Auditions

What Ballet Directors Look for During an Audition Class

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

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."

Broadway

We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.

But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."

Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"

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Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

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