The Mariinsky Ballet has an understanding built into its history that to turn a young dancer into a leading dancer, one has to give that dancer stage experience and a lot of coaching. Of course, not every dancer in the Mariinsky’s corps becomes a principal, but from joining the company, on day one, the artistic staff have already evaluated which dancers have the necessary potential. Those dancers are assigned to a coach whose job it is to develop that potential and bring them up to the next level. This doesn’t happen overnight, but with experience and correction the results are honed in on.
During the time I was with the Royal Ballet, dancers were employed to fill a position that needed filling there and then, not so much with a view towards future development. Young dancers, usually from the Royal Ballet School, were employed for the corps and experienced dancers, often from other companies, as soloists. There is nothing wrong with that, except that the company became top heavy with more principals and soloists than corps de ballet which meant opportunities were not available. In the Mariinsky you dance the rep to earn the promotion; in the Royal you got promoted to dance the rep. I was once told, ‘We can’t promote you because you haven’t danced anything,’ but I wasn’t cast for anything because I was in the corps.