Graham Watts in conversation with David Makhateli
- Interview November 2018 -
DANCE EUROPE - March 2017
Emma Kauldhar reports on David Makhateli's initiative to help dancers find jobs.
For dancers hoping to secure their first contract, as well as those looking to move on to a different company, the majority of auditions take place in the first couple of months of the year. The business of auditioning is a gruelling and often soul destroying process, not to mention a costly one when travel costs are factored in.
So auditioning for nine directors simultaneously is a smart idea, and this is exactly what David Makhateli initiated when he launched his Grand Audition in Brussels last year.
This year the event was relocated to Sant Cugat on the outskirts of Barcelona, one of the incentives being the Teatre-Auditori Sant Cugat, an ideal venue with a good-sized stage and well equipped with modern technology. Applications, this year, far exceeded the number of dancers that could be comfortably and fairly auditioned over two days, and so applications had to be closed early.
Held at the beginning of February, the first day was reserved for classes on stage. The 160-plus auditionees were divided into groups so they could be clearly seen, and 49 dancers were shortlisted by the directors to present a solo variation, in costume or practice clothes, as they preferred, on the second day.
This formula is apt as it allows a director to assess hopefuls both in a class situation, in which their technique, alertness and general ability to pick up steps – or otherwise – is revealed, plus a candidate’s potential as a performer in a rehearsed variation. That everything takes place on stage is another salient plus. How often, one wonders, has a director hired a dancer on the strength of their classwork only to discover that they just fall to pieces on stage?
Directors this year were: Filip Barankiewicz, Czech National Ballet, Prague; Kenneth Greve, Finnish National Ballet, Helsinki; Charles Jude, Ballet de l’Opera de Bordeaux; Ingrid Lorentzen Norwegian National Ballet; Kaloyan Boyadjiev, Norwegian National Ballet II, Oslo; Mikhail Messerer, Mikhailovsky Theatre, St. Petersburg; Gennadi Nedvigin, Atlanta Ballet, USA; Aida Orillac, Ballet Nacional de Panama; and Ruta Butviliene, Lithuanian National Ballet, Vilnius. Thirty candidates were selected for interviews with one or more directors – 44 possible places in total, with some dancers attracting the interest of several directors. An additional seven dancers are to be recommended for possible places with Novosibirsk Ballet Theatre, whose director did not attend.
So what are the directors looking for? “Quality, personality and physique,” says Charles Jude; “age and quality” are important for Ruta Butviliene; while “stage presence and soul” are both a must for Aida Orillac. Couriosly no one mentioned wacky extensions or multiple pirouettes…
The event attracted dancers from around the world – Australia, Japan, South Korea and UAS as well as from Europe including a few bold souls from UK. Quite simply the stamina of the long-haul attendees has to be marvelled at. Speaking to some candidates backstage, all reckoned that Grand Audition was a brilliant idea and that the registration fee was good value when pitted against the costs of auditioning for each of the directors’ companies individually. The consensus was appreciated that everyone got to finish the class, even if not selected to present a solo the following day. Many of the dancers considered that even just attending an audition of this scale was valuable experience.
But perhaps the best story is that of a young Polish dancer who was listed as number 200 on the cast sheet. Why 200, I pondered, since the previous candidate was no. 164.
“It so happened,” explain Makhateli, “that this boy did not register because he was too late. We had to close the application process early due to the limited spaces. Well, he showed up in the theatre and asked if he could take part if someone did not show up. We had few last-minute cancellations and so I asked the directors if the would allow him to participate. They said yeas and so we let him. Normally we do not allow it. Number 200 was the first number which was in front of us already with safety pins on it so we gave him this number.” In the event, his risk-taking paid off – two directors showed interest in him and hopefully he’ll land a job!
Raising the barr "GRAND AUDITION"
"The Grand Audition proved to be a very good opportunity, both for dancers and artistic directors."
With the ever-spiraling costs involved when auditioning, the prospect of being able to audition for eight companies at the same time has obvious benefits. Enter, then, former Royal Ballet principal David Makhateli, who has initiated what is planned to be an annual event - the Grand Audition.
“At first people thought it was a money-making machine and that we are only interested in taking money. We had an issue with a girl who said, ‘I don’t have money to throw 55€ for registration down the toilet.’ But we received tons of applications and, of course, we had to look through each one of them and make a file. So, for this amount of work, yes, we charge 55€. If they are chosen to participate, they pay 260€ for the audition itself. So in total it is 315€. But having seen how many people want to apply, I want to make it easier next year, and to make the registration fee lower. I understand that it could be expensive for some to register and then get the answer ‘no’, but if the application is not good, it’s not good.
This year I needed to know how many people would be interested and I needed to bring directors, and so the money we accumulated enabled us to bring the directors, pay their flights and their accommodation. It was also important for me to show the directors that we can get talent and it is worthwhile for them to come to this audition. Because if they see the same thing that they see over and over, then there is actually no point in them coming all the way - from New York, say - to Brussels for another open audition. I think from the number chosen, and statistically, that they didn’t come here for nothing. I think that the students mostly understood the concept eventually.
“With ABT Studio Company, for instance - I spoke with Kevin McKenzie - first you have to get an invitation, then you have to pay to fly to New York, pay to stay and eat there, and then there are the airport transfers. Even if you want to fly to Finland from anywhere in Europe it will probably cost you at least 200€. Then you have airport transfers, hotel and food - even if you just go there for one night. One night in a hotel will cost 70€ minimum, or maybe you have a friend, then you are lucky. So if you really calculate all this, you would probably only be able to audition for one company for 300€. Here, you can audition for eight companies
(you can read full article in DANCE EUROPE Magazine – March 2016 issue.)