2015 Auditions Guide: After the Fall

How the pros rise above audition mistakes

Slips, trips, forgotten steps and (dare we say it?) falls—audition flubs can feel like the end of the world. But most choreographers don’t expect perfection in tryouts. In fact, the way you bounce back from a mistake shows them how well you perform under pressure—and in the professional world, that’s as important as talent. Dance Magazine asked four seasoned professionals to share the good, the bad and the benefits of their most embarrassing mishaps.

Paloma Garcia-Lee  

Assistant dance captain and ensemble swing, On the Town on Broadway  

Choreographer Joshua Bergasse loves exquisite technique and tricks. For the On the Town audition, he wanted a quadruple pirouette and a double back attitude turn and kicks as high and turned out as you can—and very fast. It was daunting. I saw so many talented dancers crumble under this crazy combination. I just focused on how much I could infuse my personality into the steps. The first time through, I didn’t do four pirouettes; I got around three times. Instead of beating myself up, I used that extra second to smile and do something fun and Paloma-esque. Josh loves when you infuse his combinations with your personality, make a choice and own it. It’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned about auditioning for Broadway—to fearlessly show who you are. And for the most part, the audition will be harder than anything you have to do in the show. Granted, we do do four pirouettes in On the Town!  

Tip: People want to see if you’re the type of person who goes for it and gives it all you’ve got. They’re not going to write you off because you fall—they want you to succeed.

Photo by Jayme Thornton.

Rachelle Scott

Dancer, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

In an audition for Luna Negra, we had to improvise on some phrases with a partner. While we were dancing, my contact lenses fell out. I can’t see anything without a prescription—I couldn’t see my partner. I didn’t know where front was. I kept thinking, This is a disaster. Should I just stop? I went through the entire audition process blind as a bat, and I had to rely on listening and my other senses. My partner had no clue! Looking back, it showed the choreographer—and me—that you can rely on me. It gave me a lot of faith in myself. I know that if something goes wrong, I have many tools in my back pocket. I was offered the job, but ended up taking a different contract. But I learned an important lesson: Now I keep extra contact lenses in my tour bag all the time!

Tip: Personal expression is key. It’s important to learn the material, but if you don’t remember the steps, it’s more about evoking the world that the choreographer is trying to shape.

Photo by Amber Bliss, Courtesy Cedar Lake.


Brandon Cournay  

Dancer, Keigwin + Company  

When I auditioned for Mark Dendy in college, we learned a circle dance that was very swirly and swoopy and didn’t have any counts—and we were going backwards. I just couldn’t figure it out. I was chaîné-turning the wrong direction, and then I was double-spotting. I looked like the 4-year-old girl who is going the other way in the ballet recital. Half the time you’re not as crazy-looking as you feel. That’s probably how it was at that audition, but in the moment it was like the world was crumbling. I got a callback, but in the end I wasn’t available for the project. Now, when I help run auditions for Keigwin + Company, I look at the whole package. Mistakes at auditions can be very informative about how someone thinks on their feet.  

Tip: Follow through and commit yourself fully. You’re not just auditioning, you’re building relationships.  

Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy K + C.


Amber Neumann  

Dancer, Joffrey Ballet  

When the Joffrey did Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, I auditioned for the part of Bianca, who does a very sensual gypsy dance with Iago. I had never tried the Bianca solo in front of everybody, and I was still learning the character and trying to get the dancing right. I was a bit frazzled and I completely blanked; I couldn’t even remember the first steps. I just stood there. And everyone had to stop and do the scene again—it was horrible! I had to get out of my own head and focus. It helped that Lar was sweet about it and said, “It’s okay. No one is expecting you to be perfect.” Sometimes it can seem completely overwhelming to remember everything. But it’s a growing experience to get back up and say, That wasn’t my best, and next time it’s going to be better. I did end up getting the part, and it was one of my favorites. And I never forgot the steps again!  

Tip: If you’re right for the part, they’re going to see it even if you mess up or forget something.  

Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey.

Johns' Map

Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.

If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.

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Health & Body
Ashley Ellis, photo by Albert Ayzenberg, courtesy of Ashley Ellis

Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.

Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.

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via Instagram, Company Cooperative

Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.

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Dancers & Companies
A still from Duet, via CNN Style

Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.

The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?

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Dancers & Companies
Neumeier's costume rendering for Orphée et Eurydice. Photo courtesy Lyrica Opera of Chicago.

As a student, Milwaukee native John Neumeier appeared in an opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As Hamburg Ballet's artistic director and one of the world's leading choreographers, Neumeier now returns to the Midwest to direct and choreograph a new version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, a co-production of the Lyric Opera, LA Opera and Hamburg State Opera. Set to open in Chicago September 23 with the Joffrey Ballet, the ambitious work will see additional engagements in Los Angeles and Hamburg over the next two years.

How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?

It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.

You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?

When I got this offer from Anthony, I just went back to the piece and tried to sense what it meant to me now. Gluck's Orphée was part of a push to reform opera and to make a complete work of art involving music, text and dance. What interests me—particularly in this French version we are doing—is that dance plays such an essential role. When Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, it was considered a revolution in musical theater, because dance moved the plot along. In Orphée, we can see that the same idea had been realized several centuries ago: that dance would not be just a divertissement, but a theatrical element, literally "moving" the plot along and expressing in another form the emotion of each situation.

Another idea in Orphée which fascinates me is its directness in projecting profound human emotions—emotions not used as an excuse for vocal virtuosity, but expressed in simple and direct musical terms. In Orphée, we have a mythical subject which is related in an extremely relevant, familiar, human way.

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Brendan Barthel and Chinchin Hsu of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna

What happens when drones become part of the dance? For Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's latest work, Skies Calling Skies Falling, video artists David and Hi-Jin Hudge used a drone hovering 200 to 400 feet above the ground to film the dancers performing in an industrial granary. The resulting footage will be projected onto the floor and walls of the Taube Atrium Theater, creating a dystopian backdrop to the live performance.

Alex Carrington of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna

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Dancers & Companies
Connor Walsh rehearses the role of Rudolf in Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

It's been 34 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling touched down on American soil, when The Royal Ballet first performed the great English master's tour de force ballet stateside. On September 22–24, Houston Ballet becomes the first North American company to perform MacMillan's epic chronicle of the murder-suicide of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Crown Prince Rudolf, and his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Chronicling the last chapter of the Hapsburg Empire, the ballet is known for its true-to-life realism, and for the role of Rudolf, which transformed the way male ballet dancers drive a story. It's considered a dream role for a male dancer. And with seven pas de deux with five different women, a deadly difficult one at that.

Driving Houston Ballet's Mayerling train is principal Connor Walsh, who nearly missed this opportunity to dance the part when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston Ballet's theatrical home, Wortham Center. Now moved to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and back in rehearsal, Walsh took a break from his busy schedule to talk about the role of a lifetime.

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Health & Body
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Have you ever felt like your relationship to dance is something of an addiction? Not to worry, that's completely normal—it's simply the way our brains are wired.

This week, The Washington Post published an intriguing feature that looks at the science of what actually goes on upstairs when we're watching a live performance. The insight comes from the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which uses tools like brain imaging to study the relationship between art and the brain.

Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways:

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