The work of a ballet master blends management with artistic vision, as the master not only organizes the personnel of a ballet company, but more often than not also takes a leadership role in selecting a program, choosing choreography, and training dancers. Nearly every ballet company in the world has a ballet master who acts as the head of the organization. He or she is in charge of nearly all of the company’s internal operations, including performances and dancer selection. The job description of a ballet master also usually requires close work with the company’s marketing director, artistic director, and financial officers to ensure a streamlined and profitable company.
Ballet companies make money in two primary ways: performances and endowments. Masters concern themselves exclusively with performances. In many ways they are the heads of ballet troupes, in charge of selecting, training, and staging dancers. Nearly all are ballet dancers themselves, most having danced professionally for years before being named or elected to the “master” position. Prior dance experience is almost always at the top of the list of ballet master requirements.
In most companies, it is the master who sets the year’s program. He or she determines which ballets will be staged and how many performances will be put on. The master then casts each show, selecting lead ballerinas and danseurs. He or she is also usually in charge of recruiting new dancers, auditioning hopeful additions, and disciplining dancers who fall short of expectations.
A ballet master also selects and sets the choreography for performances. For most established ballets, basic choreography already exists — but it need not be precisely followed. Masters have the leverage to change even established staging in order to make the show more unique and dynamic, as well as to capitalize on the strengths of the individual dancers involved.
Once the staging is set, the master must teach and train the dancers. This training usually comes in the form of exhaustive rehearsals. Masters will teach the dancers the steps, then train and drill them until the dancers’ movements line up with the master’s vision for the show.
Not all rehearsals focus on fixed choreography. A ballet master is also responsible for his or her troop’s general fitness and overall training. This often involves leading exercises, promoting cross training, and leading dance workouts unconnected to scripted moves.
Ballet master duties also extend beyond the stage. As president of the troop, the master must represent the dancers in meetings with other company officials, including marketing directors, artistic and costuming managers, and financial affairs officers. The master is essentially the voice of the stage. In order for a ballet company to find success, it must ensure that all voices are represented in major decision-making.