Director's Notes: Advice From The Majors

Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen, now in his 10th year with the company, shares his audition tips.
Published in the February/March 2012 issue.

Mikko Nissinen rehearses principals James Whiteside and Misa Kuranaga. Photo by Vargaimages.

When I envision a ballet company of the future, I see a troupe that can perform many genres of dance at a high level. Today’s dancers shouldn’t be limited as specialists in one style. When looking for artists to join Boston Ballet, I seek out dancers with the potential to cover the diverse repertoire that has become our company’s signature—they need to be able to do everything from Bayadère to Balanchine to Jorma Elo and Jirí Kylián.

While expectations for dancers auditioning today have changed, some things remain the same. Butterflies. Nerves. Excitement. It’s understandable to be anxious, but with the right preparation you can perform at your best.

Know the Company
The best place to start your audition process is actually outside of the studio. Educate yourself on each company you’re interested in: its size, the repertoire it performs, the direction it’s headed. Investigate. Think thoroughly about what those attributes mean to you. Understanding what a company is looking for in a dancer will help you select the right places to audition—and help you present yourself in the best manner possible. If you make it to the end of our audition, my first question will be, “Why Boston Ballet?” Make sure you know the answer.

Research and Focus
Concentrate your audition process. Rather than trying out for 10 or more companies, pick three that you really care about. This will help you focus on your goals: Your daily training should prepare you for the type of work your preferred companies perform. This will also show directors that you know what you’re looking for. Choosing a company is one of the most important decisions in your professional life—take it seriously. You’re not just getting a job, you’re committing to a type of training, a rehearsal process and a repertoire.

Look Like You Want It

Show that you care about the opportunity. Come dressed appropriately. Wear clothing that fits and don’t overdo it with accessories—you don’t want anything to distract from your dancing. Don’t wait for the final group and try to be last. You’re going to be seen no matter where you are, so why not make yourself visible?

Paperwork
An audition package is the easy part. In your cover letter, state your interest in the company and explain a bit about yourself. The resumé is a tool to help me understand who you are as a dancer; to give me perspective. I need to know your name, contact information, date of birth, nationality, where you trained and your professional experience. Show attention to detail by ensuring there are no errors, typos or misspellings. Lastly, submit a dance photo and an honest headshot. I need to recognize you in the picture so that when I look at it later, my impressions of you come flooding back.

Breathe
I know auditions are stressful, so I try to make the ambiance as relaxed as possible. The best way to fight nerves is through proper preparation. Once you’re in the studio, breathe. Your body won’t move unless you do. Musicality, unmannered presentation—these intangibles come from an inner calm. Show that you know each exercise, but also have fun with them. You will have butterflies; just make sure they fly in formation.

Be Yourself
I’m looking for dancers who are interesting. Personality and personal style are not things you put on; they come out when you open up enough to show who you are. If you don’t share yourself, you become a wall. To see a dancer doing honest work is so beautiful. That is the dancer I end up watching. Phrase movement in your own way. It’s not about having everything externally perfect; it’s about unveiling your unique, honest qualities within.

Timing
Each company has specific needs. If you get cut, it does not mean you’re a bad dancer. It just means that you are not fitting a certain parameter right now. Many major artists were rejected from certain schools or companies but went on to have incredible careers.
I make a first cut after three center exercises, which usually provides enough opportunity to reveal who I’m looking for. But there have been rare occasions when I didn’t spot a dancer’s potential, and didn’t hire them—and ended up offering a contract the next time I saw them.

I’ve always found that you can drive ahead when you’re behind. Let any challenges fuel you and your success. Remember, all roads can lead to a fulfilling career—there’s not just one way to get there.