How to Run a Great Audition . . . maybe

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Invertigo Blog, Los Angeles contemporary dance theater company, dance auditions Los Angeles, LA dance audition

Invertigo held auditions in June, and I wrote this during that weekend.  I'm sharing it now because I think it's an important part of the dance world that isn't discussed very much.  - Laura

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Invertigo is holding auditions this weekend.  I am deep in the role of She Who Is Running Auditions.  This has brought up a lot of thoughts.

Holding auditions re-enforces for me the deep reverence I have for dancers.  There is so much talent out there, so many people creating art with their bodies and all of them are looking for a place in the world that will give them space to dance.  I feel so honoured by the fact that people want Invertigo to be that space, and so grateful that I am even in the position to offer such a thing.

That said, auditions are a bitch.

There's a balance of power inherently lacking.  There's the people running the audition, and the people showing up for audition.  As a dancer, you are asked to throw yourself into movement in a crowded room, to display perfection upon command and to subject yourself to the whim of the Deciders.  Very little attention seems to be paid to the quality of the Deciders.  It doesn't matter.  They have the power.

I looked around on the internet for guidelines on how to run an audition in an efficient, fair, humanising manner.  There are dozens of pages dedicated to tips on how to ace an audition, but they're for those auditioning and a majority of the entries seem to be overly emphatic on the point of make-up and clothing choices.  I couldn't find any tips for the people running the audition.

So I decided to broaden the intention of Invertigo's audition, or at least to be mindful of an additional role that I need to play in it:

Yes, a big part of my job during auditions is to find the best fit for the company, to make decisions (however subjective) about who will be chosen.  That's the obvious bit.

But there's another part of my job, one that I think is rarely discussed or acknowledged as a role of those running auditions: it's to honour the time, talent, energy and hope that are in the room.  I want to remind dancers that the other people in the room are their community not their competition - which I understand is hard to remember when you're in the middle of all these bodies vying for the same role or position.  I suppose part of my role is to create community out of chaos.

Another, also-unemphasised part of my job is to make as many connections with dancers as possible, to get to know the people in my sandbox and to open up a channel between them and Invertigo which lasts beyond the audition.  I know many dancers' opinion of the company (and possibly me personally) will shift when they're cut in the first round, or when they don't make call-backs, or when they aren't offered a position in the company.  The awful, gut-twisting fact is that I can't hire everyone, and I know that.  And it's all puppies and daisies and "love-your-work"s until I have to say no.  Many dancers handle it with grace and they continue a relationship with the company and with me.  I love that.  My hope is to shift the focus away from rejection and toward the beginning of a relationship with one another.  They now know me and I know them - we are part of the same community.

(Note: this is a great reminder for me, as the person who has been on the receiving end of so much rejection from grants, festivals, etc.  I do try to keep positive about the grant-makers and presenters who have been unable to accept the company's work.  They are in a similar position to the one I'm in now.  I can't protect my ego from their rejection by cloaking it in counter-rejection. That just feeds unnecessary negativity.  Even if it's easier, so much easier, on the ego.)

Amid all this, I need to remain clear on my artistic vision for the company.  I am looking for dancers who are fiercely good, who are so good that I am nervous walking into rehearsal because I know I have to live up to them.  I want intelligent, curious, adventurous, hard-working people in the room with me, so I don't have to work around laziness, hesitance or small-mindedness to get to the heart of a kinetic and theatrical experience.  The dancers I hire must possess empathy so they can work well with the other artists in the room.  They must have solidly engrained, impressive technical skills, which they can then transcend by breaking the boundaries of their training.  They must bring an intriguing artistic voice and a theatrical skill that spans from subtle moments to heightened emotions.

So there it is.  I want to run an audition in which as few people as possible feel badly at the end, an audition which opens up connections between dancers and the company, an audition which fosters community rather than competition, and an audition which ends in my hiring fiercely good, intelligent, curious, adventurous, empathic, technically brilliant, artistically intriguing and theatrically radiant dancers.

Is that so much to ask?