The first was for the Eglevsky Ballet’s Nutcracker out in Long Island. I was nervous for this days before. Why? No specific reason. I knew I was going to be in a room full of girls who had long-standing relationships with the ballet company, and this would be only the third real ballet audition I’ve been to since coming to NYC. I knew I was not ready, in any sense. But I figure a small ballet company in Long Island is a better shot than the Met. Plus I need practice at ballet auditions.
All of these are great reasons to go. We all have to start somewhere don’t we?
I prepared as best I could. I took both ballet and pointe variations the day before. I talked to my ballet teacher about the audition. Her advice to me: don’t be nervous. Ok, sure. I can do that.
Actually it was good advice. If you’re nervous, there is no way you can show what you really have to bring as a performer. As I was soon to learn, it’s important that the auditors can see that. I was also about to learn the importance of TIMING, and using your musicality as a dancer.
I showed up early. The audition was at Alvin Ailey at 12 pm. I warmed up with the other ballerinas waiting outside. A few people I knew showed up. There were 60 dancers in all I believe, most of them, of course, female. I think there were 5 men.
I was number 7. Speaking of that – here’s a tip: try to resist that urge to be the first in line and get a LATER NUMBER when you go to auditions. You don’t win the race for being #1. You actually usually get to go first since they usually go in numerical order and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you won’t put your best foot forward. Also, it is helpful to have some time to watch other people in the other groups and steal from them.
It was more crowded at the barre when we finally went into the studio than I have ever seen it in class, and we usually complain in class. People were standing at the end of the barres in order to have a spot. This is when I realized that the audition was going to be completely in ballet class format.
Fortunately we started in our ballet flats but it was about this time I got very self-conscious when I realized the technical level of everyone else around me. It made me anxious but also at the same time somewhat relieved. At least I knew where I was. I didn’t do a perfect barre but it warmed me up. Some of his combinations were quite challenging. This did not bode well.
We went to adagio in the center. He let us stay in flats, thank god. The adagio wasn’t too bad but what was terrible was my timing. I was way too far ahead – the one thing my teacher had warned me against. What’s my issue? Ugh. I couldn’t figure out how to fill it out. I watched the other groups. Aha! Some of the girls took 8 counts just for a plie or a brush to tendu so that they could fill the music out appropriately. That’s going in my bag of tricks now. Why didn’t I think of it before?
I could go through each of the exercises individually. It was a 2 hour class and it was kind of grueling. I barely got the petit and medium allegro. By the grand allegro I got some of my confidence back because I’m pretty good at big jumps (thank you early martial arts training) and I did a great big jump. My tendu and pirouette exercises were almost entirely flubbed.
My ego took a big blow, but this was all extremely educational. Basically, early on in the audition, I knew where I stood technically and instead of going for it with a massive amount of intensity, I took it as a learning experience and I stood back and watched. It may or may not have been the best thing I could do. All I can say is I did my best given my current technique level and the circumstances. It was really hard.
This is what I saw. I saw dancers with amazing technique and bodies still struggling a little with the combinations but making it work. I saw them also straining to go beyond and give it everything they had. I saw a few dancers who had not very good technique who really truly believed they were ballet dancers and learned the combinations and went for it like pros. I wish I had behaved more like those dancers.
One girl in particular had the “ideal ballet dancer body” but she was not so great technically. She crunched her entire torso in the weirdest way in her pique turns, but she kept smiling and doing the combinations and standing in the front. She knew the combinations and she did them relatively cleanly. And the director paid some attention to her. She may possibly get corps de ballet.
I saw my friend Oshi – who I learned is only a couple years younger than me – kicking butt. Oshi does not have the highest extensions, doesn’t really do an insane amount of pirouettes or ridiculously high jumps, but what she does do is she works very cleanly. Everything she does is clean and crisp and you can wrap it up with a bow. She has a great presence and focuses her eyes out beyond the combination. She enjoys what she does, she knows the steps and she does them with HER lines, not anyone else’s. I want to become more like Oshi in my dance training this year.
I talked to her after the audition and she said it was her second year auditioning for them, and that last year she was a mess. That gave me some hope.
At the end of the audition, we did fouettes – the one FREAKING thing I didn’t think I was going to have to do. Well, I at least tried. I have no idea how they looked but I did do about 6-8 fouettes en pointe. Go me.
It was at this point in the audition that I witnessed something truly incredible. In one group, there was one young girl from Canada. She was in New York on a student visa and she didn’t have the “typical” ballerina body, but she was pretty good. She had brought to the audition a small 5×7 picture she probably had printed at a Duane Reade. No resume, no headshot. Just that picture and her new pointe shoes. When we were asked to do fouettes he asked for four fouettes. Most of the girls did 8-16, but she just. kept. going. She stayed on the exact same spot and did at least 32 fouettes. We all clapped for her. Long after the other dancers had stopped, she just turned and turned and turned. While she was doing this, I watched the director look at her, go to the table, pick up her small 5×7 picture, and put it in the stack.
This means the director had not even been considering her until he saw her do those 32 fouettes at the very end of the audition.
Pretty poignant if you ask me. So here’s a list of some other things I learned other than what I already outlined (like I said, extremely educational audition):
1) NEVER wear to an audition something that you don’t feel UH-MAZING in. Not just amazing, but UH-MAZING. I, for instance, NEVER feel amazing in pink ballet tights and a leotard. It makes me feel fat, which is ridiculous. I will never again go to an audition, as I did for this one, wearing pink ballet tights and a leotard.
2) People have been telling me when I go to auditions to “pretend it’s a free class” or “imagine it’s a workshop”. That’s all fine and good if it works for you as a technique to get your brain to be not so jittery, but it doesn’t work for me. Even this audition, which was LITERALLY a class, did not feel like a class to me. Auditions are a different beast. What I do like to do is remind myself that at the end of the day, you and all the other dancers are competing for a short term gig. One that sometimes offers not the best pay. This is a sad reality of the business when you think about it, but it definitely lowers the stakes to realize that the ones who DO get the gig have not solved all their problems in life forever. They have to keep applying for jobs, too, and they won’t get every one. Lower the stakes for yourself if you can.
3) Most of the inability I had to do the combinations correctly was not directly my fault. It was the fault of my nerves and my lack of audition experience. My nerves don’t just know brisse vole brush coupe brisse coupe derierre assemble. I need to learn to calm them down and that’s only going to happen from gaining experience.
4) While the above is fixable to some degree (and believe me I have NOT lost steam), classical ballet probably just isn’t going to happen. It is very specific and I have to deal with the reality of my age. Yes, ok, I know that sounds ridiculous to some since I’m only in my early-20’s but in order to be a professional dancer, I need to do what is going to be best on MY body and not try too hard to fit a square peg in a round hole. That doesn’t mean I can’t be great at ballet but it is probably never going to be my strongest suit.
5) Going to class and just doing the combinations is not enough anymore. You have to train for performance, which is the same as training for an audition. I need to go to class and focus on taking it a step further – learning the exercise or combination very quickly, performing it very CLEANLY, and PERFORMING it instead of just doing it.
6) Know yourself and know your strengths and show them. That one girl didn’t even know she was going to get a job until the director asked for fouettes. When he asked for something she knew she could nail on the head, she did. 10 times over.
And if all THAT is not enough audition advice for you, check out this awesome article my friend Laura wrote on auditioning. My favorite piece of advice from this: the auditors want to see that you enjoy dancing. Duh.
Ballet Eglevsky – epic learning experience and also epic fail for me sadly. Maybe next time! Sigh.