The same procedure as every year: Auditions

By Viki Westalkl-Eyre

It’s that time of year again – when dance school graduates from around the world face the biggest challenge of their lives – getting their first job. There are so many hopefuls for so few positions, with the bar being raised ever higher for physical perfection and prowess that it is not a quest for the faint hearted. But if you have what it takes, and the desire and determination to follow your dream, then do not in fact lose heart. It is only the start of the journey, and if you convince enough to be allowed to begin, then those potential flaws can either be erased or become part of your charm.

What Directors Say

Having had the opportunity over the years to ask Directors exactly what it is they are looking for in their auditionees, they all concur on one point – as Ingrid Lorentzen (Norwegian National Ballet) puts it – the ‘X’ factor.  There is often little ‘wrong’ with them, but that specific is missing. Tamas Detrich (Stuttgart) says that there are rules to follow, but if your heart or gut instinct tells you that someone is special, then you have to go for it.

So there you have it, you have to wow with your personality, the certain something that makes you stand out from the crowd. Of course there are many other pre-requisites, the body shape, the physicality, the solid technique, and, as David Nixon (Northern Ballet) asks: How open are they? Do they listen? Are they musical? For Aaron S. Watkin (Dresden Semperoper Ballet) it is very important to see how fast the dancer hears, responds and processes corrections and to see versatility between classical, neo-classical and modern styles. Goyo Montero (Nurnberg Ballet) says that he relies on this sixth sense – do I want to see this person, this face, this energy every day for years? For Thomas Edur (Estonian National Ballet) it’s the physiology, the fastness of the muscle response and the stamina to begin in the corps de ballet and to be able to stay in line!

Probably the hardest thing to discover in the audition process is also one of the most important for a Director – how fit for purpose are they? Can they last through a gruelling season injury free, be eager and ready to jump in at the last minute, keep upbeat and smiling and enthusiastic against the odds? This conundrum has led many companies to form second/graduate/apprentice companies or contracts where these vital elements will be discovered with the benefits working for both dancer and Director alike. These semi-professional training grounds are a god send to those who maybe do not make the supermodel body grade but who, nonetheless have all the other attributes, and the passion, and they can flourish and develop and surprise.

Many Directors complain about the ‘blanket’ e mail applications and inappropriate photos from students (jazz shots and soft focus portraits!), and how off putting it is to feel that the applicant knows nothing about their company, choreography or style. One would think that, especially with most Directors being either choreographers or ex-dancers themselves that the writing should be on the wall regarding the personal sensitivity of these demi-gods ….

What Dancers experience

One would expect that the audition experience of today is an improvement on years past. Whilst this is definitely the case overall, unfortunately I am still hearing the bitter disappointment of those who arrange an audition, pay the travel and hotel costs, turn up only to be told that the Director is not there. ‘It is just so deflating to be videoed in class (in the hope that it might actually be viewed?) after going all that way’.

Most companies now have the decency to do invitation only after photos or video have been submitted, avoiding wasted travel expenses for, for example, small dancers when tall are required – or whatever. It still seems a lottery however as the whether the audition experience is a relevant learning curve or a complete waste of time – a woeful exploitation of young aspirants.

Speaking to students currently on the job seek revealed a myriad of stories.

“Czech National Ballet was a bad experience for me – I was cut after the barre’

‘We had to wear white leotards for Paris Opera, I was cut after the barre but it was ok as everyone had been really nice, we danced in small groups so you really felt like they had seen you so it was fair enough”

‘In Ostrava we did class, then a couple of us got to do our variations which was great. But then we had to improvise for ages which was very stressful!’

‘Dortmund was a bad, if you didn’t get cut after the barre then you were sent away and had to wait an hour to do the centre which was awful!’

‘Hannover was good although they did cut after the barre, then after pirouettes, then after allegro. Only 2 people got to do repertoire in the end but they did film from the centre onwards and said they might get in touch’

‘Northern Ballet was really good as David talked to us beforehand, no one gets cut, you get to dance the whole day and do company rep and pas de deux’

‘I enjoyed Jas Ballet in Milan. After class the 30 were cut to 8 and then we did our variation, learnt some contemporary repertoire and also did improvisation’

Rousse State Opera was over 2 days. We had a full class on flat, then pointe work afterwards, and they gave us a talk at the end’

Improvisation might well be a scary concept but for Directors like Eric Gauthier it is the deciding factor, a chance to discover ‘the inner animal’. ‘What makes a great artist is what they have inside, and this is what I go for’.

Grand Auditions 2017

So – The Grand Audition – is it worth it?

The concept of gathering Directors together in one place for a multi-audition has to be applauded, so that dancers can dance once for many, avoiding piling up the travel and accommodation expenses. I was interested to learn – amongst those attendees I spoke to – of a general disappointment. Such a tiny fraction gets jobs and so many go that proportionally there are not a lot of contracts, and then, when the Directors go up on stage at the end to offer them they all seemed to go to the same small handful, so that one person can end up with 6 job offers and the huge crowd in the auditorium have to clap politely. All the participating companies have their own auditions anyway, and as one girl told me that at least when you went to a specific company you could research their style, their dancers and try to mould yourself to fit. And although cheaper at 290 Euros (plus 45 for registration) than visiting 9 separate companies, it may be that only 3 are appropriate for the individual – so even the winners were sometimes taken aback by the prospect of working somewhere they didn’t want to. Last year The National Ballet of Canada was to attend, and for that – the opportunity to avoid a transatlantic journey, it was felt The Grand Audition was value for money. In the end though Canada did not show up ….

As Robert Conn ( former artistic director Ballet Augsburg) says, ‘In these days of austerity when companies have been cut, a 19-year-old might have to stand shoulder to shoulder with a prima ballerina and perform, so you can’t have scared kids, you have to have personalities’. Through all the trials and tribulations, self-doubt and nerves this has to be the top tip of all – dare to dance, dare to be different, dare to be yourself. Good luck to all this season!