David Makhateli leads class at the Grand Audition. Andrei Uspenski, Courtesy Grand Audition

One-Stop Auditioning: Multi-Company Auditions Streamline the Job-Search Process

When David Makhateli was about to graduate from the Royal Ballet School, financial difficulties hindered his ability to travel to auditions. "I thought it would have been so much easier to audition for several companies at once," says Makhateli, who went on to become a Royal Ballet principal. "That would have saved me money on traveling."

That experience would later inspire him and his wife, Daria Makhateli, to co-found the Grand Audition, a multi-company audition held in Barcelona each year that enables dancers and directors from around the world to connect at one destination.


Makhateli isn't the only one offering this kind of opportunity—multi-company auditions have proved popular in recent years. For directors, they provide a way to evaluate dancers they might not otherwise see. For dancers, they expedite the cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming auditions process. But multi-company auditions don't follow one recipe. As these three examples prove, they're varied in their goals, demographics and pricing, so it helps to know what each offers.

Dancers perform a class combination across the floor for a panel of company directors at the Grand Audition.

Andre Uspenski, Courtesy Grand Audition

Grand Audition

Every year since 2016, the Makhatelis have directed the Grand Audition at the Teatre-Auditori de Sant Cugat, in an upscale suburb of Barcelona. A two-day affair, the audition limits each section at the barre to 48 dancers at a time, broken into groups of 12 for center. It culminates with the final group of successful dancers performing solo variations to demonstrate why they should receive contracts. "You have more chances to be seen because the classes are smaller," says 20-year-old Finnish dancer Kira Hilli, who accepted a contract with Dutch National Ballet at the Grand Audition in 2018.

Although the audition fee is pricey at €290 euros (which translates to roughly $323), Australian dancer Gabriel Sinclair Jahnke, who was offered a corps contract with the Royal Swedish Ballet there in 2018, says it's worth it. "It's so much more cost-effective than having the expense of accommodations and traveling to several auditions in different cities," says Jahnke. And it's easier on the schedules of employed professional dancers, who often can't take time off for audition tours.

A dancer performs his solo for company directors at the Grand Audition in Barcelona.

Andre Uspenski, Courtesy Grand Audition

This year's Grand Audition will include directors from major companies in Europe, the U.S. and Russia. Makhateli says that dancers from 29 countries attended in 2019, with 17 companies offering contracts. Since its inception, the number of contracts given out has varied from 27 to 44, for positions ranging from trainee to principal dancer.

Twenty-four-year-old Chloë Réveillon, then a dancer with the Paris Opéra Ballet, attended the Grand Audition in 2018. She received eight contract offers, but chose to enter her dream company, the Mariinsky Ballet, as a corps dancer. "The Grand Audition is a unique opportunity to converse on site with people interested in your career and get immediate responses," she says. "It's also an amazing opportunity to present yourself onstage and not in a studio. The artist within you shines differently."

GRAND AUDITION
When: February 4–5
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Application: Submit form with required photos and a video link of variation or specified classroom technique. €45-euro application fee. If accepted, audition fee is 290 euros. Deadline is December 30, 2019.
Age range: 17–26. Those under 18 need a letter from parent or guardian.
Website: grandaudition.net

Company and school representatives watch from the front of the studio at the 2017 IABD Audition.

Mesiyah McGuiness, Courtesy IABD

The International Association of Blacks in Dance Audition

In 1996, The International Association of Blacks in Dance established its first multi-company audition to provide more visibility and awareness of dancers of color. While IABD mainly focused on other dance genres, a women's ballet audition was added in 2016, followed by one for men in 2018. Denise Saunders Thompson, IABD's president and CEO, says that separating men and women "was specifically answering a call about ballet companies not being able to find women of color. The men don't quite have the same problems, but, in all fairness, it's still a challenge for people of color, whether men or women, in ballet."

IABD's ballet auditions are held during the four-day International Conference and Festival of Blacks in Dance, which changes cities every year. About 120 dancers ages 15 or older attend the auditions yearly (plus many more in the youth category). The format includes a class with barre work, center combinations, pointework and sometimes partnering or improvisation. At the 2019 audition in Dayton, Ohio, 31 dance organizations attended the ballet auditions, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Nashville Ballet. Two women were offered full company positions and many others were awarded traineeships and scholarships.

A dancer at the 2019 IABD Audition

Eric A. Smith Crew Productions, Courtesy IABD

Twenty-year-old Danielle Guirma secured her traineeship with Richmond Ballet at IABD's audition last year. She admits that she felt more pressure than usual because there were more scrutinizing eyeballs, but she also liked having a chance to be seen by multiple directors. "I think the advantage of the IABD auditions is that directors go with the intention of looking for diversity," says Guirma. "It's good exposure because people are there to seek you out. I feel that in other auditions it's more like, 'Who can we eliminate?' "

IABD has been criticized by some for reinforcing racial division within the ballet community through an insulated audition. Thompson disagrees: "We don't want to have to do it forever, but it's fulfilling a need right now. Ballet companies are really working to figure out a plan for diversifying their organizations."

THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACKS IN DANCE AUDITION
When: January 18–19
Where: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Application: Online registration with resumé, full-body photo and headshot. $35 fee.
Age range: 15 and up
Website: iabdassociation.org/page/iabdauditionsiabdassociation.org/page/iabdauditions

Executive director Vasile Petrutiu addresses dancers at the WBC International Job Fair.

Rodrigo Athie Photography, Courtesy WBC

World Ballet Competition International Job Fair

When Vasile Petrutiu founded the World Ballet Competition in Orlando, Florida, in 2007, he noticed that artistic directors attending the event were interested in hiring some of the competitors they saw onstage. "They started offering the contestants jobs, traineeships and apprenticeships," says Petrutiu. So in 2010, WBC added an International Job Fair, a multi-company audition that is open to both competitors and noncompetitors.

The audition is held over one day, and the dancers are initially divided into medium-sized groups for barre and part of the center; then they're whittled to groups of two to six. The company representatives can ask for specific elements, like partnering. Last year Daniela Buson, assistant artistic director of Tulsa Ballet, asked the dancers to demonstrate some of William Forsythe's choreography.

Dancers perform a center combination for over 15 company directors. Class is also livestreamed for those directors who can't attend in person.

Rodrigo Athie Photography, Courtesy WBC

In 2019, over 15 companies, including Atlanta Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Festival Ballet Providence and the International Ballet of Korea, were involved. The event is also livestreamed, allowing directors who can't attend to still observe potential hires.

Petrutiu says that, unlike other ballet competitions, WBC's job fair allows dancers up to age 24 to participate, and it focuses on granting both training scholarships and contracts. (Last year, directors offered 106 scholarships and 10 contracts.) And while the job fair attracts many North American dancers, it also pulls in strong contingents from South America, Europe and Asia.

JoAnna Schmidt, a soloist with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, attended the WBC audition in 2010 and received a full scholarship to the PBT School. "I liked that it was a much smaller group than you'll find at open auditions," says Schmidt. "I also liked that it was onstage, which encouraged me to perform instead of dwelling in the mirror. There were plenty of opportunities to showcase ourselves for the representatives, including those watching the livestream."


WBC INTERNATIONAL JOB FAIR
When: June 19
Where: Orlando, Florida
Application: Video/application packet deadline March 11. $200 fee includes access to competition-round viewing. Dancers competing in the WBC have separate fees.
Age range: 16–24
Website: worldballetcompetition.com/events/intjobfair

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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."

Students of International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia. Karl Hoffman Photography, Courtesy International City Ballet

A Ballet Student’s Guide to Researching Pre-Professional Training Programs

Many dancers have goals of taking their training to the next level by attending full-time pre-professional programs next fall. But it's hard to get to know the organizations without physically experiencing them first. Even when the world isn't practicing social distancing, visiting a school or attending its summer program isn't always possible. So, what can students and their families do to research programs and know what might work best for them? Who do you reach out to, and what are the questions you and your parents should be asking?

Here, pre-professional-program leaders share some practical advice for taking the next step in your dance training.

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American Ballet Theatre corps member Rachel Richardson. NYC Dance Project, Courtesy Rachel Richardson

ABT’s Rachel Richardson on Performing With Her Hometown Company, Eugene Ballet

When I signed my first professional contract with Eugene Ballet, one of the last things I anticipated was the opportunity to dance beside a member of American Ballet Theatre. Flash forward to the start of our spring season this year, and suddenly I'm chatting in the hallway and rehearsing the Cinderella fairy variations next to luminous ABT corps member Rachel Richardson. When ABT announced it was canceling live performances for the 2020–21 season, Richardson traveled back home to Eugene, Oregon, to be with her family—and this spring joined the company as a guest artist.

Growing up, Richardson trained locally in Eugene before moving to The Rock School for Dance Education's year-round program in Philadelphia. After securing a spot in the ABT Studio Company in 2013, she was promoted to corps de ballet in 2015. This unconventional year marks her sixth season with the main company.

After having the privilege of dancing with her this spring, I sat down with Richardson to discuss her recent guesting experience, how the pandemic has helped her grow and her advice for young dancers.

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