Adam Sklute (seated far right) at a Ballet West audition. Photo by Jim Lafferty

What Ballet Directors Look for During an Audition Class

Audition classes may not differ much from any other class—but directors have ways of sussing out who has what they're looking for. We spoke to three artistic directors to get their perspective from the front of the room.


Show You're Adaptable

A ballet rehearsal with a female dancer in pench\u00e9. A male partner is holding her hand, while the artistic director coaches her.

Lopez says that dancers must have a clean, classical foundation.

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Contrary to what you might expect, Lopez doesn't require incoming dancers to have Balanchine training. "But they have to be strong," she says. "The articulation of the feet, the way we hold our arms—those things can be taught, but I can't teach them if the dancer in front of me doesn't have a classical foundation."

Clean, performance-ready technique is Lopez's baseline. "Do they have mannerisms that I feel would be difficult to change? Can they maintain their technique while they're moving? If the minute you let go of the barre you can't do center work, then I'm going to have problems putting you onstage."

Learn Quickly and Apply Corrections

Wheater demonstrates a ballet step during rehearsal.

During class, Wheater gives a 32-bar enchaînement and only demonstrates it once.

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

In every company class, Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater gives a 32-bar enchaînement in the center. "An enchaînement is what we really do when we dance onstage," he says. "How you connect rhythm, steps and transfer of weight, and how you utilize space within the enchaînement, tells me a lot about a dancer's ability to be fluid." He demonstrates that combination only once. "It shows you who's willing to really focus, pick it up and deliver."

Wheater will give corrections to auditioning dancers and makes note of how they're received. "You can see when people feel affronted," he says. "You want to see that they take the time to absorb and apply it."

Relax Into the Company Vibe

Skulte coaches two male dancers during battements at the barre.

Sklute likes to get to know a dancer's artistry over several days.

Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Rather than holding open calls, some ballet companies prefer to invite select dancers to take class for three to four consecutive days at their studios. That length of time reveals both adaptability and consistent trouble areas, and allows dancers to settle into the company vibe. "From pliés to an early tendu, you can tell immediately if the dancer has what we're looking for," says Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute. "But other attributes—a movement quality, a sense of artistry—take a while to get to know."

That said, Sklute is playing with the open-audition format in order to reach a wide array of dancers at once. "I hate the calls where we have to cut people," he says, so this spring, Ballet West will hold 90-minute master classes on March 23 in New York City and March 30 in Salt Lake City. Each class is limited to 70 participants and open to all dancers, whether they want to be considered for the company or not. No one will be cut. "This format will hopefully give people a more relaxed environment," he says, "versus feeling like they have to prove themselves."

Latest Posts


Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS