10 Minutes to Impress

Posted on January 1, 2014 by

Help your students make the most of their summer intensive audition videos.
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A summer intensive director sits bleary-eyed in front of a monitor for the fourth hour straight, viewing videos of one eager applicant after another. A few submissions naturally rise to the top, while most fade into the parade. “When you watch 100 videos a year, you get pretty smart about what you’re looking for,” says Shelly Power, director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy.

To help ensure that your students’ videos stand out, DT asked for advice from Power, The Juilliard School, Patrick Armand of San Francisco Ballet School and Oregon-based dance teacher and videographer Les Watanabe.

Do your homework: While most schools have similar basic requirements (a short barre, several center combinations, possibly a solo), they often have unique expectations within this structure. Katie Friis of Juilliard says some students make the same mistake: They submit what they imagine to be a standard video, without checking the school’s website.

Multiple submissions: Friis recommends making a list of the special requests of each school and integrating common elements into one video. But if the requests are contradictory, create separate versions. When in doubt about length, it is safe to go with 10–15 minutes.

What to include: Begin with a spoken introduction, including age, home studio and years and styles of training. It is recommended to show one side of each barre exercise (pliés on the right, tendus on the left, etc.) and both sides of center exercises. Some programs will request specific center elements (Juilliard, for instance, wants to see promenades, développés in each direction and pirouettes). Combinations should be simple enough to show foundational technique. SFB’s Armand says he looks for a “waltzy” combination to reveal the dancer’s movement quality and musicality.

Get to the pointe: Unless the school specifies otherwise, the dancer determines when to put on her pointe shoes. This should reflect the current level of training: A 13-year-old might perform several center combinations in slippers, while an 18-year-old pre-professional dancer might perform all exercises on pointe. Keep in mind that some adjudicators fast-forward to pointe work before backing up and watching barre. Every element of the video should make a strong first impression.

Going solo: Schools like Juilliard that teach a variety of dance styles typically request a solo at the end of the video, so that the dancer can show her best work. Adjudicators for ballet intensives, however, are more cautious about judging a student’s trainability by her performance in a variation. “They rehearse those solos for years and years,” says Armand. “I want to see them doing a proper class.”

Getting Technical: The goal is to create a video that is simple but memorable. This isn’t the time for complex cinematography or fancy graphics. “If there’s too much distraction, it’s like, ‘What are you hiding?’” says Power.

“Videos that are highly produced are beautiful and very easy to look at, but my primary interest is the dancing,” says Lawrence Rhodes, artistic director of Juilliard’s Dance Division. “If it’s a little more homemade, that’s not a problem.” That said, the video should look and sound clean, which will likely require basic video-editing software. For example, if a dancer films by herself, she should edit out the seconds it takes to turn on the camera and walk to her starting position. If she is unsure of her editing abilities and has $200 or more to spare, a dance videographer can be helpful.

• Angle: “You want the video to represent what the dancer really looks like,” says Power. “Sometimes people fight with angles of the camera and try to make everything look appealing.” However, filming directly from the front or side can make the dancing seem even more two-dimensional. At the barre, a side view can emphasize imperfections of turnout, so videographer Les Watanabe will often move slightly in front of the student. “And if we’re doing a jump sequence, I might put the camera a little lower so it looks like they’re jumping higher,” he says.
• Sound: Watanabe removes the original sound and imports the dancer’s music straight from CD to the video file. This eliminates any studio echo, loud pointe shoes, air conditioners or cars driving by. “Whether people realize it or not, if the sound isn’t good, it detracts from the visuals,” he says.
• Background: Floors should be clean (no scuff marks), and there should be a clear contrast between a dancer’s attire and the floor. For boys, this means no black shoes on a black floor. Corners should be clutter-free, since they are key in across-the-floor combinations. “And be careful about windows,” says Watanabe. “If they backlight a dancer, it can make them come across as a silhouette.”
• Artistry: Power says that often dancers forget to smile or show their artistry, or they save it for their solo at the end. But there’s no guarantee that a director will emphasize that part of the video. It’s important to have that sense of artistry throughout. DT

Dancer Ashley Rivers is based in Boston.

Don’t…
-Edit or splice film during a combination. “For me, that will straightaway be a ‘Thank you very much. I’m not interested,’” says Patrick Armand of San Francisco Ballet School.

-Include more than one dancer. Professional dancers sometimes include performance footage on their reels, but in a summer intensive audition video, there should never be more than one dancer visible unless the school has asked to see partnering.

-Wait until the last minute. Many schools now request that prospective students upload videos to a designated website. Technical snafus are inevitable—if you’ve waited until the deadline, tech support is likely to be overloaded with requests. —AR

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