Kyle Froman

Put Your Best Audition Photo Forward: How to Stand Out in 2-D

This story originally appeared in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Pointe.

My audition photo shoot was less than ideal: The studio was freezing, my photographer friend was a ballet novice and I could hear the clock ticking on our $20-per-hour studio rental. This added to my mounting anxiety that my pictures could help land me a job—or land firmly in a "no" pile. Needless to say, they depicted my stress rather than my best. And when it comes to audition photos, your best is important. Not only will a good audition picture help you stand out, it will also help an interested director recognize you in a stack of resumés.

"Directors need to see your turnout, feet and a nice arabesque," says former New York City Ballet dancer Kyle Froman, now a professional photographer whose company, StudentAuditionPhotos.com, launched last year. But you also have to let your artistry shine through those photos. Here are Froman's tips for impressive, eye-catching prints.


Hire a Pro (or the Next Best Thing)

Via Burst

The best way to get a great dance shot is to hire an experienced dance photographer. Shooting ballet, Froman says, is very black and white: "There's a right moment, but 99 percent of the time it's the wrong moment." Jumps, particularly, need perfect timing. Someone experienced in both ballet and photography will know exactly when to snap the shot.

If you can't afford a professional or can't find one experienced in dance, enlist a friend. In fact, it's better to hire an amateur who knows ballet over a professional who doesn't. It saves money, says Froman, and "chances are, they're going to get something that's closer to what an employer wants to see." As for composition and presentation, use the highest-resolution camera you have; shoot with a clean, uncluttered background; pay attention to lighting and exposure (your body should be well lit, but not washed-out) and print on high-quality paper.

Prep Well and Show Your Assets

Kyle Froman

Don't start with piqués and jumps when your back, calves and everything in between are cold. Take time to warm up properly and grow accustomed to the camera before hitting required poses. These, Froman urges, should highlight your assets: "Minimize your weaknesses unless there's no other way around it." Don't forgo an arabesque shot if a director asks for one specifically, but if your side extension is to your ear, you might be better off with a glorious à la seconde.

Trade Secrets

Photo tip: Shoot arabesques and jumps from below to boost extension and height.

Kyle Froman

"Dancers know what angles are best on them," Froman says, but he references some camera tricks to help flatter further. For example, a direct profile isn't the best angle if you're worried about your turnout. And arabesques and jumps should be shot from below to slightly boost extension and height. A jump six inches in the air will look more impressive than a three-foot jump shot from the wrong angle.

Style Wisely

Kyle Froman

You want to stand out, but never at the cost of professionalism. "A gaudy photo turns people off," Froman says. "Don't wear hot pink just to capture somebody's attention. Let your dancing speak for itself." In personal styling, err on the side of dressing conservatively. For women, tights and pointe shoes should be ballet pink and leotards should be basic (a tutu is okay, as long as it doesn't obscure your line). Men should wear a solid-color top with black tights and either black shoes or white socks and white shoes.

The Headshot

Kyle Froman

For headshots, focus on presenting a clean, personable picture. If you've chosen to wear your hair down, take those photos first to avoid crimping from hairspray and pins, and use moderate street makeup. (Yes, Froman says, fake eyelashes are too much.)

Shine Through

Kyle Froman

Towards the end of a photo shoot Froman asks dancers, "When was your best moment onstage?" He'll have them do an eight-count sequence from their favorite variation and imagine that they're performing in front of 2,000 people. This helps find the spark: the personality and love of dancing that will bring your technique, facility and potential to life.

The Directors' Take: Mikko Nissinen

Mikko Nissinen observes an audition

Courtesy Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen looks out for dancers who he may have previously crossed paths with. But he won't be able to make this connection if your headshot is unrecognizable. "The worst thing is if it's a glamour shot that looks nothing like you," Nissinen says. For dance photos, he says, "I'd like to see a shot that they enjoy and I can see their spirit and even some dance in." This is easier, he thinks, in a performance photo: "Studio shots are often more sterile. But I also understand that a student might not have done Odette/Odile." Ultimately, he says, "I'm looking for quality dancers. The more quality the picture can represent, if that's the case in reality, then great."

The Directors' Take: Edwaard Liang

Edwaard Liang demonstrates

Courtesy BalletMet

For BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang, photos don't have to be "hyper-professional," but they should be clear and clean—and honest. "If a photo doesn't capture the essence of your ability and your technique, then I think that's misleading." On the other hand, he doesn't oppose the subtle camera tricks like the kind photographer Kyle Froman suggests. "I think that a smart dancer is more important than anything else. Just like models, they need to know what their best angles are." For Liang, knowing how to play to your strengths is a strength. If you can work a camera lens, chances are you can do it for an audience.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

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Schermoly is also no stranger to film, having created a digital short called In Passing for the Ashley Bouder Project in 2015. But her most recent film project for Louisville Ballet, a new version of the iconic Rite of Spring, breaks ground—or, rather, ice—with its fresh, arctic take on the Stravinsky masterwork.

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