Curtain Up

February 28, 2012

My first dance job was being an extra with the Bolshoi when they came to the old Metropolitan Opera House. They needed American teenagers for the crowd scenes in Leonid Yacobson’s lush, hyper-dramatic Spartacus. As it happened, we were scheduled for eight performances but only did four. The critics panned it so badly (and the audience booed it so loudly) that it was substituted by a more classical ballet. But for those few precious evenings, we got to be onstage with Maya Plisetskaya and Vladimir Vasiliev. And, we were paid three dollars a shot. I held on to those memories for decades—and kept the crisp dollar bills just to remind myself that I was a pro.

So my first lesson in job-hunting was, Go where you’re needed. The second lesson was, Don’t count on anything.

I think that our cover subjects Amanda Balen, Mark Kanemura, and Victor Rojas have learned these lessons and more as they knocked around Los Angeles. Not so long ago Amanda was sleeping on a friend’s mattress, Victor was flying in for auditions, and Mark discovered that winning the TV audience’s heart on So You Think You Can Dance did not mean winning a contract. But now all three are at the top of their game in the L.A. commercial dance scene.


And a giggle was had by all. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.


We also take a look at four other dancers who have found jobs they’re wildly happy with. In “How I Got That Job,” Katricia Eaglin of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Jillian Barrell at Ballet Arizona, Caroline Diane Wilson at San Francisco Ballet, and Ramona Kelley of Tharp’s touring Come Fly Away talk about their training and experience. But they all acknowledge the role that chance plays in landing such gigs.

Paul Taylor has basically had one job his whole life: making dances. In his alarmingly honest “Why I Choreograph,” he confesses that he doubts if he could ever do anything else. Maybe that’s what it takes: the conviction (or illusion) that dance is the one and only thing that you can do. Whether it’s true or not, I think we all know that feeling of “this is what I’m meant to do.”