This is the third in a four-part blog series about our annual Summer Intensive program. This week, our Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin, took some time to detail what our Artistic Staff looks for from students during the intensive.
It’s hard to believe we’re already half-way through the first session of the Summer Intensive and well into the process of selecting dancers for our year-round programs. Students in Levels 7 and 8 who are, at a minimum, seniors in high school are eligible for consideration for either our Trainee Program or a contract with Ballet Austin II (BAII), our second company/apprentice program. Our Artistic Director, Stephen Mills, and I are committed to identifying and inviting dancers who are a good fit for our programs, meaning that they will benefit from their experience here, and Ballet Austin will benefit from their contribution. There are many factors to consider, starting with a solid foundation in classical ballet technique. Many of the dancers who come here have had training in a ballet curriculum that is different than the technique and aesthetic that we teach. Training is usually quite firmly entrenched in muscle memory and it can be challenging to adjust to the new concepts that we introduce, so much of what Mr. Mills and I are assessing is a dancer’s willingness to explore, and capacity to adapt to other ideas. To help us evaluate this more quickly, all of the Level 7 and 8 ballet technique classes are taught by me, Mr. Mills or our Rehearsal Director, Allisyn Paino.
In addition to strong classical technique, a contract with BAII also requires that dancers have an interest and a developing aptitude for contemporary movement, particularly as it relates to Ballet Austin’s repertoire. This is easiest to assess by having the dancers learn, rehearse and perform some choreographic excerpts from our work. As the dancers learn the material we are able to glean a lot of important information. Beyond capability with a particular movement style, we can get a sense as to how quickly a dancer learns, how they observe and absorb nuance and detail, and how independent they are about refining what they’ve learned. We can also see how they interact in a collaborative environment – with their peers, with a partner – as well as how they approach the rehearsal process.
This process of selection is challenging on both ends, for the dancers who are participating in this ongoing audition, and for those of us responsible for program placement. We are evaluating technical strength and physical conditioning, personal motivations and work ethic, and the subjective considerations of artistry and aesthetic. Though it’s not easy, it’s a method that has created opportunity for many dancers and for Ballet Austin over the past decade, and we are committed to continuing this process for each new group of Summer Intensive dancers.