When you say “audition reel” to artistic directors, you’ll probably hear a groan. Screening reels is a tedious process. They sit through dozens each year, growing frustrated by the lack of good footage and getting queasy from shaky camera work.
But if you put together an impressive package, a reel can be a quick, easy foot in the stage door. Just make sure to steer clear of a few all-too-common bloopers.
Showing the Wrong Footage
Tailor the material to the stage of your career. “I don’t need to see accomplished dancers taking barre. Show excerpts from performance,” says Pennsylvania Ballet Artistic Director Roy Kaiser. “For students, I want to see classroom work—I’m considering them for our second company or an apprenticeship, so I’m looking for solid, clean technique to build from.”
If you only have performance footage of corps work, scrap it—directors don’t want to have to follow a buried-treasure map to pick you out. Instead, film a variation, pas de deux, coda and contemporary work in the studio.
Gordon Wright, director of The Harid Conservatory, has his graduating students film barre, center, pointe work and a variation. Make sure to include an adagio, turns and grand allegro. Never choose a variation that’s too difficult—well-executed steps are always more impressive than sloppy tricks.
Most artistic directors want to see a range. “If you just do Kitri, we wonder if you can do anything else,” says Nadia Thompson, ballet mistress at Milwaukee Ballet.
But be smart: Don’t include material simply to prove you’re versatile. “Know who you’re auditioning for so you can present something that reflects how you’d look in their rep,” says Russell Kaiser, assistant artistic director at Boston Ballet.
That might mean you’ll need to make more than one DVD. Dancer Damien Drake put together one with Nutcracker footage and another with just contemporary work. “I thought showing only contemporary would make a more concise video that would stand out from the crowd,” he says. It worked: After sending the contemporary DVD and then taking company class, he was offered a contract with Nashville Ballet.
Long Is All Wrong
Your DVD will be met with varying degrees of patience. “If it’s long, I’m just never gonna watch all of it. Choose highlights that really showcase your talents,” says PAB’s Kaiser. Most directors suggest a run-time between 5 and 20 minutes.
If you haven’t grabbed their attention within the first 60 seconds, chances are any material you put afterwards won’t be seen. “I get an impression of a dancer almost immediately,” says PAB’s Kaiser. Put your most impressive work first.
Some directors like dancers to introduce themselves to get a sense of their personality; others think it wastes time. Either way, BB’s Kaiser says to be sure to write your name and contact information on the actual DVD in case it gets separated from your resumé.
Omissions Are Obvious
Even if you’re not a great turner, don’t leave out those pirouettes—directors will assume the worst. “We notice omissions much more than something that’s slightly weak,” says Thompson. “If you don’t show any jumps, we wonder what’s wrong.”
Take Off the Junk
“My biggest pet peeve is how many dancers wear leg warmers or something baggy,” says PAB’s Kaiser. When you cover up, it sends a message that you’re insecure about your body. Women should stick to a leotard, footed pink tights and pointe shoes, and men should wear full-length tights plus a fitted t-shirt. Stay away from black, which can be hard to see on film. “Avoid turtleneck leotards or fancy designs that affect the line of the neck,” says Wright. “It’s better to err on the side of too conservative.”
Bad Quality = Bad Mood
“Sometimes the quality is so bad we can’t even tell if their feet are pointed,” says BB’s Kaiser. “When you present something like that, it’s hard for us to judge whether we’re interested.”
Make your video easy on the eyes. “Distracting camera work drives me crazy,” says PAB’s Kaiser. Zooming gets confusing. Just show a broad shot of the stage or studio, but not from so far away that they can’t make out your line.
Most important, be sure directors can watch your reel! “You’d be shocked at how many DVDs don’t work,” says Thompson. “Sometimes we can only watch it on a Mac or by using a certain computer program. Always check that it works on a regular DVD player.”
Drake suggests asking friends to take a look. “Have as many people as possible watch it to make sure it flows well, everything is efficient and there’s no annoying blank spots between clips,” he says. Any feedback you get will help create a stronger presentation. Merde!
Jennifer Stahl is senior editor of Pointe.