by Leslie Williams, 2nd-year dancer
Usually I tend to “enjoy” auditions. Because of my strict classical ballet background, doing summer program auditions at the start of the year was like blinking…it was just something you did. I had spent summers at Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet and Carolina Ballet all based on tough summer auditions and received partial scholarships at each. It was something that I knew the ins-and-outs of. I knew that ballet program auditions consisted of a ballet technique class, with maybe some pointe or partnering at the end. Before the audition everyone would “stretch,” or rather, compete to see who was more flexible. But I knew that the Juilliard audition was going to be different. An audition that lasted ALL DAY with five different parts including an interview at the end seemed mind-blowing and intense to me!
I traveled from North Carolina to Miami for my audition. It was nice to get away and have 80 degree weather for a bit. In NC, in the middle of February, that’s hard to come by. The night before my audition was slightly stressful. Thinking back on it – who am I kidding – it was horrible! I had forgotten that we had to wear all black for the audition and of all the leotard choices that I packed in my suitcase for the big day, NONE of them were black. And to make it worse, this fatal realization came upon me around 8pm, when stores were starting to close. My family drove me to all the dance stores we knew of in the area, but they were all closed. We drove to all the places we could think of that would sell dance wear but there was nothing appropriate for an audition. We went to Target right before closing time. The dance wear section looked as bleak as ever. A young lady was standing next to us. She looked like someone that knew about dance wear and at this point I was desperate. I told her my problem. She said, “Oh, you’re auditioning for Juilliard. That’s amazing! They’re actually having a sale on dance wear at American Apparel!” Aside from being totally surprised at the fact that they even sold dance wear at American Apparel, I was overjoyed by this pure miracle that had sprung upon me.
So there I was on audition day, standing in line for registration wearing, not Yumiko or Danskin, but my American Apparel leotard. The leotard was on the verge of crossing the line between high-cut and HIGH-CUT, and throughout the audition I made “adjustments” to avoid a massive wedgie. I pushed forward – happy that I made it to the audition, and in dress code. (That’s all that mattered at that point). I walked in and set myself down in a dark corner of the warm-up studio. It was the first time in a while that I had been to an audition where I didn’t know or recognize someone. Walking into the audition studio was a bit surreal. The studio was completely black with an awkwardly positioned short mirror at the front. In front of that was the panel table, and there sat Risa Steinberg, Larry Rhodes, and Alphonse Poulin. I looked at Risa, a petite lady with a blonde pixie haircut. She seemed nice. Larry stared at everyone warming up with a very stern and professional look on his face. His demeanor screamed “I am the Director.” I could tell that Alphonse was our ballet teacher just by the way he was postured in the chair.
The ballet class was more challenging than I expected; lots of developpe’s and rond de jambe’s that I wasn’t expecting to hold for more than a four count…we held them for seven. It also didn’t help that Larry decided to walk around with a clipboard. It was a norm for the panel to walk around and stare at you with clipboards, but at the EXACT moment when I was doing a very slow and difficult grand rond de jambe en l’air, Larry was standing directly in front of me. I don’t have the best extension in the world so all I could do was try to keep my hip down and point my biscuit foot as hard as I could. He walked away. I exhaled. Overall, the ballet class went really well. We then moved on to the modern portion of the audition that was taught by Risa. I really enjoyed her class. I thought to myself how I would enjoy having her as a teacher if I got in.
Finally, the first cut. I remember it feeling like the longest wait ever. We all anxiously gathered in the hallway around Katie Friis, Associate Director of Admissions, as she called out numbers…one by one. Oh boy here we go….
My number was the third to the last to be called. When Katie called it out my mother screamed so loudly they could hear her all the way back in North Carolina. We began to go over our solos. I watched one of the boys whip out at least ten turns and finish with an illusion. I tried to stay calm. I saw all of the parents trying to crowd around a small crack of the studio’s back door to get a peek at what was going on inside. It was my turn to go. I walked in and it felt surreal all over again. The studio space seemed much larger, now that it was without 100 other dancers. I was slightly nervous, but was pretty confident in the solo that I had choreographed. I gave it my all. I put my whole heart into dancing for them! When I finished, I was satisfied. I looked at the faces as I walked out, and they all had smiles on them. That was all the validation I needed.
It’s time for cut number two…my number is called. Everyone was unsure of what we were going to do for the next portion of the audition. I felt that since we were all basically in the dark about what was going to happen, there was no need to be nervous. We went in and Risa taught us a combination from the Juilliard repertoire, and I really enjoyed it. She took it pretty slow with everyone until they got it, and gave us individual feedback on what we needed to think about or fix. Even though it was basically a test to see how well we could retain information and corrections, I felt that it was almost like a rehearsal. For the next thirty minutes, I felt like I was actually rehearsing a piece at Juilliard…as a student. It was really nice.
We finished that section and it was time for another cut…my number was called again. My mother actually managed to keep it together this time. I think she had cried enough. There were no more tears. There were 6 of us left. Four of them are in my class today, including the guy that did ten pirouettes. At this point, I couldn’t have been more relieved and happy with myself. I had made it through all the dancing portions. The way I looked at the interview was to just be myself and to answer the questions as honestly as possible.
I interviewed with Larry. We started off by chatting about Ethan Stiefel and his amazing dance career. That was a subject I literally could talk about ALL DAY. I was proud to call him my Dean of Dance at North Carolina School of the Arts. One of the questions I vividly remember Larry asking was what book, movie, concert or other art related thing I had recently seen, read or been inspired by. I totally could’ve said something completely made up like, “Oh, recently l read (insert extremely intense art/dance title of book here that will make me sound really intelligent and smart), but instead I decided to talk about when I saw the rock band Radiohead LIVE in concert. Radiohead is one of my most favorite bands in the ENTIRE WORLD, and I think I freaked Larry out a bit because my mouth was moving at least 50 miles per second while describing this awesome concert. But he just smiled and wrote something down on his clipboard. The interview was pretty long and some of the questions required a lot of thought, but as I said before, I just answered them in the best way I knew how…the honest way.
And that was it. The audition was over. Katie, in her very pleasant manner, said that she would call us soon and to have a good day. I remember Poulin giving my mom, with her dried tear marks on her face, a big hug as he was leaving. She was relieved. I was relieved. All everybody could be at the end of such a long day was just relieved.
Reflecting on this experience now makes me realize how lucky and blessed I was on that day. Sure, I was used to the intensity of auditions, but at the time I don’t think I truly realized the gravity of the audition. I wasn’t auditioning for just anything; I was auditioning for JUILLIARD! I actually think going into the audition without having that added pressure made all the difference. I just went in and did the best I could. I gave all that I had in the most genuine form. So, when you audition, just concentrate on being you and hopefully your love for your art will come alive with a spirit that is uniquely YOU. They totally see through the pretense. They see through all the make-up, slicked back hair, and fancy leotards. All they want to see is YOU and who YOU are. Give them YOU. If you do that, you’ll be one step closer to being at a place that will totally and completely change your life… The Juilliard School….NO PLACE like it.
YOU CAN DO IT! HAVE FUN!