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The Joys and Importance of Repertoire

REPERTOIRE: A stock of plays, dances, or items that a company or a performer knows or is prepared to perform.

The whole body of items which are regularly performed “the mainstream concert repertoire" Oxford Languages.

REPERTOIRE usually relates to a complete ballet as in the ‘NUTCRACKER’ and a VARIATION is a dance (usually a solo or Pas de Deux) within that ballet. Which little ballet student after watching a classical ballet such as Swan Lake (even the Barbie version) doesn’t have aspirations of becoming a Prima Ballerina? Yet the vast majority will never get to professionally dance the beautiful classic ballets which belong to the repertoire of ballets handed down from generation to generation such as Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Giselle and Swan Lake. And very few will ever dance the role of the white or black swan thus performing the famous Act 2 and Act 3 Variations in Swan Lake. To dance a familiar and much-loved variation to a well-known music from a famous ballet is a wonderful experience for a recreational ballet student- bringing the ephemeral sensation of watching a live performance on stage into the studio to linger over, experience on a regular basis as part of a repertoire class and to deeply enjoy. A good teacher will be able to simplify and adapt the steps of the famous variations (dances) from the repertoire for most abilities. Using preliminary exercises to become more familiar with the movement sequences and carefully building up the requisite strength, coordination, technique and use of appropriate muscles is key to success. Wearing flats instead of pointe shoes and adjusting tempos can make a further difference and the student recreational dancer can get a real sense of achievement and satisfaction once a famous Variation is mastered. As an (current or future) audience member they can now add a further exquisite layer of enjoyment, utilising there in depth knowledge of the Variation gained from repertoire class, whilst watching the professional dancers. For Vocational students aiming for a place in a classical ballet company, learning, mastering and refining repertoire, always in an age-appropriate manner, is a vital part of their serious ballet training. I clearly remember my first Repertoire class at age twelve with a member of The Royal Ballet Company who came to teach us the ‘Dawn’ and ‘Prayer’ variations from the ballet Coppelia. It was an awakening - a first realisation that all the incredibly arduous daily training was actually leading up to dancing these beautiful variations. It was a life changing moment and gave me the inspiration to continue with the grind of daily classes. Once a student has graduated to a corps de ballet place in a company then an intimate knowledge not only of the choreography, (which often varies) but of the intricacies of the music is wonderfully reassuring in the rehearsal studio, especially for a new company member. Variations from the repertoire are now integral to most professional, elite classical ballet competitions and attention to the finite detail of the choreography, costume, artistic expression appropriate to the ballet and musicality is key to success. Showing off a student’s particular technical prowess does not enter the equation - each Variation has its own unique rich history and heritage that must be respected and embraced. It is passed from one dancer to the next over the generations thus preserving the exquisite repertoire of classical ballet. Whilst movement ‘notation’ and of course film footage is invaluable it is quite definitely the knowledge passed on in the studio, verbally and in person, from the experienced ex dancer to the new dancer that is of inestimable value - the knowledge of performing live, intricate matters of technique, solutions to tricky moments.......the list is endless. A repertoire teacher needs intimate experience of each variation and the student learning the variation needs a high level of maturity and understanding not only of the technical issues they must master but of the artistic and musical considerations and the storyline, heritage and history intertwined into the Variation. A professional soloist in a company will bring their own uniqueness as a dancer to the role / Variation artistically and technically without compromising the integrity of the Variation and each student dancer should emulate their professional peers and treat the heritage being passed on to them with respect and love and they will hopefully develop a desire to pass this unique knowledge on to the next generation when the time comes. Thus, a classical ballet repertoire is reborn and perpetuated. The Royal Academy of Dance, whose syllabi includes the beautiful Discovering Repertoire series states that offering an insight and a real taste of the great Repertoire pieces from the well-known classical ballets can give great joy and personal satisfaction to recreational students who might otherwise give up ballet classes when they realise that ballet is not going to be their vocation. For vocational students, the modular approach provides an opportunity to enhance and refine technical skills in the class module and gain strength if preparing the development exercises and variations en pointe.

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