Audition Know-How: What Directors Want

January 25, 2009

Couldn’t get enough of our 2009 Auditions Guide? Read on for more tips from the pros: 

Janet Eilber
Artistic director, Martha Graham Dance Company

Focus is crucial to me—how you turn your head, how you use your personality. Many dancers have a strong internal focus but don’t use it as an outward expression, which creates a hurdle to connecting with the audience. If they can’t connect with me during an audition, how can they expect to have the audience connection?

I love when dancers ask questions during an audition. I wish they’d do it more! Especially in the Graham company, if you don’t understand the internal motivation, you cannot dance the role correctly; you have to be as much an actor as you are a dancer. Dancers must know, for instance, that the Bride from Appalachian Spring is danced with joy! So they should always ask what emotion to project for specific parts.

In terms of presentation, dancers should put their hair up tightly and wear make-up,  so they’re close to what they would look like onstage. I need to be able to imagine them in a formal look.

Krista Monson
Head of casting, Resident Shows, America, Cirque du Soleil

We really need people who can take risks and who are not afraid to fail. A moment of “failure” can be a real turning point, because yes, we can look at is as a failure, or we can see it as a sign of an artist who is really hungry and takes their work very seriously.

I try not to make too many judgments right away. Some people might walk in sauntering and lazy, or finishing their Egg McMuffin; some might warm up for two hours, others for 10 minutes. But there’s a moment when the warm-up music turns down, and the audition is about to start, and right then, I look for a certain readiness. All the focus needs to be on the audition.

Most of all, I’m looking for a dancer’s ability to listen, someone who can absorb what the choreographer is saying, quickly process it, and get it out there. I’m not too interested in someone who is arrogant or closed. We ask dancers to go outside their comfort zone, and if someone walks in without the humility to approach it in a very open way, that’s not a strong way to start. 


Marcello Angelini
Artistic director, Tulsa Ballet

Dancers have to be able to pick up not only the steps but all the nuances of the choreography. If in an audition they don’t pay attention to the combination as a whole, chances are they’ll miss those fine distinctions when learning the works in our repertoire.

For that reason, being a quick study is important but not paramount.  There are dancers who learn very fast, and I admire them. Then there are those who take a bit longer. In most cases, those are the dancers who are trying to pick up a lot of detail, gather a lot of information that requires processing. And sometimes that extra processing means the final steps are more accurate and nuanced.

Baggy clothing is a red flag. No dancer can expect an artistic director to hire them without looking at their lines. But as long as I can see their lines, I get over what they’re wearing after the first 30 seconds of an audition.