Audition Adventures Abroad
Arika Yamada with Spenser in Den Haag
Though Spenser Theberge took his first ballet class only because his gymnastics training required it, he quickly discovered that dance was his true love. At age 8, he began studying ballet intensively, and soon added modern classes to his busy schedule. His hard work paid off when he was accepted to The Juilliard School, from which he recently graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance. This January, the 22 year old Vancouver, WA, native (and 2008 Princess Grace Award recipient) embarked on a 12-day European audition tour, organized by Juilliard, with seven of his fellow seniors. His goal? To land a contract with a company like Amsterdam-based Nederlands Dans Theater. Spenser brought along his camera and notebook to document the trip for DS. Read on to learn more about his adventures overseas—and to find out if his European dance dreams came true! —Margaret Fuhrer
Spenser in Amsterdam
Saturday, January 3
I’m sitting at the airport in New York, and I just got off the phone with my mom. “Just be yourself,” she said. “Show them you.” Good advice, Mom. Sharing your soul is one of the best parts of being a dancer. And that’s what I must do as I head off to Europe for an audition tour: Give all of myself, so that hopefully I’ll get the chance to start a new, fulfilling career.
Sunday, January 4th
Fourteen hours of travel later, I’m finally in Switzerland. Wow, do I hate turbulence.
Monday, January 5th
I have my first audition today—at Bern Ballet! I couldn’t sleep for the life of me last night. I was up at 4:00 a.m., ready to go. At least my racing adrenaline is keeping me awake. It could be a long day—I hope the rush holds out!
Ballet class is fun. It helps that some of my friends are here with me. Having that sense of comfort changes everything. I relax even more as we learn a solo from director Cathy Marston’s “The Tempest.” The movement, a juxtaposition of fluidity and percussiveness, has a real sense of earthiness and gravity. There’s a lot of room for interpretation—many opportunities to put myself into the choreo. Cathy is very complimentary and asks me to finish my day by workshopping a duet from her “Romeo and Juliet,” which will premiere next season. She is so inclusive in her creative process; she always encourages participation and input. It’s clear that she is interested in dancers with active minds, not just robots regurgitating choreography.
Tuesday, January 6th
I travel by train today to my second audition, this time at Ballet Basel. I really enjoy myself, even though the company isn’t looking to hire any men at the moment. I feel like I’m beginning to get a sense of European dance: Technique and facility aren’t the whole picture, just a means to achieve artistic expression. That mentality totally matches my ideas about dance. I think I’d fit right in here!
Thursday, January 8th
Whoa, what a surreal day: After another train ride, I have my first experience at Nederlands Dans Theater, and already I feel changed. I’m a little nervous in class, but learning the Kylián repertory is incredible. The fact that the most vulnerable parts of the body—the sternum, pelvis and neck—motivate nearly every movement makes the work feel so personal. I’m thrilled to have two more days of dancing here.
Friday, January 9th
Today has to be the highlight of the trip. I perform my solo for four of the most influential minds in dance today (Anders Hellström, artistic director of NDT I; Gerald Tibbs, artistic director of NDT II; and Paul Lightfoot and Sol León, NDT’s resident choreographers)—and it goes so well! I’m relaxed and confident, and I feel totally open and honest with my expression, exposing my soul. The energy from the panel is positive and their compliments are amazing. It’s a great reminder that people want to see you succeed—that you’re the only one holding yourself back.
Of course we have to celebrate by taking a trip to Amsterdam. What an amazing city! It’s so charming and romantic. We see the canals and Anne Frank’s house, and eat some great food. This day will be etched in my body and my mind for some time.
Saturday, January 10th
Well, I thought that my NDT experience couldn’t get any better, but today is a dream. After class, Paul Lightfoot asks to work privately with my classmate Arika Yamada and me. We work for half an hour on a quirky, dynamic solo. Lightfoot’s choreography, so fast and detailed, requires an incredible amount of clarity and strength. I absolutely love it. I feel more myself here than anywhere else.
Sunday, January 11th
My flight to Stockholm is canceled. Evidently the man driving the baggage truck crashed into the plane and broke its wing. (Seriously, that happens?)
Monday, January 12th
It’s quite an adventure, but we finally make it to Stockholm for our last stop: Cullberg Ballet. I’m feeling the exhaustion setting in. Between dancing and traveling, my adrenaline is wearing out. I’ll be sad to end this trip, though. I’ve seen some beautiful places. It’s an amazing world we live in.
Tuesday, January 13th
What an intense way to finish! After ballet class, Arika and I work privately with CB company manager and temporary artistic director Anna Grip on some repertory. She coaches us for half an hour, and then we each dance twice. Immediately afterward, we show our prepared solos, and Anna asks me to improvise some more. Usually we have breaks between these elements—it’s difficult to do it all consecutively. Physically, I’m stretched to my very limit. But that’s exciting, too; after all, it’s what I want out of a professional experience.
Wednesday, January 14th
Today is the last day I’ll wake up in Europe! By tonight, I’ll be back in NYC. I’m proud of the way this trip has gone and how I followed my mom’s advice: I was my honest self at every audition. It feels good to know that I allowed myself to become a vessel for communication through my dancing.
My European auditions have come to a close, and I’m so excited to see where they lead me. I can’t wait to take the next step on what has already been an amazing journey!
Spenser's story has a fairytale ending: In early February, he was offered a contract with NDT II, NDT’s second company! Look for him onstage with the troupe beginning in September. Congrats, Spenser!
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.