Audition #10: Jennifer Muller/The Works

This audition kicked the proverbial shit out of me. I’m going to give it the subtitle “How to survive an audition that completely crushes your psyche,” because this one really did make me question myself, my abilities, and whether or not I will ever be able to do this professionally.

I’ve been shadowing Jennifer Muller, the choreographer, for awhile now. I saw her last work, The White Room, and I’m a huge fan. Her parents were stage actors, so all of her work has an intense theatricality. I had coffee with her earlier this year and she invited me to attend several rehearsals for this work. It was quite an honor. I truly admire her as a choreographer and as a person. She has a beautiful heart and it shows because she personally called all 3 million female dancers who showed up to the audition, including me, to tell them the results instead of making any cuts.

I knew going into this one that it was a long shot because it’s a step above where I am technically. I have a lot of work to do to be where I want as far as my technique and I don’t do contemporary every day. But when I saw the posting, I knew I had to go and give it my best. I didn’t want to shy away.

I arrived at 3:30 pm, an hour before the female call was supposed to begin. They were already auditioning a large group of women with the men in the group before me. I tried to learn some of the combination from watching while I warmed up.

The audition began at 5 pm and ended at 8 pm. Easily one of the most grueling auditions I have ever attended.

First, we walked across the floor – her signature toe walks. The goal was, I believe, to walk unaffected and calmly. Not too dance-y, but still carry ourselves. After that, we split into three groups of 24-25. That means that there was somewhere around 75 women in just this group for this audition. All vying for one company spot. And that was the second group of women she saw that day.

After that, we all learned and performed not one, not two, but three different phrases in small groups.

I like to think I’m able to be pretty honest with myself about where I am at with my abilities. I tend to be a pretty quick study when it comes to learning the sequence of a combination. However, knowing the sequencing and executing it are two very different things. While I learn quickly, I need to physically work through it full out several times before I can give my best performance of it.

So the hardest thing for me about this audition was that we had to work out each phrase in the tiny studio with 25 other girls around us. We were only shown each phrase 2-3 times before we went in smaller groups across the floor.

I did ok on the first two. Not great but I knew what was doing, and I did my best to work through some minor muscle strains. This was my second audition of the day and my third in a 24 hour period, so I was pretty sore. All the combinations required me to do penche arabesques and battements to the right, much to the dismay of my right quad and hip flexor. Ugh…

The third phrase was a killer. I never fully worked out the sequencing and I never worked out the transition from a pencil turn into a swooping high battement, into a soutenou, into an attitude that you hopefully hold for forever. For those of you who don’t know dance speak, just know it’s pretty effing hard.

So in short, I totally bombed the third combo. I feel like I made a total ass of myself. The first time, I lost myself and totally blanked on the sequence of the last bit. I tried to redeem myself the second time but I just couldn’t get that transition and I knew I was a mess. I also knew I could do better, but doubted my technique at the same time. I sat and waited until the audition was over, wondering what had come over me to be here in the first place. I watched some of the other dancers really knock it out of the park and I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. It hurt.

It took Patrick feeding me quite a bit of bourbon that night to get over the immediate effects of this massive failure. I got a voice message from Jennifer while I was in the bath recovering saying thank you but no thanks. Understandably. I wouldn’t pay me for that work either, I wouldn’t consider calling me back with probably about 90 other female dancers to choose from.

But I have to talk myself down from the cliff, so here is what I learned:

– JUST THE ACT OF GOING to the audition gave me perspective on what I need to work on as a dancer and an artist, and that’s invaluable.

– I don’t have enough performance experience and that’s one of the main things contributing to my lack of confidence, so that’s the next thing I’m going to work on getting whether I have to lie, cheat and steal to get out there – if it’s my own choreography or someone else’s – I need to perform so that my nerves will chill out. The company dancers are chill because someone has said yes to them at least once, they just know in their being that they are professionals, they perform on a regular basis, so this stuff is just no big deal. It takes getting out there and I might need to create my own opportunities to do that (100 Performances blog anyone?).

– I set the bar too high and I set myself up for failure. I can’t destroy my own ego over that. Patrick and I had to train our new puppy, and one of the things I learned when I researched dog training is that you can’t set them up for failure. If they fail at learning the behavior, you take a step back and make it easier for them so that they don’t fail, and then slowly make it harder. Translation for me: I need to get in a smaller pond for a little bit and do some auditions that will either be easy for me or that I don’t care about getting, just for practice and to build my confidence.

– I’m going to work on that stupid phrase until it is PERFECT and I can do it in my sleep. I’m THAT pissed about it. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

– Alright, I fell on my face. Figuratively. One more failure to check off the list. Every great dancer has completely bombed an audition at one point or another. It’s ok. It happens. It wasn’t my day and it wasn’t my combination, that doesn’t mean I have NOTHING going for me (even though that’s how I might feel… prior to the post-audition bourbon binge).

– I took this one way too seriously. I was trying too hard to get the steps right and not trying hard enough to enjoy what I was doing, and that was definitely half my problem.

Those are my take-aways. Hopefully they will serve me in the next audition. I’ve done three this week so I think I’m off to a good start catching up. And we are only on #10. Ninety more to go.



One thought on “Audition #10: Jennifer Muller/The Works

  1. Hi Katrina,
    You know I’m “just” a person who dances, not a performer, but I can totally relate to what you said about needing time with a combination before you feel confident (and I don’t consider myself a quick study learning it, either!). Here’s something I am trying in my classes that I think has helped me some: as I’m learning the combo, I try to inject just a little of an acting beat, or something of my own performance style, into the movement – even if it’s just a little flourish or smile at the end. It seems to help anchor the steps better in my memory, AND it starts building “performance” into the combo right from the get-go.
    Your points about setting yourself up for success are right-on. Which doesn’t mean you can’t do a reach-for-the-moon audition, too, but that you go into it with a different mindset (not “I’m gonna bomb”, but “this will be hard but interesting and I’ll learn something I can’t learn from the smaller stuff,which is how to walk into an over-my-head situation and hang tough through it” – something else performers need to learn they can do). It sounds like this was doubly hard because you so deeply admired this choreographer, had met her personally, and wanted to do well for many reasons beyond getting the gig. Hats off to you. Love your blog and your courage. See you in class.

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