While uncommon, it is possible to skip a level in the hierarchy. Current Repetiteur Kirsty Martin skipped the rank of coryphée moving straight into a soloist position. More recently Maxim Zenin and Cameron Holmes were promoted from corps de ballet to soloist skipping coryphée. All dancers regardless of position have the opportunity to perform in featured or lead roles should the artistic director feel they have shown the level of technical skill and artistic excellence required.
Prima ballerina assoluta
Prima ballerina assoluta is a rare honour awarded to the most exceptional dancers of a generation. It means ‘absolute first ballerina’ and has been bestowed upon elite dancers such as Alicia Markova, Maya Plisetskaya and Margot Fonteyn. The last dancer to be awarded the title prima ballerina assoluta was Alessandra Ferr in 1992.
The Paris Opera
The highest rank a dancer can achieve at The Paris Opera is the wonderfully titled Étoile, which translated means ‘star dancer’.
The Royal Ballet
The Royal Ballet in London has a sixth category, principal character artist, a role that requires strong acting, character dance and ballet mime. These roles sit outside of the traditional structure and are often performed by former members of the company who have retired from full-time dance.
American ballet companies
American professional ballet companies divide their dancers into three ranks: corps de ballet, soloist, and principal.
Changing the structure
Looking ahead, some ballet companies are doing away with the hierarchy structure completely. Joffrey Ballet in Chicago is one of the leading ballet companies that takes an ensemble approach that gives everyone in the company the opportunity to perform a wide variety of roles. Many companies (including The Australian Ballet!) have moved away from gendered terminology like ballerina or danseur, ballet mistress or master and embraced neutral language to reflect the diversity amongst their artists.