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The Crucial Differences Between a Company and School Audition

Eglevsky Ballet Artistic Director, Maurice Brandon Curry, teaches a master class at the 2023 ADC | IBC Finals. Photo by IO Photo Studio, courtesy ADC | IBC.

Audition Advice By Amy Brandt, Editor-in-Chief, POINTE Magazine April 24, 2023

Last month, at the ADC | IBC finals in St. Petersburg, Florida, I headed to a large hotel ballroom to observe the competition’s company audition class, the second held that week. The room was packed with teenage dancers, most of them approaching their high school graduations and starting the stressful process of figuring out the next stage of their dance lives. At the front of the room, behind a long row of tables, sat artistic staff directors from seven different ballet companies: Philadelphia Ballet, Festival Ballet Providence, Atlanta Ballet, Eglevsky Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Smuin Ballet, and Oklahoma City Ballet. (Representatives from Richmond Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Sarasota Ballet, Ballet West, Ballet Austin, Houston Ballet, and BalletMet had been in attendance at the first audition earlier that week.) As class, led by Edward Ellison, got underway, the dancers worked with intense focus. They had had a long week of competition rounds, and here was one more opportunity to get noticed. But the tension in the air felt thick, and it was hard to sense their passion for ballet. Faces were stoic, upper bodies somewhat stiff. “Energy—feel electricity in the legs,” Ellison said at one point, trying to coax more life out of the dancers. Finally, midway through center, Eglevsky Ballet artistic director Maurice Brandon Curry called everyone over to the table. “You are all clearly talented, but you are not bringing it,” he said. Where was the joy, he continued, the eagerness to show who they were as artists and people, not just technicians? “We are trying to see what kind of employee you are going to be. Are you someone we would want to work with and talk to every day? If nerves exist, you need to learn how to manage that—as an employee.”

Curry was making an important point: A company is a professional world, with professional expectations, and while directors will take a dancer’s age and experience into account, an audition is still a job interview. “There’s commerce involved—it’s show business,” Curry explained to me a few weeks later. “And when you are applying for a job, the job is not going to bend for you. You have to adapt.”

At auditions, Curry looks for a dancer’s confidence and passion to show through. “If I’m going to spend five to six hours a day with you, I need to see who you are,” he says. “I like to see someone who knows they have to dance, that they need to be in the room, working. That’s different than groveling. And I want dancers who think and make decisions that reflect upon their artistry, and are willing to learn.”

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Robinson (right), a student at International Ballet Academy in Cary, North Carolina, was at the ADC | IBC audition class and says Curry’s talk was a wake-up call. “It was really useful, and even after going back to my studio after finals, that conversation has stuck with me.”

Nineteen-year-old Sergio Suarez, who trains at the nearby Cary Ballet Conservatory, agrees. “He wasn’t saying our technique is bad, but that we need to show them who we are as a person. We need to show that we enjoy it."

Larenne Taylor (Left), 18, a student at Paris Ballet & Dance in Jupiter, Florida, says she now has a better understanding of what to focus on. “There are so many girls who can do five or six pirouettes and put their legs over their heads. But how you stand out is how you use your artistry.”

All three dancers have been busy this spring trying to secure their next step towards a professional career. Robinson has mostly been submitting audition videos to companies, but she made sure to take the company audition classes at both ADC | IBC’s regional semifinal in Raleigh and final round. She says her teachers have been preparing her to approach professional auditions differently. “I feel like with schools, they look more for potential and technique, and when it came to these auditions I just had to trust my technique and figure out how to make myself look the most authentic and natural.” She received a traineeship from Richmond Ballet and, after visiting in person, is planning to join the trainee program and attend its summer intensive.

Controlling audition-day jitters, of course, can be challenging when the stakes are so high. But directors want professionals who can handle pressure. “If you struggle with nerves, make it a priority to get ahead of them,” says Curry, whether it’s through meditation, breathing exercises, or using an app like Calm. “You have to find something that works for you to help give you a sense of calm and confidence when you walk into that room.”

He also encourages dancers to research companies they’re auditioning for ahead of time. Study its repertoire, its style, the backgrounds of the artistic staff and teachers so you’re prepared. “Ask yourself: Do I see myself dancing these roles by this choreographer? Do I see myself fitting into this dynamic?”

Taylor has been attending competitions and auditioning for summer intensives in hopes of getting a trainee, second company or full company position. She makes a point to take master classes offered at competitions, too. “I find it helpful to try to talk to the teachers afterwards, saying, ‘Hey, I’m really interested in your company or a trainee or second company position. How can I apply?’ ” She’s received some scholarships so far and is still waiting to hear back from several places. “You can get a bunch of no's, but all you really need is one yes.”

For Suarez (Right), a native of Colombia, competitions have been his main strategy for landing a contract. But he’s developed an appreciation for the class audition format common in the professional world. “You can rehearse your variations every day and go onstage and do really well, but not be clean in class. In an audition class we are actually showing how we work on a normal day, showing our work ethic.”

Still, Suarez’s competition performances have taken on special urgency now that he’s officially job hunting (he’s currently considering several offers). “When I was younger I’d think, Am I gonna place? Will I make it to the second round? And now it’s, I need a job, I need to show my artistry. And it feels completely different. It feels more mature.”

“Your artistry and technique can speak for themselves and can also be developed through your passion—and passion needs to be defined by your purpose,” says Curry, who offered six company contracts and five apprenticeships after the ADC | IBC audition. “What are the choices that you make that showcase your artistry and technique and passion? Show the complete person.”

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