This article was written by our UK Correspondent Viki Westall for the April issue, before the Corona shutdown. Since we couldn’t publish this issue, we want to share this beautiful article with you. Here you can read it online for free now!
Audition season has commenced once more, and, although now disrupted, will always be the challenge young dancers have to face to embrace their futures on stage. Conversations with company Directors reveal that all are searching for similar things from dancers – that wow factor, that something different, instant personality, the ability to learn and learn quickly – and above all, to go the extra mile without complaint or breakage. Many of these attributes are hard both for a panel to discover in an audition experience, and also difficult for a dancer to portray, which is why so many junior companies and graduate/apprentice schemes have emerged, with invaluable results for both.
So how best to tackle and survive the audition circuit?
Viki Westall asked a group of graduate students about their audition experiences, and what advice, if any, they could pass on.
Hannah L (Australian)
A lot of companies take quite a while to get back to you – and then you panic if your friends have had replies and you haven’t! If you follow it up sometimes you get a. ‘Sorry – we lost your email’, or ‘Thank you for your application, we’ll get back to you soon’ and sometimes nothing at all. You have to be quite hard-nosed and consistent.
I did Vienna Festival yesterday and really enjoyed it, there were about 35 of us who had been invited. I got to grand allegro so that was great! About a third of the people were cut after the barre, they went round to each person individually to say ‘Thankyou’ or ‘You can stay”.
I also did an audition for a Welsh National Opera production which was interesting. We did class and repertoire and then partnering afterwards. I think I wasn’t quite right and they wanted a more contemporary /neo-classical dancer than me, but it was good experience anyway.
Last year I auditioned for National Moravian-Silesia Theatre Ballet, and they were really good. My friend got the contract there. I also tried, for something a little bit different, the Disney open call audition for Frozen the Musical, and that was really worth going to. They were really lovely and treated all of us with a huge amount of respect. I got a call back and they actually took the time to e mail me with some advice – ‘We really liked you but these are some areas you could improve on,’ etc. This is the massive Disney Corporation! They auditioned over lots of different cities, so there must have been thousands of us. I was the only one from Cardiff to get a recall but the fact that they took this time to interact with us shows that it is possible to do so. Maybe the musical theatre world is ahead of the ballet world in their treatment of auditionees? Or maybe it was just the Disney way.
I think that the more specific you are in your application the more specific they are in getting back to you. Last year I sent a more general mail, but this year I am drawing attention to my height rather than trying to slide in under the radar. I did audition for Hamburg Youth Ballet eventually, although my February email was responded to in December! The class was good but there were 55 girls and the boys were in there too – it didn’t fell like a class, more like a workshop you would do at a summer school. In the end they took people from the school ….
I went to the Grand Audition – there were 5 groups of about 50 people. I didn’t like that the groups were mixed – why not 2 groups of males and 3 of girls? The Directors mostly were looking at the boys. And my group was the only group that was asked to remove their skirts (the rules said we could wear short skirts), which left me in a pink leotard and pink tights, so very very pink indeed! Only a few people from my group passed to the second round. It wasn’t an experience I would recommend.
I did this weekend English National Ballet and New English Ballet Theatre, and these I really enjoyed as I loved the repertoire. On Tuesday I did a private in Pilsen in the Czech Republic and the Director said he really liked me – but I am always too small and too young and too inexperienced which is so frustrating because no-one says ‘You don’t have technique’ or ‘We don’t like you’. He said ‘You are perfect for the stage but you are not experienced” – aargh! I had even had to do my solo in front of the whole company!
I’ve just been to ENB’s audition for their Albert Hall production of Swan Lake in the round, and was successful! It was held in their new headquarters in Canning Town – a really lovely new building. There were about 90 girls, and before we did anything we had to queue up and be measured all over – wrists, ankles, everything! The first class was really quick, about 45 minutes and then they cut, and then 49 of us did rep – running from the corner doing Swan arms, bourrees, trying to stay in line, I really enjoyed it. It was a calm atmosphere.
I also enjoyed auditioning for Estonian National – I’m not sure what I expected, as it’s a national company I thought it would be really serious, but it was actually really nice. It’s a new director (Linnar Looris), and he kept emphasising how he wanted to change the audition process to be more relaxed and less intense, which quite shocked me, I’ve never heard a Director say that before! He did quite a bit of the process before you got there, you had to send a video of all of your classwork so they could be sure they were inviting the right ones. He didn’t cut and everyone got to do the whole class and contemporary which made it so worth while.
I also did Europa ballet in Austria, not my favourite! I had sent photos and they said it would be invitation only, but when I got there the queues were out of the door! Everyone was crammed into a tiny space and they didn’t tell you which group you were in, so I didn’t have time to warm up. Class was very fast, then we did a short bit of rep, and it was in such a small amount of space I felt like I couldn’t move and couldn’t dance my best.
New English Ballet Theatre was good too. Wayne Eagling and other prestigious people were on the panel. Class was a whole 1 ½ hours and then I got through to do the rep, which I loved. However, the following stage was pas de deux and the boys that they had kept, well, none of them were tall, so I walked in there knowing I didn’t have much chance because there were a lot of shorter girls! I did really enjoy it though.
Hannah M (Scottish)
I’ve just done a private audition in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and it was a really positive experience. The company were really nice, and there were three of us that did company class and then we got to do both our solos so it was really quite fair. They went well, despite the fact that the whole company was watching as they were preparing for rehearsals! The Director was really nice, she came and introduced herself and the ballet master too, so I am waiting to hear from them. A private audition is so much better because you are not in a competitive environment so you can enjoy and therefore dance so much better. A lot of the company are Italian or English so although most people in Plovdiv don’t speak much English I wouldn’t feel isolated.
I actually enjoyed the Grand Audition because I got to the second round so I got to perform my solos and dance. There were quite a lot of people, and they didn’t seem to watch the class, but they watched the solos. There were quite a few Directors, but it is very expensive and I felt that I didn’t learn anything for that cost – there were no corrections in class. If you get corrections you at least feel noticed and that it was worth the journey.
I did Leipzig – which was horrible! It was a really small studio and they cut after every exercise, they were walking around the room taking notes so it was really tense!
I also tried a small company in Bulgaria which was a mistake, as it was very Russian technique and the town was horrible.
However, last week I auditioned for Northern Ballet. There were 5 of us and we had to do company class taken by Yoko Ichino which was hard! Then we had to learn Snowflakes from Nutcracker which is really fast! I started to think that maybe it was a “No’ as the days passed, but today I was given an Apprentice Contract – I am so happy!
Bordeaux was the biggest cattle call I’ve ever been to. When I arrived, the queue was out of the door and up the stairs. There was nowhere to change and one toilet underground for 500 girls, they were stapling numbers together because they had run out – I was 2 numbers stuck together. There were 5 groups in the end and I was in the last group – so I arrived at one o’clock but didn’t do barre until 5 so I was warming up for hours! I spoke to people who had done solos at 8.30pm and they still hadn’t got to interviews. It was an old stone building, freezing cold, and we couldn’t leave the building as you didn’t know what time you would be called. They just wrote the numbers of those they wanted to see again on a white board – you had to wait 10mins to get to see the board as there were so many people, but it turned out to be quite a good social occasion as you met so many people you knew!
I think it will be more organized this year as I have friends who are going who already know which group they are in which will be so much better.
Last year I auditioned for Dortmund, it was one of my first auditions, and I got all the way through to the end, class and Forsythe rep, but I didn’t quite get it. I had this gut feeling that it was somewhere I really liked and decided I was going to go back and try again this year. There were about 100 people and we did a 2-hour ballet class. They cut after every exercise which was pretty brutal, and as I had been travelling all the way through Germany and Romania the night before it was quite hard to concentrate! I was starting to doubt myself, maybe last year was just a fluke? But I guess that I showed my strengths and my weaknesses in that class as it pretty much covered everything so when they accepted me I was really reassured as they had seen every side of my dancing.
It is really helpful to ask people who have been before for the plane/bus/train link specially to get to some of the smaller places in Europe. It’s also good to be prepared for emergencies – if you are going to walk to the hotel from the theatre but then it starts pouring down, it is really useful to have a taxi number.
It’s hard when companies don’t tell you their audition dates until a couple of weeks beforehand because the flights are then so expensive, but generally companies have become more selective about who they are gong to invite to an audition which is a good thing as you don’t waste so much money. At the same time it can be disheartening when you aren’t being asked to many auditions because you don’t get any feedback as to why. It might be your height, your look, anything but it is hard not to take it personally. A friend last year did really well in one audition and the Director said that he really really liked her – but as she had sent a black and white photo he had not realised that her hair was red …. so always send a colour photo!