Career Advice

You'd Never Know It Now, But These 3 Pros Bombed Their Early Auditions

Misa Kuranaga with Nelson Madrigal in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

In dance, no two paths look the same, and part of a healthy audition mind-set is accepting that you might not get what you want on the first try. These three dancers who auditioned multiple times for their dream gig share what made the difference in getting to the final cut.


Misa Kuranaga, principal dancer, Boston Ballet

Misa Kuranaga found that polishing her technique made the difference. Photo by Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

When Misa Kuranaga first attended an open call for Boston Ballet, she was in a vulnerable place. "It was right after I didn't get a job at San Francisco Ballet," she says. It was unusual for someone not to get a spot at SFB after apprenticing there. So, after she got cut from Boston's audition right after barre, she knew she needed to do things differently.

"I decided to be jobless, go back to school and retrain from zero to fix my technique," says Kuranaga. "I could only hide my weaknesses for so long, and I'd been stubborn about keeping my classical focus—that was holding me back." She started taking advice about cultivating a more dynamic style, being exposed to more Balanchine and really integrating corrections in class. "I watched other dancers more, and as I became more open, it really clicked for me," says Kuranaga. "I felt a difference in my turnout and footwork, but my legs almost weren't the problem—my head was."

Less than a year later, she took part in a directors' showcase at the Monaco Dance Forum, an audition within a contemporary dance workshop, and received multiple offers—including one to join the corps at Boston Ballet. She became a principal dancer there in 2009. "I wouldn't trade that detour for anything," she says. "I love how I got here."

Natalie Turner, swing, The Lion King on Broadway

Learning the business of Broadway was key for Natalie Turner. Photo Courtesy Turner.

When Natalie Turner walked into her first Lion King audition in 1998, she had just finished a scholarship program at The Ailey School. "I didn't know what a Broadway call was like," she says. "I was so nervous and untrained as a singer—I didn't know how to project over the volume of the piano without screaming."

After that first tough experience, Turner started working with a vocal coach and auditioned for The Lion King annually, always making it through every dance cut. "I grew tremendously once I had some practical experience on tour with The King and I, and I went on to be the swing for the Movin' Out tour." This ultimately helped her land her role at The Lion King after almost 10 auditions over nearly a decade. "The casting director called on my lunch break and said, 'If you can swing Movin' Out, you can swing anything,' " she says. "But what made the difference for me was better understanding the business of Broadway and putting in the work."

Hope Boykin, company dancer, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Hope Boykin turned audition rejection into fuel. Photo by Richard Calmes, Courtesy AAADT.

"My first audition for Ailey was completely illegitimate," says Hope Boykin with a laugh. "As an Ailey School student you had to be asked to audition, but I snuck in—I would never recommend that, not only because a director won't trust you but also because it didn't matter. I got cut because I wasn't ready." Once she had finished school and was cut from her second audition, she thought her third would clinch it, but even after she was kept through the very end, she didn't get the job.

Rather than getting discouraged, she got busy. "I made so much of that year—dancing with Philadanco, teaching, choreographing and just enjoying my life. By the time auditions came around again, I'd exhausted all the things I'd wanted to do. That was 18 seasons ago." Helping with Philadanco auditions also gave her perspective. "I walked in less worried, having been in a situation where I knew what we needed for a piece compared to how many dancers were in the room," says Boykin. "It could be that it's just not your time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to try. Instead, I used it as fuel."

News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

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.

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

"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.

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Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

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.

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In Memoriam
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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