Picture this: You’re riding through the rolling French countryside on a train from Paris to Munich after ringing in the New Year in France (oui, oui!). You just finished your last croissant and are wired from too many espressos. With another six hours to go, you think of inconspicuous ways to stretch in your tiny Eurorail seat. Your audition is tomorrow at the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz in Munich, Germany, and you can’t dance your best with stiff train legs!
For 21-year-old Juilliard senior Carolyn Rossett, this fantasy turned into a real life adventure during her recent winter break. But auditioning for five companies in two weeks is no piece of cake, as she quickly found out. Adventure, yes. Vacation… not exactly. Before you hop across the pond to audition, check out what these dancers and teachers have to say.
Most dancers who work abroad are prompted by curiosity and a taste for adventure. Cynthia Gonzalez, a 30-year-old freelance dancer and choreographer in Germany, felt she needed a challenge after graduating from New World School of the Arts in Miami, FL. “The idea of getting to know Europe and the risk of being completely new in another country fascinated me,” she says.
Modern dancer Kristin Osler, 23, spent five months in Kassel, Germany, dancing for choreographer Johannes Wieland at the Staatstheater Kassel. As the new director of the state-funded theater, Wieland was able to invite three of his New York company members to spend a season as guest artists. Osler, a recent Ailey School/
Fordham University BFA graduate, loved touring. “We went to Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, France, Prague and Vienna,” she says. “One of my favorite things was riding a train through the countryside. There’s so much history in Europe not only to see, but to feel, touch and experience.”
Getting to travel while you’re abroad is only one plus! Gigs overseas also often provide more job security and benefits than in the U.S. Juilliard Dance Division Director Lawrence Rhodes says most European dancers have 52-week contracts, health insurance (thanks to most countries’ government-funded health care), and a comfortable salary. Other perks: “Through the theater, I could get a massage very cheap, the cost of ballet shoes and travel expenses were covered, and we even got paid vacation!” Osler says.
Unlike struggling American companies, European troupes receive a majority of funding from government grants, giving them a lot of artistic freedom. Financial support from the state helps choreographers produce elaborate productions with cool sets, wild lighting and original music. Rhodes feels that “the money creates more care for the artform,” not to mention longer seasons and bigger productions.
Sounds pretty good, right? So exactly how does an American dancer land an overseas contract?
• Virtual Research: It’s always a good idea to visit first and tour around, but let’s be real—not everyone can afford it. Instead, use the web as an online tour guide! Google various cities, look at the pictures of historic landmarks, read about the countries and get a sense of the language and culture. Turn it into a fun project by “traveling” to a different region every weekend. Rossett visited tons of company websites, even though many were not in English. Looking at images, repertory and choreographers and learning basic language phrases allowed her to narrow her search down to five companies. She also used the Dance Europe magazine website to search for audition postings (http://danceeurope.net/site/jobs.shtml). Other great resources: YouTube, VoxDance and MySpace have hundreds of dance clips! German experimental choreographer Pina Bausch has an awesome MySpace page: myspace.com/mellebausch. (See p. 58 for Bausch’s audition tips.)
• Make Contact: Once you’ve jotted down your top companies, e-mail or call to ask for an audition. Here’s where your school comes in handy: College and conservatory faculty can help guide your search and make calls on your behalf. NWSA Dean Daniel Lewis says, “If a student is right for a particular company, I make a phone call and tell them I have a dancer they need to see.”
Master classes and summer programs also allow you and the choreographer to see if your movement styles mesh. Rhodes has his Juilliard dancers send e-mails to ask about audition dates, and suggests telling directors their travel plans to arrange private auditions or take company class. Private opportunities sound super intimidating, but you have a greater chance to shine alone than in a room with 400 other dancers!
Not in college or at a performing arts high school but still itching to go abroad? Your talent can get you there, with a little hard work and determination. Make those calls and e-mails yourself. Without a connection to recommend you, you will definitely want to send DVDs to stand out from the competition. You never know what could happen unless you give it a shot.
• What They Need: Send a resumé and several photos to interested companies. Your resumé doesn’t need to be translated! Most companies have members who speak English as a second language. Send a headshot, along with one or two full-body shots for pre-screening. Often directors look for certain body types. Some companies request an 8-10 minute DVD; you might want to send one to all the companies you’d like to join so they can preview your dancing. You will save time and money (and emotional distress) by giving enough material that a director can if say he or she is not interested. The truth hurts but definitely helps!
The Big Adventure
Once you’ve nailed down your audition dates, map out an itinerary. Rossett recommends building extra days around auditions to account for travel mishaps and schedule changes. “In case the director couldn’t make it to class and they ask you to come back the next day, you’ll have room to do that,” she says. Traveling by train for 20 hours can be draining, and a rest day between trips will keep your dancing fresh. One fun tip: Get an ISE student card (isetravel.com) to help you score discounts on lodging, museum passes and other activities.
In Europe, getting around is easiest and cheapest by train. American students can get reduced-rate Eurorail passes (go to raileurope.com, travel-overland.de and cheaptravel.com for help with booking). These trains are extremely reliable, so no worries about delays. If you want to travel by air, check Ryanair, Alitalia and easyJet for cheap tix.
Many companies overseas start auditions with ballet class. Then you may learn some repertory, and finally you might perform a solo and/or show some improvisation. (Gulp!) Here’s where your research comes in: If you’re auditioning for Batsheva Dance Company or Pina Bausch, unpack your improv skills; if Lyon Opera Ballet or The Forsythe Company is more your speed, polish up your contemporary ballet solo. You may not get to show them, but always be prepared.
Going pro is no easy task, no matter what part of the world you dance in. American dancers are sprinkled all over the globe. Many choreographers and company directors enjoy working with an internationally diverse group. But the dance field remains extremely competitive no matter where you go, so plan for numerous auditions before landing your ideal job.
It’s never too soon (or too late) to dream about where dancing could take you. After seven years of calling Germany her home, Gonzalez believes that “living abroad changes your perspective on how you see and live life. It opens your mind and heart to other cultures, experiences, people and languages. It makes you strong and confident.”