Inside the College Audition Game.
As many professors point out, auditions are not just for schools to check out students. Dancers can use an audition to decide if a program is right for them. All schools offering bachelor of fine arts degrees in dance look for students with strong technique, but they also want dancers who will thrive in their type of program. The audition gives dancers and teachers a preview of what to expect if they decide to work together.
"We have all students do both ballet and modern at our auditions because that's what they'll do if they enroll here," says Patty Phillips, associate chair at the Department of Dance at Florida State University. And the techniques represented in the audition reflect the variety taught at FSU. Students may be given exercises with elements from Cunningham, Graham, Cecchetti or The Royal Ballet. The school also emphasizes choreography, so at the end of the modern portion of the audition, students are asked to do a structured improvisation. "We're interested in students who feel OK about creating their own movement," says Phillips. "We may have a beautiful ballerina who fades out during the improv section. That tells us she may not be right for our program."
Improvisation is also important at the University of Utah's modern dance department. Unlike many universities, the school has separate ballet and modern departments, and each has its own audition. Scott Marsh, chair of the Department of modern Dance at the University of Utah, says the school looks for technically strong students who are enthusiastic and eager to learn. After a technique class based on a variety of modern styles (instructors' backgrounds range from Graham to release technique), students are asked to improvise. "In the improv, we're not looking for skill level," says Marsh, "but for those who don't have a lot of inhibitions or discomfort at being in a position without specific instructions." He also stresses that dance students must be accepted by the university. Academics are an important component of Utah's dance degree. "We want to train a dancer who reads [and] choreographs, who can discuss and explain their work, produce shows and perform," he says.
To audition for Utah's Ballet Department, dancers take an advanced technique class with a barre, adagio, pirouette combination, turns across the floor and petite and grande allegro. "We're looking for how much stretch students have in their Achilles and their alignment on jumps," says Barbara Hamblin, department chair. Unlike many schools with combined modern and ballet programs, Utah requires women to do pointe work at the audition. And, since the department focuses strongly on repertoire, those auditioning are also asked to do variations. "We look for technique, line, musicality and coordination of the whole body," says Hamblin, who estimates that about 15 percent of Utah's ballet graduates go on to work professionally.
Ohio State University's dance program also focuses on performance, but the school likes students with an interest in Labanotation, lighting and choreography, as well as academic subjects. "Graduates are able to do grant writing, balance a budget and dance," says Valarie Mockabee, assistant dance professor and audition chain At OSU's audition, dancers have a ballet barre, adagio and turns. Then they jump into a modern combination that includes quick direction and level changes. After that, there's a short West African dance class. "You just have to be good at one style," says Mockabee. The audition panel looks equally at technique and potential, and OSU is interested in dancers who are willing to try different and unfamiliar styles. "We're looking for people who can approach new movement like a problem to solve, and tackle it without freezing up," says Mockabee.
Professors at the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College in New York know that modern will feel new to many of those auditioning. So, in addition to having dancers take both modern and ballet audition classes, they ask for a ninety-second solo. "It gives students an opportunity to perform something they feel completely at home with," says Carol K. Walker, conservatory dean. That's important, because Purchase's audition panel looks for strong performers. "The solo can often sway the committee toward or away from a candidate," says Walker. The school likes dancers with epaulement, musicality and a good sense of dynamics. "Robotic repetition of class learning is not what we're looking for," says Walker. "Good training is important, but we want to see what dancers can do with it." On that note, she recommends that in preparing their solos, students choose choreography that's right for their technical level. "Perform something that will allow you to express yourself," she says. "Struggling through a solo Cynthia Gregory worked years to perfect is not a good idea."
At Juilliard, auditions are technically rigorous but, once again, performance counts for a lot. Students have a ballet class followed by modern technique. "The technical caliber of those who audition is very high," says Mary Gray, Juilliard's associate dean of admissions. "After the technique classes, some students realize they are out of their league and decide for themselves not to go on." Those who do proceed present a solo. It can be from classical or modern repertoire, or can be choreographed by the dancers or their teachers. Dancers called back for the afternoon session take two more short classes--one ballet and the other modern--then perform a second solo. "Sometimes the audition panel has doubts about a person's technical level but is won over by their solo," says Gray. "They like to see students who convey a passion for dance and strong commitment to the movement they're performing."
North Carolina School of the Arts, another conservatory, is unique because it has both a high school and college dance program. Though students are placed in their grade levels for academic subjects, dancers of different ages audition and train together. As at the University of Utah, the ballet and contemporary dance programs are distinct. The ballet audition consists of a simple class without pointe work. Applicants are graded on their flexibility, the arch of their feet, musicality and body proportions. Training is important, says Warren Conover, assistant dean for the school of dance, but potential counts for more sometimes. He adds that most of NCSA's ballet students are high-schoolers. "Since most companies look for dancers in their late teens, our students tend to get jobs before they enter college," says Conover. "And those that do stay on often leave after their sophomore year for professional work."
But NCSA's modern program enrolls a good number of college students, since contemporary companies usually don't demand such young dancers. The modern audition begins simply: Standing in first position, dancers tendu to second to show alignment and placement. A roll-down demonstrates hamstring stretch. And the panel assesses hip flexibility by asking dancers to sit in a wide second position. "It's also possible to judge physical intelligence from these simple exercises," says assistant dean and modern professor Dianne Markham. "I may correct a dancer who is too pitched forward in her wide second. If she responds quickly and remembers the correction, that shows she's thinking and has kinesthetic awareness." After a modern technique class, students show a two-to three-minute self-choreographed solo. "We're looking for facility," says Markham, "and I look for eyes that are alive and energized. Some technically raw students are instinctively physical, and you can see that in their solos. A dancer may not have a lot of technique, but if their personality shines through in their choreography, we may want to work with them anyway."
How Many They See, How Many They Take
University of Utah, Modern auditions: about 40 accepts: 25 (This year's audition was the first.) University of Utah, Ballet auditions: about 130 (total for live and videotaped auditions last year) accepts: about 50 University of Florida auditions: 151 last year accepts: 53 Ohio State University auditions: about 100 last year accepts: about 30 last year SUNY purchase auditions: numbers vary accepts: last year about 60, this year about 45 Julliard School auditions: about 350 accepts: 12 men, 12 women North Carolina School of the Arts auditions: 700 to 800 accepts: 180 (Slightly more enter the ballet program.)
Janet Weeks is a San Francisco-based writer.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2000|
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