Click here to watch video footage from the 2011 Tremplin Jeunes Ballets. Look for more on the event in an upcoming issue of Pointe.
The dreaded audition tour: It's a time-consuming, expensive, nerve-wracking part of a young dancer's career. And yet, until a few years ago, it was pretty much the only way to get a job, particularly if you had your sights set on a company on the other side of the country--or the world.
Enter Tremplin Jeunes Ballets ("youth ballet springboard"), an international and, as of this year, annual event that streamlines the cumbersome audition process. Last week, 50 dancers from schools and youth ballets all over the world gathered in beautiful Monaco to audition for 35--count 'em--35 company directors, a truly mind-boggling meeting of the minds. The goal? To broker as many dancer-company marriages as possible. Last year, 30 dancers signed contracts by the end of the week-long event; this year, to date, 31 contracts have been offered.
And forget about scraping together enough money for the plane fare: All participating dancers' expenses are covered each year by the Princess Grace Foundation. Jean-Christophe Maillot, artistic director of the Monaco Dance Forum (which hosts the event), told me that he has not-so-fond memories of begging his grandmother for money to buy train tickets for his own audition tour. "Sometimes--most of the time--talent isn't accompanied by money," he said. "I thought, 'Let's fix that problem.'"
The directors who attended this year, invited by Maillot, were a carefully curated group. Though most were from European troupes--Het National Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, and Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève among them--companies from Russia (Eifman Ballet), Australia (Australian National Ballet) and Canada (National Ballet of Canada, BJM Danse) were also represented. Big classical groups, small contemporary groups, groups from all corners of the globe--everyone, it seemed, came out to play.
You might think that would translate to a lot of pressure on the young auditionees. But the atmosphere last week inside Monaco's sleek new Grimaldi Forum, where the audition was held, was relaxed, even convivial. TJB is structured so as to encourage friendly interaction between the participating students, who room together and spend a few days preparing audition material together before the directors even arrive. The multi-part audition itself allows dancers to show off their personalities as well as their technical prowess.
In other words: Tremplin Jeunes Ballets offers the opportunities of a big ballet competition--minus the competition part.
TJB has been around since 2000 (it was held biannually until last year), but so few American dancers know about it, and that's a darn shame. In Monaco, I spoke with the Kirov Academy's Patricia Zhou, and she said she'd never even heard of TJB until about a month ago. She arrived not knowing what to expect--and walked away with a bunch of new friends and a contract offer. What better way to spend a week in February?
About a dozen schools and youth ballets, which send anywhere from one to ten dancers apiece, participate in each TJB. Though up to this point Maillot has invited most of these organizations himself, he says he's not adverse to lobbying. "If anybody writes me to say, 'What about us? What about my school?'--I'm totally open," he said. "I want to mix things up every year." American ballet students: Start writing.