A ballet company is a group of dancers who perform classical ballet, neoclassical ballet, and/or contemporary ballet in the European tradition, plus managerial and support staff. Most major ballet companies employ dancers on a year-round basis, except in the United States, where contracts for part of the year (typically thirty or forty weeks) are the norm. A company generally has a home theatre where it stages the majority of its performances, but many companies also tour in their home country or internationally.
Ballet companies routinely make a loss at the box office, and depend on external financial support of one kind or another. In Europe most of this support comes in the form of government subsidies, though private donations are usually solicited as well. In North America private donations are the main source of external funding.
Many ballet companies have an associated school which trains dancers. Traditionally the school would provide almost all of the company's dancers, something which helped to create clear distinctions in style between companies, but 21st century ballet has open hiring practices, and many ballet companies have a very international staff.
The head of a ballet company is called the artistic director. He or she is usually a retired dancer, and often he choreographs some of the company's productions himself. In a large company he will have one or more assistants. Day to day coaching of the dancers is the responsibility of one or more ballet masters and ballet mistresses. Some companies also employ répétiteurs and dance notators. There is often a resident choreographer.
All but the smallest companies divide their dancers into at least three grades. The most common names for the two higher grades in English are principal and soloist, and the junior dancers form the corps de ballet. Some companies (especially in North America) have trainees or apprentices, who rank below the corps de ballet, and may be unpaid. Some companies further subdivide these grades, and the terminology used varies from company to company. In the 19th century and early to mid 20th century the top female dancer was often recognised as the prima ballerina, but this practice has ceased. Male and female dancers were historically split into separate hierarchies (for more information see ballerina). Today, many companies choose to use a gender-neutral hierarchy. Some companies (mainly in Russia and countries strongly influenced by Russian ballet) employ specialist character dancers: unlike ballerinas female character dancers do not dance en pointe. The largest ballet company in the world is the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow, which employs over 240 dancers, as of 2010. The largest companies in Western Europe and North America employ around one hundred.
Many companies have a music director, generally a conductor by profession, though this is often a part-time position. The music director has a lower status in ballet than he has in opera, where he is the head of the company. Freelance conductors are hired to conduct specific productions as and when required. Large companies have their own orchestra, which is often shared with an opera company resident in the same theatre or opera house. Smaller companies hire a local orchestra on a contract basis for each season of performances, or hire a scratch orchestra for specific performances, e.g. when they are on tour. During company classes and rehearsals music is provided by one or more staff or freelance pianists.
All but the smallest companies have a separate administrative staff that deals with marketing, accounts, personnel issues, logistics and so on. Larger companies employ a permanent staff of craftsmen and craftswomen such as prop makers and costume makers, and technical staff such as lighting technicians and stage managers. Smaller companies hire freelancers for these roles as and when required. Some companies also have physiotherapists, masseurs, and physical trainers on the staff.
Asian classical ballet traditions
The term "ballet" is sometimes used to refer to dance styles in any culture's classical tradition, mainly in reference to classical styles of dance performed in parts of Asia. Classical Ramayana Hindu ballet is often performed in Indonesia. The Royal Ballet of Cambodia is an example of a ballet company in the Eastern tradition.
The companies listed below are ballet companies that perform according to the European tradition, although some international companies also perform contemporary ballets that merge Western and Eastern themes and dance techniques.