Company Class with Ricardo Bustamante

A day in the life of a professional ballet dancers begins with Company class. Taking class warms up the dancers’ muscles and minds, and provides the opportunity to fine tune technique, work on problem areas, and mentally prepare for the day ahead. We sat down with Ballet Master and Assistant to the Artistic Director Ricardo Bustamante to understand the importance of Company class.

What is the purpose of the daily Company class?
Class is all about training and developing skills that help you stay mentally and physically in shape. Just like in any sport, dancers need to practice and daily class keeps them supple and strong. The 75-minute class allows dancers to push themselves, while preparing for a long day of rehearsals or performances ahead (sometimes both).

How does the progression of class build?
Having been a dancer myself, I know what the dancers are looking for. I always start out barre focusing on warming up the ankles and opening up the joints, with an emphasis on musicality, rhythm, and structure that will serve everyone for the remainder of the day. I am always aware of the works that the dancers are rehearsing that day and tailor my class to those styles.

For the barre exercises, I like to combine dynamic and lyrical movement. I also make it a point to emphasize coordination, precision, strength, speed, timing, and rhythm from barre over to the work we do in the center of the studio. Class is demanding and requires extreme focus and energy, but the dancers have the freedom to make decisions based on their needs for the day. For example, one dancer might be saving their energy for a big run-through [of a ballet] later that day, while another might be working really hard, as a way to warm-up and prepare for a high stamina role.

Esteban Hernandez in Company class during World Ballet Day LIVE 2014. (© Erik Tomasson)

How do you plan out and prepare for the classes you teach?
I always plan my classes ahead because I’m so busy. As ballet master and assistant to the artistic director, I am generally in the studio 5-7 hours a day, working non-stop. When I plan my classes, I base it on the needs of the day, as I mentioned. Our repertory is so diverse that it’s important the dancers train for the specific ballets they are rehearsing. A class preparing for a day of Giselle rehearsals will be quite different from a rehearsal day of contemporary work by William Forsythe, for example.

Teaching class is an opportunity to infuse the dancers with energy and knowledge, and to give the them input so they can continue perfecting their work. My classes are very demanding—ballet really is an extreme art in its own way. In addition to the physical demands, dancing at this level also requires a great deal of focus, courage, and intelligence.