Dance Auditions at Cirque du Soleil: Meet the Eye Behind the Table

By Rick Tjia, Dance Talent Scout, Cirque du Soleil Casting

The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.

And all seems calm, as if I've been doing this for a very long time. Which I have. Little do the dancers know how many tens of thousands of dancers I have seen and auditioned to get to this moment in time, little do they know the complexities and the enormous number of hours needed to cast one show, much less 22 at the same time - all the time - and counting. Little do they know how much audition "success" is out of their control and how much of it actually is. But they wouldn't know, and I guess I wouldn't expect them to.

During this wait time the question going through the dancers' minds is, what is the secret? What is the key to the mystery of making it to the end of an audition - my God, "What is he looking for?" I've been a dancer from childhood; my first time on stage was at age 9 and from that time on I didn't leave the stage until I retired from dancing. I know the drill. I've been through audition nervousness more times than I can even count; I've asked myself all the same questions.

And here I am, many years later, still without a real answer to those questions. This is because the questions themselves are wrong. There is no mystery, there is no secret. There is only common sense. Common sense and knowing who you are, what you do, how you do it, and being confident that you know. That's it.

Which doesn't make it easier to understand, because it's too simple. Human beings like solutions to be complicated; it makes us feel like learning them somehow has more value. But a lot of the most valuable things in life are actually ridiculously simple.

Let me try to explain in more concrete terms. Most of what I do is what we'll call General Auditions. This means that I am not just looking for dancers to show me "what I'm looking for," but looking to see what the dancers have to offer. Outside of trying to find people who fit roles in a creation that already exists - like most companies do - I am looking for people who can be created on.

Now although the concept of the General Audition is pretty specific to Cirque du Soleil, the selection parameters used to make decisions are not. Technique is essential, but not at the expense of artistic interpretation. Artistic interpretation is essential, but not at the expense of technique.

Technique is what gives you consistency. It's what keeps you from getting injured. It's a tool that opens up a myriad of possibilities that you would not have without it. It's what keeps you in control of movement, and not the other way around. But technique without artistry is like buying paintbrushes but never painting anything with it. Technique in itself, by itself, is not art. And art is what we are ultimately trying to create, yes?

Can all this not be simply shown in a video? A large part of it can, yes. Technique can be shown in a video, rhythm can be shown in a video (but not in a showreel). Looking at videos is much more time consuming than holding a large audition, but yes, some important elements can be seen in a video.

But how you work with a choreographer or director cannot. How quickly you learn choreography cannot. How well you react to being asked to do something out of your comfort zone cannot. Professionalism - how you react to adversity or the unexpected - cannot. Improvisational abilities, for the most part, cannot.

So although technology has made finding and filtering dancers for casting purposes much, much easier (I cannot stress enough how much technology helps) - the live audition process is still an essential tool, and is not going away any time soon.

Most auditions are so specific that often one does not get the chance to show the extent of one's talent and trained skills. You would think that any dancer wanting to show their strengths would take advantage of the few auditions out there that do give you that all-around opportunity. You would think.

All I can say about that is, life is short. When that opportunity arrives, the only choice I see is to take it, even if in the long run you have no idea if it will actually lead to a job you want. Think about it: the worst case scenario would be that the audition not lead to a job but still be a learning experience - which has a lot more value than not taking the opportunity at all, which is pretty much a guarantee of the status quo.

You can say that one never knows when or what opportunity will knock on the door, and that the future of opportunities is out of our control. We cannot make people hire us; we cannot make them call us up with a contract offer.

Maybe. But what we can do is constantly mold our environment into one in which opportunity is most likely to happen. Getting yourself seen by people interested in seeing you, even if there is no position currently open at the time, is just one of those environmental possibilities. But make sure you're showing what you want to be seen. And make sure your training is constantly working towards exactly that.

So go, give, absorb, push, cry, laugh. Then go home, let it all go, and be proud of what you've done. The future will then be whatever you make of it, but at the very least, you will have planted a seed somewhere that could possibly open another path.

Cliché as it is, I have to repeat that life is short. It is unfortunate that we don't really quite get that concept when we're young and think that we have our whole lives ahead of us. Because although it is true, the whole life that is ahead of us is really much much shorter than we realize at the time.

There are things in life that we do for a living, and there are things that we live for. If you are a professional dancer or an aspiring one, I think it is safe to say that you are aiming for both of those things to be one and the same. So make it happen.

I certainly have.

Rick Tjia
Dance Talent Scout, Cirque du Soleil Casting

2017 Las Vegas Open Dance Audition - Opportunity Knocks!

PC Elena Fetisova

Where can you watch Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, Coppélia and Le Corsaire all in one place? Hint: It also has extra-buttery popcorn.

Yep, it's your local movie theater. Starting this weekend, theaters across the country will be showing Bolshoi Ballet productions of classical and contemporary story ballets.

Keep reading... Show less
Danielle Peazer, photo by David Salafia

When commercial dancer Danielle Peazer took on an ambassadorial role with Reebok in early 2016, she didn't realize the gig would also lead to a career shift. But while traveling with and teaching workshops for the brand, the idea for DDM (Danielle's Dance Method) Collective started to take shape.

Keep reading... Show less
ABT's James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston. Photo via Instagram

Last night, American Ballet Theatre held its annual Fall Gala at the David H. Koch Theater in New York City. To celebrate ABT's artistic director Kevin McKenzie's 25 years of leadership, dancers from ABT's company, apprentices, studio company members and students from the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis School took to the stage in Jessica Lang's The Gift, Alexei Ratmansky's Songs of Bukovina and Christopher Wheeldon's Thirteen Diversions.

But we also love a good behind-the-scenes glimpse—especially when designer gowns are involved. And the dancers gave us plenty of glam looks to obsess over once the curtains closed. Ahead, see our favorite moments from gala straight from the dancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Arolyn Williams and Chase O'Connell in Fox on the Doorstep, PC Beau Pearson

Last week Ballet West breezed into New York City's Joyce Theater from Salt Lake City. The dancers are excellent—especially the women (what else is new). The company brought five pieces including works by Gerald Arpino, Val Caniparoli and resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte.

Arpino's last work, made in 2004, is a duet called RUTH, Ricordi per Due ("remembrance for two"). It's about a man haunted by the memory of the woman he loved. Christopher Ruud is strong and sensitive as the man, and Arolyn Williams is riveting as the ghost of his beloved.

Val Caniparoli energizes his dancers with juicy movement, and always sticks to his theme. (He doesn't ramble, and let's face it, long rambling choreography is a problem these days.) In his premiere for Ballet West, Dances for Lou, he takes on the music of Lou Harrison, a composer known for his Eastern sounds and rhythms.

Keep reading... Show less
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Pictures at an Exhibition, performed by The Royal Ballet of Flanders.
Photo by Filip VanRoe, courtesy Marquee

Your Saturday nights are about to go from "Netflix and chill" to "Marquee and chill." (Okay, maybe we'll need to coin a new phrase).

But seriously, the new streaming app Marquee Arts TV lets you curl up with Bolshoi Ballet's Swan Lake, Sylvie Guillem dancing Mats Ek's solo Bye, a dance film by Cullberg Ballet called 40 M Under, or a documentary about Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. Marquee unlocks a world of digital arts: dance, theater, opera, music, documentaries and film shorts that you can stream directly to your TV or mobile device.

Keep reading... Show less
Simone Forti. Photo by Ian Douglas, Courtesy Danspace.

When Simone Forti moved from California to New York City in 1960, she brought with her the improvisational approach of Anna Halprin. As one of the first five students in Robert Dunn's John Cage–inspired composition course (that led to Judson Dance Theater), she was a magnet for two others in that class: Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton. This month the three reunite for Tea for Three, an evening of moving and talking at Danspace Project, Oct. 26–28. It's a chance to see how dance mavericks grow and change and mellow. Forti will also give "Body Mind World" workshops Oct. 19–20. danspaceproject.org.

Health & Body
Nathan Sayers

When you're dancing for what feels like eight days a week, it takes more than just stretching to put your body back in order. You need a good rub down. Unfortunately, most of us don't exactly have the money to afford an on-call personal masseuse.

The solution: Self-massage, with foam rollers, lacrosse balls, elbows and anything else that can help loosen up your muscles. We dug into Dance Magazine's archives to find the best pieces of advice we've published on the topic. Follow these rules to get what you, ahem, knead out of self-massage.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Morgan Lugo

This week American Ballet Theatre launches its fall season at Lincoln Center with an exciting lineup of performances. One last-minute addition to the program is a new work from Benjamin Millepied, which will be performed by ABT Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School dancers in the theater's promenade during select intermissions. Although the specifics of the performance are hush hush, we stepped into the studio with Millepied for an inside look.

What has it been like to choreograph on younger dancers and how, if at all, did you change your approach?

To be honest, they're really good. Rhythmically, it's not easy at all and they've done incredibly well. The piece could be longer. It's really one movement but, for the first time, to use that space it felt right. Nothing says I couldn't add two more movements next season to make it longer.

What are your thoughts on bringing classical ballet outside the proscenium setting?

For me, it's great to think of spaces theatrically. We build sets with lighting and props, but there are also all these environments that are beautiful and theatrical, and with a little bit of work you can create something within them and that becomes site-specific. That's really fun because you create something really specific for the environment.

What would you like to see more of from young ballet dancers?

What I would want to see more of in ballet is just more interesting collaborations. These ballet dancers are great and they're ready and what they need is more interesting work. I feel people are playing it safe a lot. If anything, I think it's the choreographers and the directors who need to make an effort for these dancers who have made this art form their passion, and to really be as daring or at least as relevant as some of our peers were when they were commissioning pieces a long time ago.





Get Dance Magazine in your inbox


Win It!