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You'd Never Know It Now, But These 3 Pros Bombed Their Early Auditions
In dance, no two paths look the same, and part of a healthy audition mind-set is accepting that you might not get what you want on the first try. These three dancers who auditioned multiple times for their dream gig share what made the difference in getting to the final cut.
Misa Kuranaga, principal dancer, Boston Ballet
Misa Kuranaga found that polishing her technique made the difference. Photo by Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet.
When Misa Kuranaga first attended an open call for Boston Ballet, she was in a vulnerable place. "It was right after I didn't get a job at San Francisco Ballet," she says. It was unusual for someone not to get a spot at SFB after apprenticing there. So, after she got cut from Boston's audition right after barre, she knew she needed to do things differently.
"I decided to be jobless, go back to school and retrain from zero to fix my technique," says Kuranaga. "I could only hide my weaknesses for so long, and I'd been stubborn about keeping my classical focus—that was holding me back." She started taking advice about cultivating a more dynamic style, being exposed to more Balanchine and really integrating corrections in class. "I watched other dancers more, and as I became more open, it really clicked for me," says Kuranaga. "I felt a difference in my turnout and footwork, but my legs almost weren't the problem—my head was."
Less than a year later, she took part in a directors' showcase at the Monaco Dance Forum, an audition within a contemporary dance workshop, and received multiple offers—including one to join the corps at Boston Ballet. She became a principal dancer there in 2009. "I wouldn't trade that detour for anything," she says. "I love how I got here."
Natalie Turner, swing, The Lion King on Broadway
Learning the business of Broadway was key for Natalie Turner. Photo Courtesy Turner.
When Natalie Turner walked into her first Lion King audition in 1998, she had just finished a scholarship program at The Ailey School. "I didn't know what a Broadway call was like," she says. "I was so nervous and untrained as a singer—I didn't know how to project over the volume of the piano without screaming."
After that first tough experience, Turner started working with a vocal coach and auditioned for The Lion King annually, always making it through every dance cut. "I grew tremendously once I had some practical experience on tour with The King and I, and I went on to be the swing for the Movin' Out tour." This ultimately helped her land her role at The Lion King after almost 10 auditions over nearly a decade. "The casting director called on my lunch break and said, 'If you can swing Movin' Out, you can swing anything,' " she says. "But what made the difference for me was better understanding the business of Broadway and putting in the work."
Hope Boykin, company dancer, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Hope Boykin turned audition rejection into fuel. Photo by Richard Calmes, Courtesy AAADT.
"My first audition for Ailey was completely illegitimate," says Hope Boykin with a laugh. "As an Ailey School student you had to be asked to audition, but I snuck in—I would never recommend that, not only because a director won't trust you but also because it didn't matter. I got cut because I wasn't ready." Once she had finished school and was cut from her second audition, she thought her third would clinch it, but even after she was kept through the very end, she didn't get the job.
Rather than getting discouraged, she got busy. "I made so much of that year—dancing with Philadanco, teaching, choreographing and just enjoying my life. By the time auditions came around again, I'd exhausted all the things I'd wanted to do. That was 18 seasons ago." Helping with Philadanco auditions also gave her perspective. "I walked in less worried, having been in a situation where I knew what we needed for a piece compared to how many dancers were in the room," says Boykin. "It could be that it's just not your time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to try. Instead, I used it as fuel."
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.