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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Restaurants have always been a great source of survival gigs for dancers. But today's top chefs aren't just looking for waiters to carry dishes to the table. They're hiring choreographers to give the staff dance-like skills and compose a sort of choreography for the dining room.
Leslie Scott, artistic director of dance theater company BODYART, is one of those choreographers. After working in more typical food industry jobs for 10 years, she's been tapped by top restaurants in both New York City and Los Angeles to lead workshops that finesse servers' non-verbal communication and navigation of tight spaces.
Back in 2002, dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer founded an art space in Brooklyn called Chez Bushwick. As Manhattan and Brooklyn were quickly becoming unaffordable, and many studio spaces were closing, Bokaer seized upon "creative placemaking"—the idea that the arts can play an integral role in community-building—before it became a buzzword. "We have been sustaining and maintaining one of the most affordable dance studios in New York State since the very beginning of my career," he says.
Fifteen years later, the challenges for choreographers in expensive urban centers continue unabated, and Bokaer has found his original mission magnified. While Chez Bushwick remains a haven for the next generation, there is also a growing number of young dancemakers who have been inspired to create their own residencies, communities and, ultimately, opportunities.
The New York City premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's sugary sweet story ballet, Whipped Cream, made for one of the most exciting spring galas at American Ballet Theatre yet. While we're usually in awe of the gowns the dancers sport on the red carpet beforehand, this time around, it was all about Whipped Cream's colorful and over-the-top costumes by Mark Ryden—and, okay, a few major dress moments, too. Ahead, check out what went on behind-the-scenes.
Isabella LaFreniere dances like a beam of light. A member of New York City Ballet's corps since 2014, LaFreniere, 5' 8", is a technical powerhouse who exudes a sweet radiance: It's no surprise to learn that while she hasn't danced many principal roles yet, she is being primed for them in the studio. One is Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. As ballet master Jonathan Stafford puts it, "That's a ballerina role big time."
Yahoo got it all wrong when they watched ballerina Maki Onuki toss out the ceremonial first pitch on May 1 before the game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. The news organization crowed, "Ballerina's First Pitch May Prove Baseball and Tutus Don't Mix."
But the Washington Ballet principal's grand jetés dashing toward home plate were magnificent. They came as a surprise because she wound up as though she were actually going to pitch the ball from the pitcher's mound. And then, surprise—she broke into those crazy leaps. It didn't matter to me, and I'll bet to a lot of people, that her pitch, when she finally threw it, was high.
It doesn't look like your great-grandfather's jitterbug. Yes, the year is 1945, and yes, the setting is a jazz club. But these swing dancers are in the new musical Bandstand, directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. The number, "Nobody," is a paean to determination—"You know who tells me, 'Stop'? Nobody."
The choreography begins as metaphor and then becomes literal as the band members, revved up by the song, perform it for the dancers at the club. It's complicated and entirely fresh, avoiding familiar jitterbug tropes without ever abandoning the period feel.
Little wonder: Blankenbuehler, whose first director/choreographer outing was Bring It On: The Musical, says his influences included Judy Garland's "Get Happy" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." ("I'm imitating Michael Jackson imitating Fred Astaire.")
Photo by Rachel Papo
While still in the corps of New York City Ballet, Jason Fowler was drawn to the role of répétiteur. "Ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy was my rock in the company," he says. Fowler loved the process: learning steps quickly and absorbing the choreographer's intentions. He knew early on he wanted to nurture dancers through the rehearsal period one day. So it comes as little surprise that 20 years later, Fowler is a primary stager of Christopher Wheeldon's ballets around the globe.
Fowler first met Wheeldon as a student at the School of American Ballet in 1993, where he danced in the workshop performance of Wheeldon's Danses Bohemiennes. He was promoted to NYCB soloist in 2006, and performed with Wheeldon's company, Morphoses, on the side. Wheeldon first asked him to teach and rehearse one of his ballets, There Where She Loved, on a Morphoses tour to Vail International Dance Festival in 2008.