Auditions end in one of two ways: Either the dancer gets the job, or she doesn’t. But the actual why is harder to pinpoint. A fierce technician might get cut right away; the fastest learner in the room might go home after round one. Getting hired often comes down to a delicate combination of what a dancer has to offer and what a director happens to be looking for—from technique to versatility, from attitude to the indescribable “it factor.” To find out what goes into that dancer/director alchemy, we talked to both sides. Here three dancers reflect on the fateful audition that got them hired, and their directors tell us what they saw.
I didn’t pay much attention to artistic director Joan Myers Brown while I was auditioning. I remember her stating that she was looking for the “it factor” in a dancer, the thing that would set them apart from the rest. But I focused on what was being asked of me, and just hoped that she was seeing something in me. When I audition I never focus on the panel in the front. I stay in the zone and focus on getting the job.
The director: Joan Myers Brown
Odara attracted my attention with her aloofness. She was there to audition, and it was (and still is) all business, no foolishness. She was well-groomed, appropriately dressed, and well-trained. I remember thinking she was subdued—holding back—but we felt that we could pull something out of her.
The dancer: Stephanie Guilland-Brown, NYC dancer; formerly of Donald Byrd/The Group
Donald gives a good poker face. In hindsight, now that I know him so well and have seen how he focuses on the dancers he likes, I guess he did watch me quite a bit. But all I remember is hearing him say, ‘Use your through line.’ Up until that moment, I had never heard this—not at the ballet barre, not in the center of a jazz class. I felt so silly, but I used the opportunity to learn and apply the note. Having his company members there in the front of the room stressed me out, but it pushed me to really commit.
The director: Donald Byrd
At the time I was looking for a whole company of Ruthlyn Salomons. She was petite and waiflike and could really move. When Stephanie auditioned, she wasn’t what I thought I wanted—a short powerhouse. But I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. That was telling me something. At a certain point I had to rethink what my aesthetic was. I thought, I have to work with people who are interesting and who I am interested in. After the audition I couldn’t remember anyone but her.
The dancer: William Isaac of Armitage Gone! Dance
We began working on two phrases that were contemporary in style, and Karole Armitage was very pleased with my movement quality. But most importantly I was a tall man. She had seen other men, but most of them were on the shorter side. She explained to me the concept of her ballet, Time is the echo of an axe within a wood, and how it had all of these different styles from yoga to martial arts ballet, and modern, of course. Then she said “vogueing,” to which I said “I vogue.” I used to be part of the ballroom scene. Well, after that she offered me the job, so I guess all those years of vogueing in clubs paid off!
The director: Karole Armitage
I want each dancer to have a different flavor, so that the whole group is unique and full of spice. I want to see if they can break the habits of a lifetime of training and reconfigure the geometry of the shapes with a new approach. William could move in so many different ways, and that is exactly what the piece required. He just understood the movement and concept. I also needed a man who was a good partner both classically and contemporarily, and he was strong in both areas.
Photo of Odara N. Jabali-Nash of Philadanco by Lois Greenfield, courtesy Philadanco