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Dance Auditions at Cirque du Soleil: Meet the Eye Behind the Table
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.
Dance Talent Scout, Cirque du Soleil Casting
2017 Las Vegas Open Dance Audition - Opportunity Knocks!
There must be something in the water: Last week, we announced that Madonna is directing Michaela DePrince's upcoming biopic. And yesterday, we got wind of another major dance film: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Searchlight has sealed the deal to make Ailey Ailey's life and work into a movie. Yes, please.
While some movies falter along their way to the big screen, we think this one's got legs (and hopefully a whole lot of lateral T's and hinges and coccyx balances, too). Why?
Back in 2012, after 14 years dancing with Mark Morris Dance Group, choreographer John Heginbotham ventured out on his own. Don't think of it as going solo, though.
Almost from the outset, Heginbotham has embarked on a series of fruitful collaborations with other artists, via his namesake company, Dance Heginbotham, and through a stream of independent projects. His creative partners have covered a range of talents and genres: illustrator Maira Kalman (in 2017's The Principles of Uncertainty), opera director Peter Sellars (for Girls of the Golden West, which debuted at San Francisco Opera in November), and contemporary-music luminaries such as Tyondai Braxton and Alarm Will Sound.
Here's What He Has To Say: About starting his company, his rehearsal process and why he's drawn to creative mash-ups.
Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
Ten years is a long time for a dance production to run, but Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra, an athletic, meditative spectacle featuring 19 Shaolin monks and a malleable set of 21 wooden boxes (designed by Antony Gormley) is still striking a chord with audiences worldwide. To celebrate the milestone, Sutra is returning to Sadler's Wells, where it all began. March 26–28. sadlerswells.com.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.