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Trainee Program Truths
Former Joffrey trainee and current company dancer Amanda Assucena. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
When Amanda Assucena graduated from the Harid Conservatory, she hoped to work professionally right away. But as she auditioned for companies, she quickly began to feel that her dancing wasn’t as mature as everyone else’s. “My movement was very academic,” she says. Assucena realized she needed more time to prepare. She applied for trainee programs at her favorite companies, eventually accepting a place at the Joffrey Ballet. “I thought of the trainee program as a transition process.” The following year, she was hired into their main company.
The path to a professional career in ballet has changed. Today, getting hired straight out of high school is less common than it was just a decade ago. Dancers are turning to another leg of training to bridge the gap between their student and professional years. This allows them to gain professional experience and polish their technique and artistry, making them a more attractive hire to directors. It also gives dancers a look inside their dream company and a connection that could help make that dream come true. However, it comes with a price—sometimes more than $5,000 a year.
Trainee experiences vary widely, but most programs are very rigorous. Dancers spend 20 to 30 hours a week in trainee-level technique classes and rehearsals held at the school, plus additional time in company class and rehearsals. At most programs, trainees are used to fill out the corps de ballet in company repertoire. “During the first year or so as a company member it can be a real shock on your body and mind to be doing mostly corps works every day,” says former San Francisco Ballet trainee Jeanette Kakareka, who danced in the corps while working on bigger roles for trainee performances. “So to be able to still perform White Swan pas de deux on the same day as learning how to be in a straight line in the corps is very helpful.”
Many programs offer various ways to help dancers transition into their careers. Cincinnati Ballet gives students the opportunity to create dances through choreographic workshops. Joffrey holds monthly seminars on topics such as injury prevention, audition videos and career transition. And Ballet Austin trainees can put their dancing hours toward college credit at neighboring St. Edward’s University.
Trainee programs do get some flack. Critics argue that they allow companies to profit by collecting tuition while bolstering their corps de ballet, with no promise of a job upon completion. And even if trainees are offered a position, it’s often with the second company or an apprenticeship—not a full-fledged corps de ballet contract. Though Kakareka chose not to join SFB, accepting a contract with English National Ballet instead, she feels the extra time spent training there was well worth it: “My traineeship gave me every opportunity to succeed.”
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.