This is the last in a four-part blog series about our annual Summer Intensive program. This week, our Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin discusses the mindset of students and BA artistic staff during the last week of Session One.
As we move into the third week of our Summer Intensive, there is a noticeable shift in the energy and pace of our studio process. The end of this week marks the close of the first session and there is a heightened sense of urgency, both in preparations for the performances on Friday, as well as the departure of some of our students.
Mr. Mills and I have spent the last 2.5 weeks teaching, rehearsing and observing our students and have started to compile a short list of dancers who we think would be a good fit for our Trainee Program or for a contract with Ballet Austin II. Though the extended audition process is understandably nerve-wracking for the students, it gives us the opportunity, in essence, to “read between the lines” of a dancer’s nervousness. We have begun to recognize which elements, both positive and negative, are most representative of each dancer’s work on an ongoing basis, an assessment that is highly significant when we are considering an extended commitment.
Those who are departing at the end of this session will have a conference with me before they leave during which I will talk to them about what possibilities are likely for them here. Though our short list is a clear sign that we’ve begun to discern our strongest candidates, definitive offers, particularly for Ballet Austin II contracts, will not be made until we are midway through the second session. This not only allows fair consideration of dancers who we will not see until Session Two begins next Monday, it also affords the opportunity for first session dancers who continue into the second session to assert themselves. Every year there are at least one or two students whose work in the final weeks of the program substantially distinguishes them, and they end up with an invitation to stay at Ballet Austin for the year.
The second round of students will will arrive this next Monday, beginning their registration and placement classes in the afternoon. We look forward to meeting them!
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.
This is the second in a four-part blog series about our annual Summer Intensive program. This week, I shadowed summer intensive attendee Nicole Douglas, 18, who joins us from Ashland, Massachusetts. Nicole auditioned for the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive in New York City, and will be with us for the remainder of the summer participating in the 6-week program. I spent Wednesday photographing Nicole during her day at Ballet Austin. Here’s what she had to say about her day:
My schedule at Ballet Austin differs a little every day. We have ballet class each day, and then go into a variety of other classes ranging from Pilates to technique-focused dance classes. Yesterday was an especially long day because I had pointe, Pilates and then a two and a half hour repertoire class all following my daily ballet class. My day started around 9:45 when I arrived at Ballet Austin and found an empty studio in which I could warm up.
Around 10:30, I went to ballet in the AustinVentures StudioTheater. I really like our daily ballet class because it provides the opportunity for me to focus mainly on my technique. Stephen Mills teaches a very different style of ballet from what I am used to, but I am really enjoying this new style and am happy to be re-training my body to do new things. We also do center of ballet class on pointe, which at times can be difficult but I know is really beneficial for me. Pointe class is pretty basic, but I like it because it sets aside time for me to focus on really working through my point shoes and articulating my feet more.
In the afternoon after lunch, I went to Pilates. I loved our Pilates class yesterday because I love working my abs! The Pilates class here at Ballet Austin is very intense but it is SO good for my body that I don’t mind.
Until now, almost all of my training has been based in classical Ballet, so going into the repertoire class I didn’t really know what to expect. By the second time I had the class, though, I had fallen in love with it. Yesterday we worked with choreography from Ballet Austin’s 2010 production of Carmina Burana.
This is the first in a four-part blog series about our annual Summer Intensive program. This week we wanted to give you a run-down on how the program works, as well as why it is so valuable – both to us and the dancers which attend. Please check back each Thursday to see more behind-the-scenes coverage including day-in-the-life features, as well as posts by our artistic directors regarding their processes. We hope you enjoy!
Starting next Monday, our halls will be overrun with nearly 300 ballet dancers who will arrive for the first leg of our nationally-recognized Summer Intensive. Ranging in age from 9-22, these serious ballet students are split into either the Senior or Junior Summer Intensive programs depending on their age.
The Summer Intensive program is the culmination of an annual 30-city audition tour which takes place the winter prior to the program. This year, we are so pleased to welcome students from 36 states and 4 different countries into our home!
Summer Intensive is incredibly important to both ballet students and our company. Whether students stay for three weeks or six, they leave the program having greatly improved their skills and technical abilities. Aside from this obvious benefit, however, the program also allows our own artistic staff to select students for our Ballet Austin II Apprentice and Trainee programs. The three and six-week programs allow us to observe the students’ work ethics and styles, ensuring our ability to select dancers who be a great match with our company.
Over half of the current professional Company dancers have been through BAII – a program where dancers come and live year-round and work in-residence at our studios. Dancers may only stay in BAII for a maximum of two years, after which they may be invited to join our Company, or otherwise will move somewhere else to continue their career development.
Summer Intensive 2011 starts this Monday, and we cannot wait to meet everybody! Check back next week for a day-in-the-life feature of one of the participants!
For more information the program, please click here. See you next week everyone!
Ever since Alexander Graham Bell transmitted his voice into the back room of his science lab, the telephone has been a necessity of life. Back in the day, I remember my grandma sharing a phone line with many of the folk from her small town in eastern Washington; the telephone party line. Party lines were not always a party; people could listen in on calls (what we call eavesdropping), and they had to compete for phone time with the entire town. Telephone party lines as they once were known may be a thing of the past, but every spring I experience a different sort of telephone party line.
Beginning the first weekend in January Ballet Austin artistic staff travel all of the United States to audition students for Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive. They see hundreds of students from coast to coast. My favorite part of this process is when they come home. I am handed a white binder containing the names of everyone who auditioned. I am the bearer of good news, “you have been accepted…” That’s when the party begins! Who doesn’t love to give good news? I am no exception. This year I talked to about 500 students to let them know that they are invited to attend Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive. When I share the news with them in a personal conversation over the phone, a simple call becomes a celebration; a party.
From Dunwoody, Georgia to Kenosha, Wisconsin; from Port Moody, British Columbia to Miami, Florida; from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine; the telephone party line is almost always the same. Screams, tears, and cheers from excited students rejoicing over the news. Some respond in disbelief, some in relief, but all with appreciation and anticipation as they look towards summer. Countless hours of class, miles traveled to audition, passion, dedication, and commitment bring opportunity for summer. For the student it’s all about dance. For me, these telephone parties are just the beginning of new relationships; an opportunity for Ballet Austin to reach across 50 states. Who says the telephone party line is a thing of the past?
Get a glimpse of Ballet Austin behind the scenes and read more about our upcoming performances, as well as get an inside look into the lives of company dancers and Artistic Director and Choreographer Stephen Mills.