Audition Advice

Mastering the Audition Circuit: Three Pros Share What They've Learned From Years of Pinning on Numbers

Bri George takes flight in "Swan Lake." Photo by Michael Cairns, Courtesy George.

Ballet company auditions are hard to dodge for anyone aspiring to the profession. But they can serve as valuable learning tools by helping dancers determine which types of companies they prefer and ascertain the best ways to present themselves as artists. “How can I be seen in an audition?" “What should I say to a director?" “How do I handle my nerves?" Those are among the valid questions that the three professional dancers here thought about before plunging into the audition circuit. Over time, they've discovered ways to use the audition process to their advantage to bolster, rather than sabotage, their confidence and to reveal who they are as artists.



Bri George

Make a good impression.

In 2015, after dancing principal roles with Orlando Ballet for six seasons, Bri George was ready for a change and started thinking about auditioning. Based on insight gleaned from previous jobs and auditions, she knew that a small American company would be best for her. “Once I knew that, I looked at all the smaller companies that had a good repertoire and good leaders," says George, now with Ballet Arizona. “That helped me decide who to audition for."

She found that having experience gave her a competitive edge. As a student, George had assembled a video of her classwork to send to potential employers. And after working as a trainee with Boston Ballet, she attended numerous cattle-call auditions before joining Orlando Ballet. But as she gained professional experience, her strategy changed. In an effort to eschew mass auditions, she pieced together performance excerpts from videos that demonstrated her stage skills and posted it to a private YouTube page, then emailed the link specifically to directors or ballet masters.

“I reached out to friends in companies and got their opinion on who was the best person to contact—someone in the company to talk to personally instead of just sending my stuff out there hoping someone would look through it," says George. “Then we could take it from there," hopefully receiving an invitation to take company classes. After an audition, she found that shaking hands, stating her name, thanking the director and expressing her interest in the company helped make a good impression.

Despite her solid experience, George received a lot of rejections. “Even this year, I got about 10 'nos' " she says, before landing her contract with Ballet Arizona. But over the years she had learned how to channel rejection in a positive way. “It took a couple times of putting myself out there to fully understand how to use it as fuel to push myself harder," she says. “You can't take it personally. You never know what they're looking for."

Advice: “Dancers are so focused on how many turns they can do, or who has the highest extensions and the best feet. While that's important, you also need to be expressive in your dancing. Directors want to see you looking happy doing what you love."


Megan Zimny Kaftira in David Dawson's "A Million Kisses to My Skin." Photo by Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.


Megan Zimny Kaftira

Take chances.

Megan Zimny Kaftira joined Boston Ballet at 19, and it seemed like the perfect fit for that period of her life. But after four years, her career felt stagnant. “I wanted to grow deeper," says Kaftira, now a soloist at Dutch National Ballet. “Europe was calling my name."

She also knew that, unlike her younger self, she wouldn't be grateful settling for any contract. “When you're inexperienced, you don't get a ton of choice," she says. “As I grew older, I had developed more as a person. I could pick and choose a bit more." During the company's January break in 2010, Kaftira planned an audition tour to the UK and the Netherlands. After meticulously preparing her DVDs, photos and resumé, Kaftira set out on her first trip to Europe alone, scheduling company class auditions with The Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Dutch National Ballet. Each offered opportunities to grow artistically, she says, through “their strong classical story ballet repertoire, interspersed with plenty of contemporary and Balanchine programs."

Despite her impeccable preparation, however, it wasn't all smooth sailing. Kaftira arrived in Amsterdam late in the evening the day before her audition. Searching for a grocery store, she became disoriented, walking in circles in the maze of streets along Amsterdam's concentric canals. “I was lost for three hours in the dark, in the rain," she says. “I wore holes in my socks."

Nerves, too, were an issue. “I deal with them quite a lot," she says. “But accepting who I am as a person and dancer helped me be at ease with them."

Though Kaftira initially had her sights on London, she fell in love with Amsterdam. She particularly found a natural rapport with Dutch National Ballet director Ted Brandsen. “Speaking with him was really easy, comfortable and honest," she says. “I felt like we were more like colleagues and we could speak more freely."

While auditioning overseas was challenging, Kaftira says, the risks were worth it. “Just putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation helps you grow," she says. “If you don't get the contract you desire, it's still a really big learning experience. It can't hurt to try."

Advice: “It's really important to see the company and meet the people you'll be working with on a daily basis. Explore the city, because it's a really big decision. You should love the place you choose. This career is short—you want to enjoy it."


Griffin in rehearsal for Amy Seiwert's "The Devil Ties My Tongue." Photo by David DeSilva, Courtesy Amy Seiwert's Imagery.


Sarah Griffin

Let your confidence shine through.

Sarah Griffin relishes being the first person to arrive at an audition. “I have no qualms about being auditionee number one, the first one at the barre," says the Colombian-born Oregon Ballet Theatre corps member. “Being early helps me get the lay of the land, so I can see what the studio's like, feel out the floor and get into my own personal warm-up zone."

How did she become such a confident auditioner? Griffin attended Barnard College in New York City—and attended every open company audition possible. After dancing with Dance Theatre of Harlem (where she learned to “own what makes me different"), she moved to San Francisco to freelance, performing with Oakland Ballet Company and Amy Seiwert's Imagery. Working with contemporary choreographers, she says, gave her the skills to be seen as a singular artist. Griffin highlights the contrasting approaches of ballet auditions versus contemporary auditions, which vet dancers on their abilities to digest choreography, including through improvisation exercises or even contact improv with a partner.

Griffin recalls how unsteady she was at her first improv audition. Watching more experienced dancers from the sidelines, she thought, “What makes them so good?" Over time, she discovered that good improvisation demands some preparation in the studio (she culls from a catalogue of favorite phrases), as well as knowing her strengths. The key is to make smooth transitions: “You need to organically move from one step to another." Improvisation skills, she says, have also improved her classical technique by sharpening her mind–body connection and imagination, and honing her eye for detail.

When Griffin, standing a statuesque 5' 8", auditioned for Oregon Ballet Theatre in 2014, she was 27. “I was the tallest one, the brownest one and the oldest one in the room," she says. “But being experienced in a room full of 18-year-olds and showing my personality and capability made me stand out immediately."

Griffin's confident communication skills with OBT artistic director Kevin Irving helped establish a working relationship from the get-go. (In another audition, she even challenged a director on his 5' 7" height limit for women, claiming that there were plenty of tall men in the company to partner her.) “It's not just about holding your hands and nodding and being the good girl," she says. “We need to speak up for ourselves and ask legitimate questions about a contract. You can be gracious without being dull and generic."

Advice: “It's one thing to be able to show your stuff onstage with adrenaline. But you also have to channel that feeling in the studio. You're not just auditioning as a technician, but as a complete artist."

Show Comments ()
Ballet Stars
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters has a good thing going on. Not only is he one of the company's rising young dancers, but he's also a ballet celebrity on social media, where he charts his life on Instagram and on his hugely popular YouTube series, "The Pre Show" (which he describes as "tons of ballet, banter, boys and lots of backstage shenanigans").

The Dover, New Hampshire, native, who seems just as comfortable in a pair of pink heels as he does onstage, trained at Walnut Hill School for the Arts and Portsmouth School of Ballet. While a member of Houston Ballet II, he landed an apprenticeship with the company after winning the Contemporary Dance Prize at the 2011 Prix de Lausanne. He joined the main company that same year and was promoted to soloist in December 2017. Known for his big personality, elegantly long lines and sensual flow in contemporary work, Watters, 26, is ready to take on the next phase of his career. He recently spoke with Pointe about his new rank and his mission to help others feel proud of who they are.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Cleaning is a daily procedure. Proper maintenance will help extend the life of your floor and protect its special slip-resistant surface.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Sara Webb and Connor Walsh with Artists of Houston Ballet in "Swan Lake" choreographed by Stanton Welch. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


The Australian Ballet's Triple Bill, Verve, Includes New Work by Company Dancer Alice Topp

Verve, a triple-bill program from The Australian Ballet running June 21-30 in Melbourne, will host revivals of works from resident choreographers Stephen Baynes and Tim Harbour, as well as a world premiere from company coryphée Alice Topp. Topp's Aurum is inspired by kintsugi, a Japanese art in which broken ceramics are mended using lacquer colored with silver or gold, so that the cracks are emphasized, instead of hidden. In Aurum, Topp applies that philosophy to the human ability to find beauty in vulnerability and imperfections. Completing the bill are Baynes's Constant Variants, which pairs neo-classical ballet with a Tchaikovsky score, and Harbour's Filigree and Shadow, a contemporary ballet featuring striking set and lighting design.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
ABT principals Christine Shevchenko and James Whiteside rehearse "Swan Lake" in Singapore.

In the middle of American Ballet Theatre's spring season, principal dancer Christine Shevchenko takes a break from her comedic role of Pierrette in Harlequinade to (briefly) transform into a swan. During the half hour rehearsal, Shevchenko seamlessly transitions from Odette to Odile, running through her various solos without pause—save for the short conferences with ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, which switch between Russian and English almost as quickly as Shevchenko whips out her fouetté turns (but more on those later).

"The rehearsal process is a lot different right now because every week it's a new ballet," Shevchenko says during a rehearsal break last week. "I'm really trying to squeeze in as many Swan Lake rehearsals as I can, and at the same time, I'm trying to prepare for Don Quixote, which is the week after," she explains of juggling the season's eight programs. "This is my first year as a principal during the Met season, so I'm learning how to figure it out as we keep going. In a way, I'm used to doing parts last minute because that's how I got most of my roles," she says. Ahead, Shevchenko shares exactly how she's gearing up for her Met debut on June 20.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Carla Fracci in "Giselle," via YouTube.

In the late 1950s and 60s, Italian ballerina Carla Fracci won the world over with her definitive interpretations of romantic ballets like La Sylphide, La Sonnambula, and, of course, Giselle. At just 22 years old, she left her home stage at La Scala in Milan to begin guesting internationally, eventually forming a famous partnership with the dashing danseur Erik Bruhn at American Ballet Theatre. The two appear together in this film of ABT's Giselle, in which Fracci's Act I variation is as near to perfection as any Giselle before or after.

Keep reading... Show less
News
David Hallberg in rehearsal. Photo by Kate Longley, Courtesy The Australian Ballet.

Have you ever dreamt of the chance to choreograph for American Ballet Theatre? Thanks to ABT Incubator, the company's newly launched choreographic initiative directed by company principal (and recent author) David Hallberg, that wish could become a reality this fall. The two-week choreographic lab will run from October 31-November 10 at ABT's New York studios and will give both members of the company and freelance choreographers the chance to create new work on dancers from ABT and the ABT Studio Company. Participants will also have access to crucial dance making tools including a stipend, studio space, collaborators, feedback and mentorship from Hallberg and other artists. They'll present their creations in a private showing on November 10. "It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a statement released today. "I am thrilled that Incubator will provide the resources for emerging and established creators to explore movement and new paths in dance."

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande/Unsplash

Most commonly consumed as a powdery spice, turmeric has seen a recent spike in popularity but has been used in Indian and other Asian cuisines and natural medicine for centuries. Today, it's often consumed as a natural anti-inflammatory and a dietary supplement for a variety of medical conditions. Comparable to ginger, turmeric tastes warm and peppery. (It has a slight kick, so a little goes a long way.)

Thinkstock

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!