Two Sides of the Same Story
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.
The dancer: Odara N. Jabali-Nash of Philadanco
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
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.