What He Wants

For anyone interested in dancing with The Joffrey, the important thing to understand is that we are a non-ranked company—every dancer must be willing to do everything. Of course there are always leading dancers, but we couldn’t do something like The Rite of Spring unless everyone was invested in being part of the corps, as well as possibly dancing a principal role.

There are 42 dancers in The Joffrey now and not a huge amount of turnover. We are in dire economic times, so the key for me is to have dancers who are intensely committed to the company, who are contributing fully and who are being cast. I hope to stage Lar Lubovitch’s Othello in the fall of 2009, and Ashton’s Cinderella in 2010, so that requires at least 38 dancers. We operate on a year-by-year, 38-week contract, so I look at the budget, see what I need and figure out who does not need to be replaced. I am currently looking for a couple of strong male dancers and a few strong women, too.

I want fully trained dancers who know how to use the strength they have. I am far more particular than Gerald Arpino about women having really strong pointe work, with the ability to roll through their feet. For men, double tours, attitude turns and four or five pirouettes are givens. I also want real men who can run with power and weight, who can really do things. And the demands of most contemporary ballets make strong partnering skills absolutely essential.

Like Jerry, I am not looking for perfect cookie-cutter bodies, though obviously good physique and technique are important. But each individual is worth so much more than just his or her physical looks.

I don’t have a vision of the ideal dancer; mostly, it’s that you see someone dance and they just capture you. While I love dancers with individuality, they also must be able to dance in a group. I like genuine, honest movement—no affectations. An instant turn-off for me is a dancer with no understanding of the upper body or the use of the back, head and arms. And I don’t like people who want to dance in your face.

I always focus on enchaînements—those movement phrases that show me how the dancer connects the steps, finds the rhythm and musicality of a sequence and uses the port de bras. If a young dancer is “present,” and picks up combinations quickly, he or she just might be strong enough.

Robert Joffrey used to give extremely strict and rigid classes, but on stage, he expected so much athleticism and freedom. When I was with San Francisco Ballet, our auditions always included one Paul Taylor combination to see how a dancer could run, roll on the floor and keep moving. That is crucial.

For The Joffrey, even if there is no open spot, we generally hold two formal auditions each year—one in Chicago and one in New York. And I don’t mind if an interested dancer wants to take company class, unless we’re in a very busy rehearsal period. For the handful remaining at the end of an audition, I always talk with them. And if they say they need job security, I advise them to consider a European company.



Ballet Stars

For many a bunhead, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is not just a holiday tradition, but a rite of passage. The variation, with its tinkling celesta, bourrées and petit battus, is one that all ballet dancers are familiar with, and getting the opportunity to perform it often represents moving into new realms in your training or career. Such was the case for Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. In this 1957 clip, the 18-year-old aspirant performed the Sugar Plum variation at a ballet competition, where she represented the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

For any young dancer performing in The Nutcracker, Marie (aka Clara, depending on the production) is a dream role. But Charlotte Nebres, who will be playing Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker this year isn't just bringing her own dream to life—she's also making history.

Charlotte is the first black dancer to ever perform the role of Marie in NYCB's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which dates all the way back to 1954. Charlotte was, of course, hugely excited to perform the role of Marie, but, according to the New York Times, when her mother told her that she was the first black dancer cast in the role, she said "Wow. That seems a little late."

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

Keep reading... Show less