At first glance, all summer intensives seem similar: days full of dancing. Yet the opportunities actually vary widely. The right teacher could plug you in to key directors. A prime performance opportunity could lead to a traineeship or even a company position. But how do you figure out which programs will really deliver? A few tricks can help you scope out your options.
Begin with the concrete: Read every last word of the acceptance package and study the school’s website. Pay attention to class sizes to see how much interaction you’ll have with the faculty. Then Google the program to find out where alumni have gone on to dance. Search for videos of the classes or performances to see the style and repertoire taught—and the level of talent being trained.
Run some name searches to trace the faculty’s connections. What are their backgrounds? Do they have current affiliations with companies you like? Pay attention to how long they’ve been teaching, and whether their curriculum is up-to-date with what companies expect now of dancers. Search for any interviews they’ve given; this could tell you their emphases in class.
Use your connections to get a sense of a program’s reputation. Start with your year-round teachers: Get their opinion on the programs you’re most interested in. They can contextualize a school for you, and explain its distinct characteristics and history. They might even be able to use their connections to your benefit. Michael Owen, director of dance at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, says, “I often make a phone call on behalf of a student, to make a school’s artistic staff aware of her specific talents.”
Also use online social networks to find dancers who have attended the program in the past. Ask how closely they got to interact with the director, whether company dancers ever took class, if ballet masters or artistic directors ever observed, and if they got to work with choreographers. Their responses will be more frank and nuanced than any information packet.
Keep an Open Mind
Don’t pigeonhole yourself by only focusing on your dream company’s school. Aara Krumpe attended the Joffrey Ballet’s summer program four times because she hoped to join the company, but she never received an offer. “It wasn’t the place for me,” she says. “Then I went to Ballet Austin’s summer program at age 19, and it was a much better fit: I was interested in the contemporary rep the company was doing. Now I’m a dancer there and I love it.”
Get the Scoop
Once you’ve done your research, what are the details you should really pay attention to? We broke down the highlights of two popular intensives.
Exploring Ballet With Suzanne Farrell
Director: Former New York City Ballet prima Suzanne Farrell. She is, of course, a direct link to her company, and she also stages co-productions with troupes such as Ballet Austin, Cincinnati Ballet, Sarasota Ballet and National Ballet of Canada.
Size: 30–36 students, all of whom take class together.
Faculty: Farrell teaches every class, so you have plenty of time to build a personal relationship.
Schedule: There are two two-hour technique classes per day, six days a week, focusing on Farrell’s interpretation of Balanchine technique. Students may get some partnering or conditioning; no other techniques are offered.
Location: The Kennedy Center in D.C., home of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet.
Alumni: American Ballet Theatre’s Nicola Curry, NYCB’s Dana Jacobson, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Evelyn Kocak, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet’s Jessica Lawrence and Jordyn Richter.
Performances: In the past, Farrell has choreographed on students for a small presentation.
Kaatsbaan Extreme Ballet
Director: Martine van Hamel, former ABT principal who now teaches at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.
Size: 40 students are accepted per session, and split into four groups. (Kaatsbaan offers three sessions per summer.)
Faculty: Bonnie Mathis (former Boston Ballet II director) and Lisa Lockwood (former ABT dancer and a current teacher at Steps on Broadway), among others. Alessandra Ferri (former ABT principal) provides coaching. Master classes are taught by Ann Marie DeAngelo (former associate artistic director of Joffrey Ballet who has choreographed on Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Nevada Ballet Theatre and ABT Studio Company), Franco De Vita (JKO principal), Kevin McKenzie (ABT artistic director and Kaatsbaan co-founder) and Craig Salstein (ABT soloist). Most faculty members are former ABT and Joffrey dancers who now teach, choreograph or direct.
Schedule: Morning technique class is taken all together or in groups, and the rest of the classes—including variations and coaching—are composed of one or two groups.
Alumni: Boston Ballet’s Paul Craig, Joffrey Ballet’s Jaime Hickey, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Andrew Daly.
Additional classes: Yoga, Pilates, flamenco, modern, composition, improvisation.
Repertoire: Usually a few classical variations and a group section from the same classical ballet are coached on all students. One or two new works by faculty are often created on students.
Performances: The final in-studio performance is informal, since the program’s focus is on training.
The Brits Are Coming
Want to learn more about the English style? There’s no need to fly across the pond. The English National Ballet School will hold its first summer intensive in the United States this year. The weeklong program will take place at the Ballet Theatre of Toledo in Ohio from July 22 to 27. There will be separate courses for advanced (ages 13–15), pre-professional (ages 16–18) and professional (ages 18+) dancers, plus evening master classes for intermediate students—all taught by ENBS faculty. Participants can ask to be considered for the school’s year-round program in London. Tuition is $900 for the full course or $50 per master class. Audition by DVD or web link. For more, see ballettheatreoftoledo.org.
“Once in a rehearsal, a choreographer said to me, ‘Your technique is there; now I want to see the texture in the movement—how a leg develops, or an arm.’ He wanted to see the work involved without my making it look difficult, just texturizing the steps. Those words have stuck with me throughout my career.” —BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz
Take out your address book: Two of the biggest ballet competitions for students are relocating this year.
The Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition, formerly the Boston International Ballet Competition, will be held in New York City for the first time this June. “Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen gave me huge support in setting up my competition, but New York is where my home base is, so it’s much easier to put everything together right here,” explains founder Valentina Kozlova. “Plus, it’s the center of the dance world.” Other than a slight tweak to age divisions (18-year-olds will now be part of the seniors, instead of the juniors), everything else about the competition will run the same way it has for the past two years. The deadline for applications is May 1. See vkibc.org.
Also on the move is The American Ballet Competition. It launched in Miami in 2004, then took place in Texas from 2010 to 2012, and this year it will head north to Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts. “We wanted to establish a presence in another cultural hot spot, such as New England,” says ABC artistic director Katherine C. Kersten. “Walnut Hill has been an important contributor at ABC for many years. Michael Owen, WH dance director, is on our jury and will continue to award a Walnut Hill scholarship.” This year’s ABC will run from June 5 to 8, and the registration deadline is May 8. Check americanballetcompetition.com for more information.
You’ve rehearsed for weeks for this competition, and it’s finally here. You’re up, you ate your Wheaties...now what? Class is offered in the morning, but you won’t go on until hours afterward. Competition days are tricky. How should you spend the time before you perform so that you’re in the ideal state—both physically and mentally—to dance your best?
The Right Start
Valentina Kozlova, who regularly prepares her students at Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York for competitions, advises starting your day with a “one-hour, everything” class. Most competitions offer this type of short, intense morning warm-up. Ideally, there should be a barre with a lot of tendus and dégagés to get you on your legs, along with plenty of chances to stretch and practice your extension. In the center, make sure to do adagio, pirouettes, and petit and grand allégro. Push yourself just enough to get warm and feel strong.
However, taking an unfamiliar type of class could throw you off. If what the competition is offering won’t be right for you, don’t take it. (Unless, of course, it’s part of the adjudication process.) Instead, give yourself a thorough self-taught class or take one from your coach.
“Most theaters have studios, and usually you can ask to rent one out ahead of time,” explains Sasha De Sola, a dancer at San Francisco Ballet who won awards at the USA International Ballet Competition, Varna International Ballet Competition and Youth America Grand Prix. Contact competition administrators in advance to see if you can rent space for class and/or extra rehearsals.
Fight Fatigue and Injuries
There’s a fine line between pushing yourself and overexerting while warming up. “Pay attention to what your body needs,” De Sola advises. Sometimes she let herself slow down or modify combinations if her muscles felt tired.
If you have an injury, ask your coach how you can avoid irritating it before performing. And tell the teacher giving class, suggests Dierdre Miles Burger, director of Orlando Ballet School. That way, they’ll understand your combination modifications, and might even offer helpful suggestions.
Doing light exercises such as tendus and ab work throughout the day will help you stay on your center without getting overtired. De Sola used to give herself a second barre a few hours prior to competing. Shortly before putting on her costume, she did stretches and Pilates core exercises. Then she would head to the wings wearing booties, legwarmers, pants, a zip-up jacket and a scarf over her costume.
Tackle the Trouble Spots
There are always tricky parts in a variation. Should you rehearse them on competition day? “It depends on the dancer,” says Kozlova. “For most I would say yes, practice difficult parts, but for some dancers, it’s not the best thing to do.”
If you tend to psych yourself out on performance days, don’t go over challenging jumps and turns at the last minute. Instead, think back to your best rehearsals and imagine how you felt during them. “Be confident in what you’ve worked on so far,” says De Sola. “Once you’re at the competition, not much is really going to change.” You won’t improve the number of pirouettes you can do in the moments before taking the stage—you just want to find your center and the right mindset to perform them.
But what if you do go over a troublesome section, and the final rehearsal doesn’t go well? “Just let it go and re-center your mind,” De Sola says.
Try not to watch other performances while waiting in the wings. Getting engrossed in others’ dancing could make you nervous or subliminally lower your expectations for yourself. Focus on your performance and your body.
De Sola says that visualizing herself dancing her variation as she listened to the music in her headphones helped her. “Also,” she adds, “putting on my makeup was a big part of the overall warm-up ritual for me.” Everybody has different ways of getting in the zone. Figure out yours ahead of time.
De Sola suggests keeping your regular schedule as much as you can. “That being said, you never know what’s going to be thrown at you,” she says. Sometimes the judges decide to take a long break right before your variation; sometimes there are technical difficulties. “At Varna in 2006, it was outdoors, so you had to deal with the weather, bugs, and the floor was just wood panels with nails jutting out!” says De Sola. “Also, we had tech rehearsals one or two days before the competition in the middle of the night—like at 1 or 2 am. You just always have to be prepared.”
This story originally appeared in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Pointe.
For preprofessional ballet dancers, the new year means one thing: summer intensive audition season. As you start thinking about which auditions to add to your calendar, consider your professional and technical goals. What do you want to achieve this upcoming year? Your dance resolutions should be at the top of your mind when deciding where to seek out summer training.
Resolution: Land A Contract
If you're going to be looking for a job soon, consider attending a summer intensive affiliated with a professional company—particularly one that you're interested in dancing for. Studying at a prospective company's studios can serve as an extended audition, since it gives the artistic staff a few weeks to observe your technique, demeanor and performance skills, and determine if you would be a good fit for the company. Skyler Lubin decided to take this approach when she was a student at Miami City Ballet School. She stayed at MCB for the summer to show her dedication to the institution—and to have an extra chance to prove her talent in the program's culminating performance. “I really wanted artistic director Edward Villella to see me onstage in the final show," Lubin says. She believes the opportunity aided in her acceptance into the company, where she is now a corps member.
This strategy can also help you learn about the company. By working with a faculty made up of current and former company members, you'll get an inside look at exactly what the dancers are like. Rehearsals and variations classes will let you discover how the company's repertoire feels on your body. You'll get a sense of the atmosphere, and be able to decide whether it's a place where you could thrive as a dancer.
Resolution: Find Better Year-Round Training
Ballet dancers have a complex relationship with what’s under their feet. Different venues, shoes and choreography all affect how dancers “feel the floor.” Whether it’s slippery or raked, new or old, wood or marley, each ballet dancer has her own way of making herself feel comfortable on the floor.
San Francisco Ballet soloist Dana Genshaft starts her day with a floor barre, using the surface to find her placement. She prefers ballet slippers to pointe shoes when she stands up for barre. “That way,” Genshaft says, “I can feel the smaller intrinsic muscles of the foot waking up.” She says that focusing on the floor helps with SFB’s wide range of repertoire. “Contemporary choreographers want to see you using your shoes almost like you’re using a glove, and massaging the floor with them,” she says.
Floors can feel unsafe if they are too slippery. To combat slip, Genshaft first scrapes the bottom of her pointe shoes, then scoops up some rosin
in tissues or napkins, which she says applies better than paper towels. Next she rubs it all over her shoes, though she tries not to make them too sticky. “In contemporary work there’s a lot of sliding you do along the tip of your shoe,” she says, “so you don’t want to rosin so much that you’re getting stuck.”
North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Alessandra Ball has a warm-up routine that changes with the repertoire she is rehearsing. If she’s being coached in something classical, she likes to work at the barre in pointe shoes so she can find the floor through the shank. If she’s working on a contemporary piece, she adds yoga exercises that help her feel grounded. “Rolling on the floor is a true process,” she says. “You have to develop a trust with yourself, the floor, your body. Yoga helps me feel my weight drop, especially the warrior series and crescent lunge.”
Ball views the floor as a virtual partner. “When I’m doing classical works, I feel like I’m borrowing the floor—I’m lifted,” she says. “In more contemporary movement, you melt into it.” Balanchine ballets require yet another perspective. “Balanchine makes me try to find a rhythm with the floor,” she says. The accented relevés, rapid pas de bourrées and spritely Balanchine ballon demand a musical sense of when the foot meets, brushes or pushes from the floor. “I see a Balanchine piece,” she says, “as kind of tap dance.”
New York City Ballet corps member Alina Dronova feels most at ease in pointe shoes, perhaps because she had to take all her classes on pointe while training at the School of American Ballet. “Pointe shoes are the most comfortable to dance in,” she explains. “In flat shoes it can be a little bit weird because you feel the floor so much that it’s almost like you’re falling into it.”
Dronova has a clean, crisp technique that belies her casual advice for classical or Balanchine repertoire. “You really need to use the floor to take off,” she says simply. “It’s there to help you.” She tends to worry more about her upper body than footwork in contemporary pieces. “You don’t pay as much attention to your feet,” she says. “It’s like you go out dancing at a discothèque. The floor is just there.”
When Dronova was a student in Ukraine, she performed on a raked stage, but she doesn’t feel in her element there. “It’s a big adjustment when we dance on a rake on tour,” she says. “It takes quite a few days to get used to it, especially when I’m doing something that involves turns or a manège downstage. You feel like it’s taking you off. And climbing upstage is hard.”
Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s Sabra Perry likes to use barre as an opportunity to acclimate to the extra material that pointe shoes put between her feet and the floor. “In contemporary pieces we work a lot on rolling through the foot on pointe,” she says. “You have to find that moment of rolling between the tip of the shoe and the ball of the foot.” She tries to foster this awareness from her first plié.
Contemporary work also demands dancers find smooth transitions into the floor. “In classical pieces, we have to achieve this look of being other-worldly and defying gravity,” Perry says. “Contemporary work is all about playing with gravity and how we go into the floor. You do a lot of work off-balance.” Although contemporary emphasizes release into the floor, Perry does not make conscious decisions about the floor when she’s learning choreography: “I let the choreography speak to me,” she says.
In addition to dancing with the company, Perry also serves as Complexions’ assistant ballet mistress. When she coaches company dancers, she works on what she calls “that in-between moment” separating balance from off-balance and encourages dancers to use the floor as a partner: “You have to think of the floor,” she says, “as another candidate in the movement.”
Alexis Branagan is a former Pointe intern.