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
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
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
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."
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.