Your Career

From Ballet Company to Broadway

Georgina Pazcoguin as Victoria in the Broadway revival of CATS (photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy CATS)

A debilitating illness forced Katelyn Prominski to retire early from Pennsylvania Ballet. However, once she recovered, she felt ready to tackle a new stage: Broadway. But before she began booking musicals like Flashdance and Dirty Dancing, she had to reckon with a new and humbling audition process. “When you go into a Broadway audition, you learn a dance combo first and then by the time they ask you to sing, your heart rate is going," says Prominski. “I remember one audition where I forgot the words and la-di-da'd my way through instead of singing the lyrics."

More and more ballet dancers are taking a chance on Broadway musicals. New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild recently starred in On the Town, while ballet-centric shows such as Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris have provided starring and ensemble opportunities for dancers from NYCB, The Royal Ballet Miami City Ballet and more. Many cite the artistic benefits of exploring an entirely new side of performance and the challenge of dancing, acting and singing. With eight shows a week, you get to practically live onstage and dive deep into a role. The pay is usually better, too. But in order to make this new world your own, you must be ready to rethink your audition approach and be open to a different set of professional expectations.


Take Time to Retool

Remember the lifetime you spent preparing for your ballet career? Well, musical theater is no different in its rigor. Though your ballet technique will be an asset, you still need to take a variety of dance classes such as jazz, tap and hip hop. Randy Castillo, now performing in the national tour of An American in Paris, moved back to New York City after a ballet career in Europe to prepare. Well before his first audition, he began taking voice lessons three days a week, going to jazz class and embedding himself in the musical theater scene at Broadway Dance Center. “Musical theater people work so hard, and you can't come into that world without taking it seriously," says Castillo. “It would be like me going into a ballet company with jeans on."

New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, who took a leave of absence this season to perform in the Broadway revival of CATS, agrees. “Approach Broadway auditions with the same diligence you had with your ballet career," she says. Pazcoguin became interested in musical theater after finding her singing voice as Anita in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite. She did her research by seeking out people in the industry and asking questions. In addition to polishing new dance skills, she learned she also needed a new resumé and headshot.

For a Broadway resumé, winnow your repertoire highlights, company experience and any other credits down to a page of bullet points; your headshot should be stapled to the back. Duncan Stewart and Benton Whitley, casting directors and partners at Stewart/Whitley agency, note that it's smart to get in touch with a theatrical headshot photographer, “someone who makes people look like people," says Whitley. “The headshot needs to show the story behind your eyes, your personality. The old bare-shouldered, serious photo is not going to cut it."

What to Expect on Audition Day

Broadway auditions are structured differently than those of ballet companies (which usually involve a class and maybe some repertoire). While every audition is different and show-specific, it's best to arrive already warmed up and ready to move. The dance portion usually involves combinations or phrases from the choreographer; anyone moving on to the next round will be asked to sing the music they have prepared and brought with them.

Your appearance is crucial. “You can't look like a slob," says Pazcoguin. “Your makeup must be on, no holes in your tights. I had to get some nicer dance clothes." Stewart and Whitley emphasize a more pedestrian, clean, athletic appearance. “No buns or black leotards for women, no tights for men," says Stewart. “We don't want to see ballet dancers going into an audition looking like outsiders, schlepping in wearing those oversize slippers. You should look like an athletic person who happens to dance well."

Because each show has a different style, prepare songs to match. For Castillo, that meant going to a few different voice coaches for help. “They each gave me different feedback," explains Castillo. “One helped me technically and another one was a pianist at auditions, so he would give me books and advice on what to sing for which show." It is a huge mistake to be musically unprepared—singing “Happy Birthday" is unprofessional. “Have two to three songs ready, 16 to 32 bars that show you off," says Whitley. And remember to breathe. “Your vocal coach should teach you where to breathe in a song, which makes you look more intelligent in the audition, like you know where the commas are," says Stewart.

Most of all, show your personality the minute you walk in the room. When Prominski made the best of her singing blunder and kept smiling, it paid off. “They saw my sense of humor about it, so they could have a sense of humor about it," she says, and adds that she ended up booking the job. Stewart and Whitley insist if you are charming, and the right alchemy is established with the creative team, almost any rookie mistake can be forgiven. Applying the technical skills, artistry, attention to detail and drive you already have to your audition will give you an added boost.

Do you need an agent?

While some dancers begin the process with an agent, others wait to sign until they have a few shows under their belt. “Get to know the casting directors and choreographers first," says casting director Duncan Stewart. While an agent can help you find auditions, negotiate contracts and manage your career, you're the one who books the gig.

New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the StageChagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
P.O. Alienz in Lavender Leotard; Paulina Waski modelling a Kreature Kulture t-shirt. Photos Courtesy Paulina Waski.

Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.

"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.


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Danny Rivera (left) is one of six students from San Juan who the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is hoping to relocate so he can continue his training. Photo by Soho Images, Courtesy SCBS.


Many of us take our ballet training for granted. But for dancers living in Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastating affects of last month's Hurricane Maria, pursuing a ballet career or simply taking class must now feel insurmountable. What do you do when Mother Nature not only destroys your dance studio, but your home and the majority of the city you live in? Priorities must shift to those of basic survival.

Now, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is trying to help six Puerto Rican dancers resume their training. The students, whose studio in San Juan was badly damaged, had recently attended SCBS's summer intensive. School directors Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez have started a fundraising effort called "Sarasota And Puerto Rico Dance Together" to temporarily relocate the dancers. While they can easily offer them scholarships, Serrano and Hernandez must raise an additional $36,000 to provide housing, food and living expenses for one year. (SCBS has a dormitory for female students, but not for male students.)

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Videos
Photo by Nisian Hughes

Transform your next black-and-white tutu look with these on-trend details like mesh cutouts and lace sleeves. And checkout the behind-the-scenes footage from our tutu shoot, below.

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