Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen, now in his 10th year with the company, shares his audition tips.

When I envision a ballet company of the future, I see a troupe that can perform many genres of dance at a high level. Today’s dancers shouldn’t be limited as specialists in one style. When looking for artists to join Boston Ballet, I seek out dancers with the potential to cover the diverse repertoire that has become our company’s signature—they need to be able to do everything fromBayadère to Balanchine to Jorma Elo and Jirí Kylián.

While expectations for dancers auditioning today have changed, some things remain the same. Butterflies. Nerves. Excitement. It’s understandable to be anxious, but with the right preparation you can perform at your best.

Know the Company

The best place to start your audition process is actually outside of the studio. Educate yourself on each company you’re interested in: its size, the repertoire it performs, the direction it’s headed. Investigate. Think thoroughly about what those attributes mean to you. Understanding what a company is looking for in a dancer will help you select the right places to audition—and help you present yourself in the best manner possible. If you make it to the end of our audition, my first question will be, “Why Boston Ballet?” Make sure you know the answer.

Research and Focus

Concentrate your audition process. Rather than trying out for 10 or more companies, pick three that you really care about. This will help you focus on your goals: Your daily training should prepare you for the type of work your preferred companies perform. This will also show directors that you know what you’re looking for. Choosing a company is one of the most important decisions in your professional life—take it seriously. You’re not just getting a job, you’re committing to a type of training, a rehearsal process and a repertoire.

Look Like You Want It

Show that you care about the opportunity. Come dressed appropriately. Wear clothing that fits and don’t overdo it with accessories—you don’t want anything to distract from your dancing. Don’t wait for the final group and try to be last. You’re going to be seen no matter where you are, so why not make yourself visible?

Paperwork

An audition package is the easy part. In your cover letter, state your interest in the company and explain a bit about yourself. The resumé is a tool to help me understand who you are as a dancer; to give me perspective. I need to know your name, contact information, date of birth, nationality, where you trained and your professional experience. Show attention to detail by ensuring there are no errors, typos or misspellings. Lastly, submit a dance photo and an honest headshot. I need to recognize you in the picture so that when I look at it later, my impressions of you come flooding back.

Breathe

I know auditions are stressful, so I try to make the ambiance as relaxed as possible. The best way to fight nerves is through proper preparation. Once you’re in the studio, breathe. Your body won’t move unless you do. Musicality, unmannered presentation—these intangibles come from an inner calm. Show that you know each exercise, but also have fun with them. You will have butterflies; just make sure they fly in formation.

Be Yourself

I’m looking for dancers who are interesting. Personality and personal style are not things you put on; they come out when you open up enough to show who you are. If you don’t share yourself, you become a wall. To see a dancer doing honest work is so beautiful. That is the dancer I end up watching. Phrase movement in your own way. It’s not about having everything externally perfect; it’s about unveiling your unique, honest qualities within.

Timing

Each company has specific needs. If you get cut, it does not mean you’re a bad dancer. It just means that you are not fitting a certain parameter right now. Many major artists were rejected from certain schools or companies but went on to have incredible careers.

I make a first cut after three center exercises, which usually provides enough opportunity to reveal who I’m looking for. But there have been rare occasions when I didn’t spot a dancer’s potential, and didn’t hire them—and ended up offering a contract the next time I saw them.

I’ve always found that you can drive ahead when you’re behind. Let any challenges fuel you and your success. Remember, all roads can lead to a fulfilling career—there’s not just one way to get there.

LADP's Rachelle Rafailedes leading a workout. Photo by Studio 6, Courtesy Sunshine Sachs.

If your usual workouts are feeling stale, Benjamin Millepied's L.A. Dance Project might be able to help. The contemporary ballet troupe recently launched an online exercise platform that puts its stars in your living room.

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Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.


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New York City Ballet in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Nutcracker season is upon us, with productions popping up in on stages in big cities and small towns around the country. But this year you can catch New York City Ballet's famous version on the silver screen, too. Lincoln Center at the Movies and Screen Vision Media are presenting a limited engagement of NYCB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at select cinemas nationwide starting December 2. It stars Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier.

While nothing beats seeing a live performance (the company's theatrical Nutcracker run opens Friday), the big screen will no doubt magnify some of this production's most breathtaking effects: the Christmas tree that grows to an impressive 40 feet, Marie's magical spinning bed, and the stunning, swirling snow scene. Click here to find a participating movie theater near you—then, go grab some popcorn.

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Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for "The Sleeping Beauty" for the 2017/18 season. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.

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Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette in "Allegro Brillante." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT has also offered sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast in the past.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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