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."