An elevated spirit of enthusiasm filled the air of Los Gatos Ballet last Thursday. It was the evening of Nutcracker Auditions. The large garage doors were rolled open; upper-division dancers were warmed up and practicing variations; additional instructors were arriving as judges. Once classes finished, company dancers exited the large studio while level 7s remained and took their places. Level 7 auditioned first, followed by company members. Artistic Director, Marcie Ryken, led the event assisted by a panel of five judges who were former professional dancers and are current Los Gatos Ballet staff.
As the process commenced, there was a uniquely positive and supportive atmosphere created by Marcie and the fellow judges. Ms. Ryken often gathered the dancers together reminding them of the purpose of the evening and set a positive tone with her helpful and encouraging comments. “The dancers often see auditions as a time to do their best to get their desired role. Of course, I want them to do their best, but my main intention is to help our students develop character skills through this process. Auditions require a high level of mental stamina. Dancers must have focus, determination, perseverance, and the ability to stay fully present in both mind and body. This can be a challenge when dancing in front of their artistic director, several judges, and peers. However, I believe that when one can maintain presence and concentration in the midst of challenge, they can do anything. This mental stamina is what I want my students to reach for through this process. I believe that this is a skill that will serve them for the rest of their life.”, said Ryken.
Of course, each dancer has a desired role or roles in which they are hoping to receive. Ms. Ryken knows this but sees the casting of roles to be part of her overall mentorship and development of her dancers. First, the casting is a collaborative effort in which all the judges sit down together and compare notes and offer suggestions. The fact that Los Gatos Ballet’s Nutcracker auditions are only open to Los Gatos Ballet dancers offers unique visibility into each auditionee. The judges are well acquainted with each dancer’s work ethic, drive, ability to handle corrections and pick up new choreography and can factor that into their selections. The instructors see and use casting as a natural part of each student’s overall progression.
Next, Ms. Ryken has established a very clear process. Dancers must first demonstrate technical proficiency to be considered for a role. Then, they must be able to carry the role artistically, as performing is much more than technical execution. After technical proficiency and artistic ability have been established, the judges take into account the dancer’s emotional maturity. This is where knowing the students for years is a benefit to the judges. They ask questions such as: Is this dancer emotionally ready for this role? Can this dancer handle the pressure that goes along with this role? Last, a hierarchy of experience is supported both for the individual and the group. This is where the judges consider the roles the dancer has previously performed, their level, and their age. All of these factors are carefully considered by the judges to help them make the most appropriate casting decisions.
Ms. Ryken sees every role in the Nutcracker as important and says that one of the most challenging aspects of casting is to help her students see that their value as an individual is not based on which roles they receive. “Each dancer is valuable and unique, no matter what role they are assigned. Each dancer is on their own personal progression and my job is to help develop them along their individual path. It is important for our students to know that every part in a ballet is essential; corp de ballet or soloist. The beauty of productions is that unique individuals come together to form a much greater whole.”, says Ryken.
Casting for the Los Gatos Ballet 2016 production of The Nutcracker will be announced this Thursday, September 8th.