The audition. My heart skips a beat just typing the word. Though my audition days are over, my pulse quickens as I think back to my earlier dancing days and the intense blend of thrill and terror that auditions can ignite.
The audition is the first step toward an opportunity. An opportunity to experience something new – to learn, perform, and share. The audition is where the selection process begins. For the dancer, it is where the tornado of joy, excitement, anticipation, nerves, curiosity, and hope starts to whirl. I know that whirl well: pinning my audition number onto my leotard with trembling hands; confirming for the eighth time that the bun in my hair had enough pins to secure it; checking my pink tights for holes or runs; wondering what steps we would get to dance in the audition; crossing my fingers that I remembered the combinations that were taught …
This past Sunday, I entered Studio 1 at the Todd Rosenlieb Dance Center, which for that day had become an audition registration area. There I witnessed several young dancers stretching their legs and adjusting their audition numbers as they awaited their turn to enter the audition room with the aspirations of gaining a role in the Nutcracker.
For the third consecutive year, the Richmond Ballet is bringing its lighthearted production of the Nutcracker to Chrysler Hall this December. Richmond Ballet has a rehearsal partnership with Todd Rosenlieb Dance that enables the company to use the studio space for auditions and rehearsals for this Norfolk production. Richmond Ballet’s Nutcracker includes both professional and student roles. When the production is performed here, student dancers from Hampton Roads schools have the chance to perform.
The Richmond Ballet’s production is an established one, which means that the choreography, costumes, and number of dancers in each role are already set. There are a specific number of student dancers needed (a grand total of 70, actually), and the different roles require the student dancers to be a certain height to fit the costumes correctly. Because of this, very specific criteria must be met for a dancer to be selected for a certain role.
At each audition session, the dancers were divided into four groups, by height and age. The day began with the younger groups, and worked through to the older students. After completing their registration, the dancers in each group then entered Studio 3, where three of the Richmond Ballet’s artistic staff were waiting: Judy Jacob, the School of Richmond Ballet Director; Tara Penick, the Principal of the Middle School Division; and Jasmine Grace, School Faculty. The students were greeted with warm smiles and encouragement, and were then lined up in numerical order. They were encouraged by the staff to have fun, and to give it their best shot.
Both groups that I observed were taught steps that came directly from the choreography for the various roles needed. The first group performed steps from the Angels, the children in Mother Ginger, the Cook, and the Dolls in the battle scene; the second group performed steps from the Chinese divertissement, and from the Regiment in the battle scene (which is en pointe). The students were given opportunities to practice the combinations, ask questions, and perform the steps more than once. Ms. Jacob and Ms. Grace taught and explained the steps, and also gave corrections before having the students repeat the combinations. Throughout the sessions, the artistic staff took notes on each dancer. The atmosphere in the room was very open and supportive. Though some of the audition participants were dancing steps they had never tried before, the motivation and drive in each of them to learn quickly and perform their best was apparent.
At the end of each group’s audition session, Ms. Jacob thanked them for being there, and reiterated that the roles required specific heights and technical abilities, and that if it didn’t work out for them to be in the performances this year, to certainly come back again in the future because it might be the right time for them then. All of the students were quite professional, and approached each of the staff individually to say thank you for their consideration. I was impressed.
All in all, 120 students from over 20 dance schools from the Hampton Roads area, Eastern Shore, and Outer Banks came to the TRDance Center, vying for a spot on stage with the Richmond Ballet. This week, the Richmond Ballet staff is reviewing their notes and videos from the audition sessions, determining which student dancers will be cast and in what role.
Meanwhile, the dancers now have a new tornado of emotions whirling as they wait to learn the outcome; each audition participant will receive a letter later this week which will present the staff’s decision.
Rehearsals begin in two weeks, and those dancers selected will spend the next several Sundays in the TRDance studios learning and perfecting choreography. Stay tuned for more behind the scenes excitement in Part 2: The Rehearsal.
The Richmond Ballet Nutcracker performances will be held at Chrysler Hall on December 4th at 7pm; December 5th at 2pm and 7pm, and December 6th at 2pm. Click here for ticket information.