From Cattle Call to Company Contract, Here's What It Takes to Join BalletX

From left: Tara Keating, Christine Cox and dancers Francesca Forcella and Andrea Yorita evaluate BalletX hopefuls. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

"I'm going to walk through; it's going to be so awkward," says BalletX artistic and executive director Christine Cox, addressing 119 auditionees and acknowledging the ever-intimidating clipboard she holds. The room bursts into laughter, and smiles linger as pliés begin. Cox may have broken the tension, but stakes are high when contracts are up for grabs. At the BalletX company audition in New York City last April, Cox and associate artistic director Tara Keating were looking for one female dancer to fill a summer contract and one or two males to start year-round in the fall. "The core foundation of the company is ballet," Cox says, "but the X is everything. The X is a dancer who can experiment, explore, express themselves." And that's who they're looking for among these hopefuls.

The Cattle Call

A crowd of auditioning dancers gather in a studio.

Quinn Wharton

Unlike many ballet auditions, Cox and Keating don't make a single cut during technique class. "Some of my dancers don't have great ballet technique," says Cox, "but the intelligence they bring to movement—a great ballet dancer might not be able to do that."

That's not to say that the class isn't challenging. After an abridged barre, Keating gives a fiendish center adagio with an arabesque penchée —particularly challenging for the ladies, now in pointe shoes. She tests dancers with tricky timing and unusual port de bras. But she also wants them to relax and be themselves. "I want them to feel like they're dancy combinations where we can really see them move and shine in their own light."

Auditioning dancers, wearing leotards and audition numbers pinned on to their clothing, are photographed from the shoulders down.

Quinn Wharton

After a few repetitions of grand allégro, Cox and Keating make the first cut, sending more than half of the dancers home. Those remaining learn a sequence from Nicolo Fonte's Beautiful Decay, after which the directors make another cut, leaving just about 20 dancers.

Three and a half hours in, choreographer Colby Damon begins teaching a combination from his work On the Mysterious Properties of Light. It's full of yawning extensions, sharp accents and swift, deep lunges. The dancers run it multiple times in four groups. At one point, Cox asks Damon to stop giving the auditionees information about the movement and musicality. "We have to see what they can interpret," she says.

Cox and Keating make a final cut before deciding to go into overtime to see partnering work from the remaining 10 dancers. "Thankfully I didn't schedule anything after!" says Blake Krapels, a 25-year-old Juilliard graduate and third-time BalletX auditionee.

Keeping At It

Krapels does a layout on forced arch against a bright blue wall.

Blake Krapels auditioned for BalletX three times before being invited to join the company.

Gabriel Bienczycki

It turns out, Krapels' persistence paid off. After his second audition, Cox spoke with him about the intense physical demands of dancing in BalletX. "She didn't feel like my body was ready for that," he says. So Krapels, who identifies as more of a contemporary dancer, added more ballet classes to his routine in the year and a half between his second and third BalletX auditions. "I also went to the gym a lot."

Cox noticed, adding that she saw "a newfound strength of heart and spirit" in Krapels, "which added an extra layer of depth and finesse to his musicality." After he attended two callbacks in May, she offered him a contract for the 2018–19 season.

Company Immersion

Peabody posed on pointe with one leg extended forwards and her arms reaching long. She is wearing a lavender leotard and the background is gray.

Anna Peabody, now a member of BalletX, was one of the dancers artistic staff noticed at the audition.

Maximilian Tortoriello, Courtesy BalletX

At the time of the New York City audition, 21-year-old Anna Peabody was still a third-year student at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. The Tuesday after the audition, she got a call and was awarded the available summer female contract. Just a few weeks later, Peabody had a year-round contract in hand. "The beautiful approach to her artistry convinced us it was time to add an 11th dancer to BalletX before another company scooped her up," says Cox. Peabody finished that year's finals remotely and was soon thrown into the deep end, getting cast in Lil Buck's new work, Express, and Matthew Neenan's Increasing, both of which she performed with BalletX at the Vail Dance Festival last summer.

Peabody is currently completing her last school year at IU remotely, and both she and Krapels are finding a home in the close-knit company atmosphere. Peabody says that Cox and Keating are candid and open. "Actually all the dancers here are," she says. "That's why—at least for me—their dancing is so beautiful to watch. Everyone is just very honest with the dancing and with the self."

Audition Tips from BalletX's Artistic Staff

Christine Cox chats with some of the auditioning dancers.

Quinn Wharton

Prep properly: "When you show up and your ribbons and elastics aren't sewn and are just tied, that is a window into who you are," says BalletX artistic and executive director Christine Cox. Shortcuts show that you'll choose the path with the least amount of effort.

Present your true self: Whether it's your earrings, the way you braid your hair or your leotard, Cox sees your audition-wear choices as "painting yourself in the colors you want to be seen."

Pay attention: "If I see someone who's able to pick up the combinations quickly, my eye goes to them," says associate artistic director Tara Keating. "If they don't know the combination, I tend to skim over."

The Conversation
Health & Body
Bruce Mars via Unsplash

Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.

Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)

Keep reading... Show less
Hive by Boston Conservatory student Alyssa Markowitz. Photo by Jim Coleman

The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body

It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).

But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Getty Images

I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!

—Andrea, New York, NY

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by McCallum Theatre
Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
From Dance of Urgency. © Ekvidi

When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.

The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.

The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.

As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Lorenzo Di Cristina/Unsplash

When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.

The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."

Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Quinn Wharton

What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.

So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance History
Still of Fonteyn from the 1972 film I Am a Dancer. Photo courtesy DM Archives

On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
Courtesy #Dance4OurLives

Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.

When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.

The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave

A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.

I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.

There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.

While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?

Keep reading... Show less
What Dancers Eat
Getty Images

Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.

"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.

The key is choosing your loaf wisely.

Keep reading... Show less


Get Dance Magazine in your inbox