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The Great Debate: Should Auditions Cost the Dancer?
During her senior year of college, Erika Leeds flew to Philadelphia for an open call. She was one of more than 100 people who paid $25 to audition, with the hopes of landing a job. "Once we got there, we were told that there were currently no open spots in the company," says Leeds. She stayed for the promise of getting seen but walked away disappointed. "This whole thing was crazy: I paid to fly up here and audition, and they weren't hiring and barely saw us dance."
In other industries, paying a future employer for an interview would be considered unethical. Yet in dance, it is common practice. Many companies offer the explanation that it is expensive to hold open calls and in exchange for that fee, they are providing a class. Now, cash-strapped dancers and even some company leaders find themselves questioning this norm.
Just Saying No
In August, Brooklyn-based downtown dancer and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly was asked to help advertise an open call. When he saw that there was a fee to attend, he immediately posted on Facebook: "I just don't think dancers should pay to audition. NO!" The post stirred up discussion among the modern dance community. Some choreographers lamented the higher cost of booking space when it is used for an audition rather than a rehearsal, while others admitted that it should still be part of a company's budget. Dancers expressed frustration at being expected to contribute to a company they didn't even dance for yet. Too few jobs seemed to come as a result, and there was a sense that some companies might be holding auditions opportunistically—to collect money or advertise an upcoming show. Dancers' confidence in the process was waning.
Raja Feather Kelly. Photo by Andy Toad, Courtesy Kelly.
Kelly sees another path. "It is very possible to take class, see dance shows and meet people you want to work with without having to audition, much less pay to audition. That is how people really are getting work," he says. "Dancers need to take responsibility for building relationships." In the long run, the cost for classes and tickets ends up being more expensive, but this type of investment is likely to have a bigger payoff.
Are There Any Benefits?
In the ballet world, where companies are spread out, making connections often comes with the cost of travel and auditions. To counter that, Kansas City Ballet artistic director Devon Carney made a compromise: an audition tour. Beginning in 2014, he expanded auditions beyond New York City and Kansas City, aiming to reach a major metropolitan area in each region of the U.S. While it does cost non-AGMA members $25 to attend a KCB audition, Carney insists that bringing open calls to a broader community has made the process more affordable. "The alternative is traveling further, which costs the dancer more, and the room is more crowded," he says. To date, Carney has hired from open calls in Houston, San Francisco, Boston, Kansas City and New York City.
Kansas City Ballet artistic director Devon Carney leading rehearsal. Photo by Jessica Kelly, Courtesy KCB.
What About Videos?
If you're considering submitting video auditions to forego travel costs, be aware that you'll often pay as much as $35 per application. Why? "It's a more stringent process," says Carney, who receives about 500 submissions every season. Unless you think you're the perfect fit, you may want to save a little cash and stick to open calls. "Ultimately, it's best way to get the most time in front of a director."
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
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?
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."
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country:
When a new director began transforming Atlanta Ballet a couple of years ago, longtime dancer Alessa Rogers decided to finally explore her dream of dancing in Europe. "I always had this wanderlust," she says. She wasn't set on a particular city or company, but thought learning French would be fun. She began her research that September, making note of repertoire and the number of dancers as well as which companies employed foreign, non–European Union dancers. "I saw that Ballet du Rhin was looking for dancers," says Rogers. "They also had a new director coming in, so I thought it could be an opportunity." After sending a video, Rogers traveled during her layoff week to take company class. She was offered a job on the spot.
Uprooting and moving out of the country, far away from your support system, language and customs, is not something to take lightly. While it can push you as an artist and be an exciting opportunity for personal growth, working as a dancer in a foreign country comes with its challenges. Lots of research and an adventurous spirit are required.
Justin Lynch is surprisingly nonchalant about the struggles of being a full-time lawyer and a professional dancer. "All dancers in New York City are experts at juggling multiple endeavors," he says. "What I'm doing is no different from what any other dancer does—it's just that what I'm juggling is different."
While we agree that freelance dancers are pro multitaskers, we don't really buy Lynch's claim that what he does isn't extraordinary. In fact, we're pretty mind-boggled by the career he's built for himself.
At the annual Gala de Danza in Los Cabos, Mexico, the lineup of performers is usually pretty typical gala fare: You can expect celebrity performers like Lil Buck, reality stars like Ballet West's Beckanne Sisk and "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Tate McRae, plus principals from top companies like New York City Ballet's Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht.
What's absolutely not typical? The venue.
At 5'10" I felt like an ant in the studio with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. The San Francisco-based company is full of statuesque dancers whose passion is infectious. Every story was told not only through their movement, but through the expression on their faces and their connection to one another.
We talked to artistic director Alonzo King about his love of collaborations and why he thinks politicians need to dance more.