographers – These choreographers specialize in creating choreography for traditional classical ballet productions, often drawing inspiration from established ballet techniques and repertoire. They may specialize in restaging or reimagining classical story ballets such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, or Giselle.
  • Contemporary Ballet Choreographers – Contemporary ballet choreographers blend classical ballet technique with modern movement vocabulary, styles, and themes. They explore innovative choreographic concepts and new ways of movement expression, pushing the boundaries of traditional ballet.
  • Neoclassical Ballet Choreographers – Neoclassical ballet choreographers combine elements of classical ballet with contemporary influences, creating works that are both technically demanding and visually striking. Choreographers like George Balanchine are often associated with this style.
  • Experimental Ballet Choreographers – These choreographers are known for pushing the boundaries of ballet by experimenting with unconventional movement styles, interdisciplinary collaborations, and avant-garde concepts. They may incorporate elements of performance art, multimedia, or improvisation into their work.
  • Storytelling Ballet Choreographers – Choreographers in this category excel at creating narrative-driven ballets that tell compelling stories through movement. They focus on character development, emotional expression, and dramatic storytelling to engage and captivate audiences.
  • Ballet Choreography Researchers – Choreographers interested in choreographic research investigate how choreographers structure their dance pieces and vary their dance designs. They may specialize in exploring and experimenting with movement concepts, choreographic techniques, or thematic ideas. They may engage in choreographic residencies, workshops, or academic research to deepen their understanding of choreography as an art form.
  • Ballet Choreography Educators – Some choreographers specialize in teaching ballet choreography to aspiring dancers, choreographers, and dance educators, imparting their knowledge and expertise in choreographic composition, technique, and artistic expression.
  • Socially Engaged Ballet Choreographers – These choreographers are passionate about community engagement and may specialize in creating ballet works for non-traditional settings or populations, such as outreach programs, community centers, or cultural events. They use dance as a tool for social change, empowerment, and cultural exchange.

It’s important to note that these categories are not mutually exclusive, and ballet choreographers may incorporate elements of multiple approaches in their work. Furthermore, individual choreographers may develop their own unique artistic identities that transcend conventional categories, reflecting their personal vision, experiences, and artistic sensibilities.

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What is the workplace of a Ballet Choreographer like?

Ballet choreographers can work for a variety of organizations within the performing arts industry. Their most common employers include:

  • Ballet Companies – Professional ballet companies, ranging from regional to international, often employ resident or guest choreographers to create new works for their repertoire. These companies may have artistic directors who oversee the selection and commissioning of choreographers for their productions.
  • Dance Schools and Academies – Ballet schools and training academies may employ choreographers to create original works for student performances, showcases, or competitions. These choreographers may also teach choreography classes and mentor aspiring young dancers in the art of choreographic composition.
  • Performing Arts Institutions – Universities, colleges, and conservatories with dance programs may hire choreographers as faculty members or guest artists to teach choreography courses, lead workshops, and create choreographic works for student productions and mainstage performances.
  • Dance Festivals and Workshops – Dance festivals, workshops, and residency programs often engage choreographers to lead masterclasses, choreographic labs, or intensive workshops for dancers and choreographers. These opportunities provide choreographers with a platform to showcase their work and collaborate with other artists.
  • Freelance and Commissioned Work – Many ballet choreographers work as freelancers, taking on commissioned projects from various organizations, including ballet companies, theaters, opera houses, film studios, and commercial productions. They may also apply for grants, fellowships, or artist residencies to support their independent choreographic endeavors.
  • Film, Television, and Entertainment Industry – Ballet choreographers may find employment opportunities in the film, television, and entertainment industry, choreographing dance sequences for movies, TV shows, music videos, and live events. They bring their expertise in ballet technique and choreography to create visually stunning and artistically compelling dance performances for diverse audiences.

Based on the nature of their work and focus, ballet choreographers may find themselves transitioning between different settings. They may spend time in dance studios and rehearsal spaces equipped with dance floors, mirrors, and sometimes audiovisual equipment to facilitate choreographic instruction, experimentation, and refinement; theaters and performance venues; film and television studios equipped with sound stages, green screens, and production facilities; as well as offices, shared coworking spaces, or classrooms. Ballet choreographers involved in touring productions, international residencies, or site-specific projects may be required to work in multiple locations around the world, traveling to different cities, countries, or cultural institutions.

In recent years, choreographers have increasingly utilized virtual platforms and digital tools for choreographic exploration, collaboration, and presentation. Ballet choreographers may conduct virtual rehearsals, share choreographic ideas online, or participate in virtual residencies and workshops.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ballet Choreographers are also known as:
Ballet Master