Audition #15: Student Choreographer

I went to an audition last Thursday for a student choreographer from Scotland.  I found the posting on Dance NYC and received several emails following, chose an audition slot from the three she offered, and went over to Merce Cunningham Studios around 5:30 PM on November 3rd.

Now, this choreographer had also clarified that we would be doing a standing phrase, improv, partnering work, and a floor phrase.  She did not, as other dancers apparently requested, have any video samples of her work.  I had no idea what exactly I was getting myself into.  Then again I find myself saying that a lot in this blog…

I had not been to Merce Cunningham before.  There were only 5 other dancers there with me for the audition in a small room with a wooden floor.  No numbers this time.

The audition is meant to last an hour and it did, exactly.  We start with a standing combination which is very contemporary.  It’s not too difficult, though we are given no counts of phrasing and barely any music.  We do this in groups of 3 and then groups of 2 a few times each.

Then we learn the floor phrase.  And when she said floor phrase she should have said “flinging yourself AT the floor”.  I watch her teach it to the first 3 dancers.  The phrase starts with us literally throwing ourselves almost horizontally with our hands and shins/tops of the feet being the first part of the body to hit the floor.  After that we tuck our legs up over our head and trace a circle with our toes and execute a few more dive rolls.

It’s my group’s turn.  I’m actually doing ok at this until I don’t get my legs up over my head the right way out of the first jump and feel something go terribly wrong with my left shoulder.  At first it felt like I just pinched something.  It even wore off by the end of the audition, which made me think for some ungodly reason it was ok to go to gymnastics that night.  Now I have two injured shoulders :-/  But the left one is definitely worse.

I continued with the phrase, perhaps irresponsibly.  I didn’t hurt anything else and I executed the phrase fairly smoothly.

After that we did an improv moving from one end of the floor to the other “letting our pelvis” lead.  And after that I had some deja vu from my last audition.

We were asked to do some contact improv so she put us in pairs and asked us to travel across the floor with our partner as with solo improv.  My partner was great, but I don’t have much experience doing this kind of thing.  On our turn across the floor I dipped into an arabesque and KICKED HER IN THE FACE!  I guess I was just passing it on from my last audition.  I felt terrible and apologized so profusely. We were only halfway across the floor and the contact improv just didn’t work for the rest of our turn because I was too afraid to touch her.  Luckily she was fine, just stunned.  I knew exactly how she felt.

I also knew it was all over after that.  There’s no way you kick someone in the face in an audition and get hired. However, I can’t really say I wanted to get hired.  This kind of choreography was not my strong suit and seemed a little dangerous for me personally.

We wrapped and I went to gymnastics, where I strained the other shoulder during our warm up somehow. This is particularly frustrating because  I have an audition coming up this weekend for the Laban Conservatory.  It’s not going to help to be injured.

Luckily I have a physical therapy appointment on Wednesday, but I want to say something about this.  The lesson learned is that, as a dancer, it’s important to be responsible for your own safety/keeping yourself from getting injured in the event of working in an audition, rehearsal, or any other scenario with a potentially irresponsible choreographer or fellow dancer.  Not that anyone WANTS to see you get injured, but especially for the choreographer, it’s not always the first thing they’re thinking about when developing movement that seems interesting to them.

There is a lot of pressure to push.  It’s interesting, the slight paradigm shift I see in going from the acting world to the dance world.  In general, actors all want a “big break” of some kind that will ensure fame on some level, both groups want to make a living financially, but dancers?  We just want to dance.  We literally just want to be able to spend all our time dancing.  The only reason we go for the big jobs is because they allow us to do that without the need for a side job and we can dance all the time.  But there are less unions and labor laws for most dance jobs, less in the way of health insurance, less pension and disability offered for most dance jobs, and our body is the most valuable thing we have.  What’s more difficult is you never know when something is going to hurt you.  I had no idea that trying to get this movement in to my body was going to injure me and I don’t know if I could have worked it out any more carefully.  Maybe I just should have said no?  Thanks but no thanks?

It’s a conundrum but there were several red flags that probably would have helped me avoid this:

1) Before teaching the phrase she said “I usually wouldn’t teach a phrase like this so quickly”.

2) Wood floors.

3) We were asked to bring knee pads if we had them.

I’m starting to realize I’m more banged up and injured from my AUDITIONS than class or performance.

At auditions, adrenaline is running in a different way than it does in performance.  We’re tense and we’re nervous, even if we don’t feel it readily and we’re experienced and confident.   We’re there to show off our best and stand out above the other dancers, so it can be easy to push yourself too far.

My lesson from this one is to take things a little more slowly.  I can still push – after all I DID do the phrase – but I have to do so CONSCIOUSLY, trying to put clarity and technique above being showy and fancy, and watch out for the red flags that might mean I’m dealing with an irresponsible auditor.

The cherry on top?  Here is the email I got from the choreographer yesterday following the audition:

“Hi, I would like to thank you all for attending my audition this past week.I regret to inform you that you have been unsuccessful. dont give up! and carry on dancing!”

In any other situation that might seem like a harsh way to tell someone they aren’t cast, but I’m somewhat thankful that I was “unsuccessful” because I wasn’t really up for doing that choreography for free.



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