Parlando: The COC Blog

12/10/2010

Casting the Dancers for Nixon in China

[This is a guest post by our production co-ordinator, Shawna Green. Shawna assisted this month in auditioning dancers for our upcoming production of Nixon in China]

Selecting dancers for our productions is quite a process. First we send out a posting to Equity, agents, and dance companies (you can see the public posting here). Dancers and agents then send headshots and resumes in to me. In the posting, we inform them of the type of dance that will be required for this production. For Nixon in China, we needed dancers that had strong ballet technique and a modern dance background (having experience in martial arts was a bonus).

For Nixon in China we needed to cast four men and four women. We received over 300 resumes, but we could only audition 80 men and 80 women. It was then my job to go through all of the resumes and chose the candidates that fit our needs, so that we could invite them to audition for us.

The choreographer, Sean Curran, came in from New York for two days to audition the dancers. Sean and I decided that the best way to organize the auditions was to have the men audition on day one and the women audition on day two. We had four morning sessions on each day, with callbacks in the afternoon.

On the day of the audition, the dancers signed in with Morgan, our production intern, who gave each of the dancers a number: a piece of cloth with a number on it that they then pin somewhere visible on their bodies, usually the stomach. This is used so that we can quickly identify who we're interested in. 

We had two rooms reserved for our use. One was the holding room where the dancers could get warmed up and ready. This was also where our costume department could measure anyone who got a callback audition. You could feel the nervous energy emanating off of the auditionees in that room.

While the dancers were warming up in the holding room, Sean and I were setting up in the studio. This was the first time that Sean was able to have a look at the resumes and see what kind of dancers would be auditioning. He also needed to warm up himself since he would be conducting all of the sessions. In the below photo, Sean Curran finishes setting up the studio. 

When the time came for the auditions to begin, I went into the holding room and announced to the dancers that we were ready for them to join us, and led them to the studio. Sean introduced himself to each and every participant. Then he sat them down and told them the history of the piece. Originally, the dance sequence in the opera was a ballet done on pointe, but when the remount happened for the anniversary of the premiere they redid the dance to include a mixture of ballet and modern dance. There are also some martial arts influences in the piece. 

After he gave this brief introduction, he had the dancers stand and do a tai chi-influenced warm up. While Sean was leading the participants in the warm up, I was making sure that the headshots of the people who were “no shows” were taken out of consideration. Once that was done, I was free to watch the way the dancers moved and to take notes for Sean. Once the dancers were warmed up, Sean taught them a routine that would show him how they moved across the floor as well as their technique. 

Once they had the routine down, he split them into smaller groups (usually groups of four) and watched them, taking notes. If there was time after that (we only had one hour for each session), he would teach them something from the opera. This gave them a chance to hear the music as well as get an idea of what they could expect the choreography to be like if they were chosen. At the end of the session we asked that they go and change and meet us in the green room (the area between the holding room and the studio). In the photo below, you can see me conferring with Sean over some headshots.

Once they were out of the studio, Sean and I discussed who would be called back for the afternoon. This is where the numbers come in handy. Once we had decided who would be called back, we went out into the green room. Sean thanked everyone for their participation and told them how fortunate he was to have such an abundance of amazing dancers to choose from. After that, I was left with the task of informing the dancers about who we would be seeing in the afternoon callback session. This is never a pleasant task. I always know that while I am making five or six people very happy, I am disappointing all the rest.

The callbacks were at 3:30 p.m. on the same day as the auditions. We had 19 men in the callbacks the first day, and 25 women on the second day. In the callback session they are taught something from the opera. Once they had done that routine, Sean made a quick cut right there, and thanked the dancers for working so hard. The dancers who were left worked on another routine. Once it was done, Sean told them to get changed and wait for us as we would be making a final cut and then talking to the remaining dancers. This cut is especially hard because all of these dancers are exceptional. For the men, he chose six to talk to. For the women, he chose nine. 

After interviewing the dancers we had the daunting task of deciding who would be in Nixon in China. Since the men were decided on the first day, the women had to be paired with them, and Sean needed to consider who would make the best pairings. Sean also had to decide who he would choose as alternates just in case someone declined the offer. 

This was the first time I had ever worked with Sean Curran and it was an absolute pleasure. He had a positivity and energy that made these two long days fly by. He was receptive to all my suggestions and observations. He loved all the dancers and had a very hard time choosing who would be right for this production since Nixon in China has a large and important dance number.

Finally, Sean made his decisions and the opera was cast! We just have to let the dancers know . . . 


Posted by Shawna Green / in 2010/2011 / comments (3) / permalink

Barney (12/13/2010 1:15:00 PM)
That was very well written, Shawna.
Helen (12/16/2010 4:40:00 PM)
I am really looking forward to seeing an amazing dance number. Thank you for the buildup.
Shawna (12/16/2010 4:55:00 PM)
Thanks Helen! The dancers we chose are incredibly talented and I am sure Sean's choreography will be sensational!

Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001