Martha Graham Dance Company in Prelude to Action. Photo by Melissa Sherwood, Courtesy MGDC

How I Got the Job: Martha Graham Dance Company

Today, Anne Souder, Xin Ying and Marzia Memoli are all members of the Martha Graham Dance Company, but their journeys there couldn't have been more different. Each of them shared how they landed a contract with their dream company.



Anne Souder, soloist

Souder in Graham's Ekstasis

Hibbard Nash, Courtesy MGDC

The Graham company had been at the top of Anne Souder's list since high school. "Watching veteran dancers like Masha Dashkina Maddux and Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, I thought, I want to move like that," says Souder. "It was something special to see the longevity of these dancers. This wasn't just a company for the youngest; there was potential for upward growth."

She studied Graham technique as part of her coursework at the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program, and during her senior year, she auditioned for the company. "I have the personality of a go-getter but not the showmanship to be comfortable front and center, so auditions made me really anxious," says Souder. They didn't have a job for her at the time, but artistic director Janet Eilber encouraged Souder to take the summer intensive and to look into the next Graham 2 audition. It worked: At that audition, she landed a contract. After a season with Graham 2, she auditioned for the main company again, feeling more confident in the technique but calm enough to enjoy the performance of it. "I needed more experience to be ready for the work," says Souder.

Know what you're getting into: If you're geeking out about a company, Souder recommends talking to as many people in its orbit as you can to get a three-dimensional picture of what it's like to work there. "It helps to know what boxes you check for the company, how many auditions it typically takes to break through and where former company members have ended up," she says.

Xin Ying, principal dancer

Xin in Graham's Spectre

Melissa Sherwood, Courtesy MGDC

After a major earthquake rocked her hometown in China, Xin Ying decided to leave a comfortable job teaching Chinese classical and folk dance, and two years later she moved to New York City. She had learned about Martha Graham in school but had no formal modern training. When Xin auditioned for the Graham School's Independent Program for international students, she was placed in the elementary level. "I was so disappointed to be starting at ground zero, but Martha Graham started later in life too," she says.

After one semester, she transferred into the Accelerated Professional Program, and a scholarship audition led to an invitation to join Graham 2. Just months later, Eilber asked her to work with the company as a student apprentice. She performed chorus work and continued to dance with Graham 2, doing school outreach performances during the day. Xin officially joined the main company in 2011, only two years after she'd arrived in New York.

"I never set a goal like, Next year, I'll be a principal," says Xin. "I was just working hard day by day toward the thing right in front of me, and once that was a reality, I'd think about the next step. I still can't believe how far I've come."

Go all in: Though starting modern dance late was a challenge, Xin found inspiration in Martha Graham. "She lived really large—she kept working until the very last year of her life, creating 181 works," says Xin. "If you want to be successful, that's how much effort you have to put in. There are no guarantees in your career, but if you give up, you're guaranteed not to reach your goal."

Marzia Memoli, dancer

Memoli in Larry Keigwin's Lamentation Variation

Benoite Fanton, Courtesy MGDC

Already in her third Graham season at only 22 years old, it may seem like Marzia Memoli made a beeline for company status, but she faced difficult decisions along the way. The Italian native was only in her second year at Rudra Béjart School in Lausanne, Switzerland, when she took class with the Graham company while they were on tour. Eilber approached her afterward and said she should come to New York to work with the troupe. "I knew they wanted me, but I felt strongly about finishing my education," says Memoli. "I also thought I should follow through on my goal to audition for several companies I really believed in—Graham was just the first one." She stayed at Béjart for nine more months to finish her program and audition elsewhere, but upon graduation, Graham was her clear choice.

Memoli joined the main company without an official audition and was quickly immersed. "I had two and a half months to prepare for my first tour. When another dancer got injured the day before we left, I was asked to step into a piece I knew but had never actually danced," says Memoli. "I was still only speaking French and Italian—no English at all—so I was confused about everything but my dancing! Afterward, Janet said, 'You'll dance that every night.' "

Have a goal, but stay open-minded: "Accept what life brings you," says Memoli. "I know dancers who miss out on opportunities because they are single-minded about one big, shiny goal. But if you stay open, you'll expand your skills and be even better for that dream role when it comes around."

Latest Posts


Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021