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EMMA KAULDHAR reports from Barcelona

EMMA KAULDHAR reports on success stories at the major audition - attended by nine directors - in Barcelona

 

GRAND AUDITION

There was a time when any young ballet dancer blessed with a suitable physique and equipped with a reasonable technique could more or less guarantee to land a job in a company, in a different country if not in their homeland. This is no longer the case. Quite simply because in the last 50 years classical ballet has evolved dramatically, attracting far more aspirants, and the number of schools, and consequently the number of graduates in search of employment, has increased phenomenally. Doors have also opened. Few national ballet companies are now strictly national, and most directors select dancers on their ability rather than their passport. 

 

Alas, the number of ballet companies has not kept pace. Indeed, with many French and German ballet companies morphing into more cost-effective contemporary ensembles, jobs in the classical genre, both for newcomers and those seeking to switch companies, are becoming increasingly scarce. Aside from the time and energy involved, the cost of travelling to auditions has become prohibitive. 

 

What to do? Step forward David Makhateli. A former Royal Ballet principal, Makhateli set up Grand Audition with his wife Daria, also a former dancer, in Brussels in 2016. The formula is simple: bring a large group of dancers seeking work together in one place and then invite a bunch of artistic directors looking for dancers. The cost of the directors’ travel and accommodation is covered by a registration fee – a fee that is a fraction of the cost of auditioning for multiple companies. In order to participate, the dancers must be at a professional level and aged between 17 and 26, and the directors must have contracts available – although they are not obliged to hire anyone if no dancer is suited to their company. It’s a win-win situation for both dancers and directors. The inaugural event in 2016 was done and dusted in a single day. 

 

Too rushed, it was universally agreed, and so last year and this the event has been spread less frenetically over two days, with classes on the first and variations on stage for the selected candidates on the second. This year’s Grand Audition attracted 194 hopefuls from around the world – Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, the UK and the USA. The auditionees were split into four classes and observed by the directors – Yuri Fateyev, Nicolas Le Riche, Ernst Meisner, Kaloyan Boyadjiev, Sampo Kivela, Ruta Butviliene, Mario Schroder, Xin Peng Wang and Denys Matvienko. Each director then drew up a list of dancers they wanted to see perform a variation and 70 were duly selected. 

 

Located a short drive from Barcelona, the Teatre Auditori Sant Cugat is an ideal venue: the stage is adequate for the longest legs to motor round in a manège comfortably, but not so vast as to make a lone dancer look lost. Dancers are invited to wear a costume for their variation, but it is not mandatory. Unfortunately, not all dancers choose their costume as wisely as they might. A too-small one that cuts into the flesh is not flattering. Nor are some headdresses that doubtless look super chic close-up in the mirror but somewhat bizarre on stage. While most candidates presented suitable solos, a few chose technically charged variations out of their current range – directors surely want to see what you can do, not what you might be able to do – and, heaven forbid, if you are going to dance a well-known variation like Princess Aurora, don’t mess with the choreography. Happily, though, the majority who made it through the second day performed commendably, and the high standard resulted in the immediate offer of 23 contracts and 45 interviews with directors. 

 

One of the most sought-after dancers was Chloe Reveillon, who trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School and the Royal Ballet School and is currently a Paris Opera quadrille. A lovely dancer, her qualities attracted the attention of seven directors, including the Mariinsky Theatre’s Yuri Fateyev. Then, there was good news for Anatole Blaineau, who get any offers back then. More confident and polished this time round, he was offered four contracts – and chose the Royal Swedish Ballet. Other success stories include Kira Hill, who is joining Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Margarida Trigueiros, who has accepted a contract with Lithuanian National Ballet and Orine Anzai, who was awarded a scholarship to come to Barcelona after participating in Makhateli’s Summer Course in Japan last year. 

 

She had to decide whether she wanted to join the Mariinsky Theatre or the Novosibirsk State Ballet Theatre and has opted for the former. Of course, as is inevitable at any audition, there were many disappointed dancers, but compared to those auditions where dancers can be dismissed within a few minutes because the director simply doesn’t like their face or their physicality, the Grand Audition offers all attendees the chance to demonstrate their worth in a full class and, depending on the directors’ requirements, the opportunity for over a third to show their soloist potential. You can’t ask for much more than that!

Inside the Audition That Lets Dancers Try Out for 10 Ballet Companies ar Once

By Laura Cappelle
 

Hopping from city to city during audition season can be both expensive and time- consuming—not to mention disheartening if you end up being cut after barre. Since its inception in 2016, the Grand Audition has aimed to solve that conundrum for young ballet dancers looking for a job: This annual two-day event in Europe provides an unprecedented opportunity to audition for 10 companies at once.
 

"Our main goal is really to help dancers," says David Makhateli, a former principal with The Royal Ballet who launched the Grand Audition with his wife, dancer Daria Makhateli. With 10 artistic directors from a wide range of countries present, a dancer who might not fit one company's requirements has many more opportunities to be noticed. The prestigious lineup includes top international companies as well as midsized ones: This February, the Mariinsky Ballet, Dutch National Ballet and Royal Swedish Ballet will be represented, among others. Most companies are based in Europe, but American directors have also taken part in past editions, namely American Ballet Theatre's Kevin McKenzie and Atlanta Ballet's Gennadi Nedvigin.

 

A New Way to Job Hunt
Makhateli first came up with the concept when he was a student himself, in the 1990s. Originally from the country of Georgia, he won a scholarship at the 1992 Prix de Lausanne and finished his training at the Royal Ballet School in London, but struggled with the cost of traveling to auditions in his final year.
His vision was first realized in Brussels, Belgium, in 2016, and since last year, the Grand Audition has been held in Barcelona, Spain, where Makhateli is now based. The demand has been overwhelming, he says: Interested dancers are required to apply online with photos and a recent performance or training video of their choice for pre-selection, which is done by a professional committee. (For dancers unsure whether they are up to par, that initial screening can save the cost of traveling.) "Last year we had over 300 applications, and we stopped at 177 contestants," he says. "For me, quality is important, and it's also important that everybody is able to be seen in class."


For 19-year-old Jacob Roter, from Brooklyn, New York, the Grand Audition was a handy way to fulfill his dream of a European career. "I didn't want to go to every country to audition," he says. At the 2017 edition, he won a contract with Norwegian National Ballet's junior company, and also got an offer from Atlanta Ballet. "What's really cool is that you get to see how different directors are, how they represent their companies," he says.
 

An Inclusive Experience

The first day, all contestants take a full class—a "basic one," says Makhateli—in age groups on the slightly raked stage of the Teatre-Auditori Sant Cugat. The 10 directors then select the dancers they're each interested in for the next round. On the second day, those who are chosen perform a classical variation they prepared ahead of time from the Grand Audition's list. "It feels a little bit like a performance," Roter says. "If you get into the second round, you're able to really dance and show what you have artistically." Last year, 51 dancers made it to the variation stage, and 44 (approximately a quarter of all contestants) were then invited to one-to-one interviews with one or more directors, resulting in 28 contract offers.

One requirement for directors to participate is to have contracts available, Makhateli says, although they are under no obligation to hire anyone at the Grand Audition. Unlike at competitions, they don't sit behind a table. "They can make remarks, go up onstage," Makhateli says. Some, like the Mikhailovsky Ballet's Mikhail Messerer, have hired multiple dancers, or recommended some to colleagues who weren't in attendance. "The directors were literally backstage with us, and it was really intimate," Roter remembers. "Everybody who got past the first round ended up meeting directors, even when they didn't get a job." The only criteria for dancers to apply is that they are professionally trained. "I don't have height requirements or anything. We have a variety of dancers," says Makhateli. The age range also aims to be inclusive: It was set at 17 to 26 years old after discussions with directors. "At 17, you can be hired in a junior or main company, and at 26, they are dancers with experience, who may be looking for a change." Some soloist and principal contracts have been awarded to more mature contestants, although the Grand Audition doesn't advertise them to avoid misleading hopeful dancers. 

 

The Grand Audition is an international affair: The 2017 edition had contestants from 27 countries, including Japan and Australia, and 13 dancers from the U.S. Roter met with friends from his training days there, and while some of them didn't get past the first round, he says he found the group atmosphere more comforting than his experience at regular auditions in Berlin and Prague.

 

Makhateli's main advice for dancers is to be professional from the start—photos and videos submitted with the application are then shared with interested directors—and to choose variations carefully: "Show your best qualities. Don't do a variation that doesn't suit you, like a turning variation if you can't turn." Originality can also be key: Last year, the only Esmeralda was luckier than the many Auroras at the variation stage. At about $400, the registration fees are steeper than those at traditional auditions, but it can be more cost-effective than traveling to a range of cities. "It's totally the dancer's choice, but if you audition for separate companies, just a flight inside Europe could cost you that much," says Makhateli. A year down the road, Roter is happily settled at Norwegian National Ballet 2, which he admits he had never heard about before the Grand Audition. "I think it's an ambitious thing to go for, but if you really want to dance in Europe, it's totally worth it." 

Annette Roselli reports from the third Grand Audition, the world's first and largest international ballet audition forum.
 

The third ‘Grand Audition’ was held on February 6 and 7 at the Teatro-Auditori, Sant Cugat, Barcelona. Still a relatively unknown event amongst many teachers, especially those in Australia and New Zealand, it is a wonderful opportunity for students to audition for several companies at one time and in one place. It gives the dancers (aged 17 to 26 years) a chance to be seen by up to 10 directors, from both mid-size and large European companies, although American directors have also been present in the past. It is the world’s first and largest international audition forum. Prospective auditionees are required to submit a DVD of a classical variation to gain entry into the audition and if successful, they pay a sizeable fee of over $500.
 

I attended this event, with my daughter Alicia Townsend, after attending the Prix de Lausanne. We arrived in Sant Cugat, a rather remote town about a 30 - 40 minute drive or train ride from central Barcelona. We arrived at the theatre, on the first day, for registration and class. There were approximately 50 dancers per group and four groups throughout the day. The groups were divided according to age. After each class, the numbers of the successful candidates were announced. These students were chosen to present a classical variation the following day. 
 

Parents and teachers were not permitted to view the first round. According to Alicia, the class was relatively straightforward but required strength and was fast moving. The candidates also had to cope with a raked stage. Places were rotated at the barre and centre work was performed on pointe. The directors were introduced to the students before the audition commenced and they sat in the audience throughout the class. A few directors were not present but had someone in attendance to represent them.
 

We were excited that Alicia was selected for the second round and also ex-student Isabelle Olivier, now studying at the Royal Ballet School of Flanders. Seventy finalists were chosen and seven of these were Australians. The second day commenced with registration and a warm-up class in two groups. I spoke to the charismatic founder of the Grand Audition, David Makhateli, whose vision and forward thinking has produced this wonderful event. He mentioned that he was impressed with the Australian dancers and that their applications, photos and DVDs were always very professional. Time to bring this concept to the Southern Hemisphere I think! 
 

Students performed a variation and danced in optional costumes or leotard with a skirt or half tutu. The audience was permitted to watch this round. It was wonderful to be able to watch students from around the world present their classical variations. The standard was high and ranged from students who were still finishing their graduate year to those who were well established professional dancers looking to change companies. The majority of students appeared to cope well with the rake.
 

After all the variations had been presented there was a break for the directors to deliberate. Everyone returned to the theatre and each director came on stage individually and called out the numbers of candidates of interest. Several of these candidates were offered contracts while others were interviewed by the artistic directors and possibly put on a waiting list. Overall, the Grand Audition is a wonderful experience and an important learning curve for many young dancers. It is well organised and it is an opportunity that I would highly recommend to dancers who aspire to working in a ballet company. 


Graham Watts in conversation with David Makhateli
 - Interview November 2018 - 

Photos by Andrei Uspenski

Graham Watts reports on ballet's Grand Audition
Dancing Times UK - April 2017

Mayo Miyagawa travelled from Tokyo, to a small town in Catalonia, to get a job in Panama. It may seem like a Round-the-Word journey worthy of Phileas Fogg, but according to this 22-year-old dancer, “crossing these three continents represented the first steps to achieving my dream.” Miyagawa was one of 52 young dancers who attended the second Grand Audition, organised by former Royal Ballet Principal, David Makhateli (through his company, D&D Art Productions) and held at Teatre Auditori Sant Cugat, a large, modern auditorium in Sant Cugat Des Valles an affluent suburb just 12 miles north of Barcelona. They performed in front of representatives from nine ballet companies, opening on day one with 90-minute class split across four groups, each rising in age range. The artistic directors present were Filip Barankiewicz (Czech National Ballet), Kalyan Boyadjiev (Norwegian National Ballet II), Ruta Butviliene (Lithuanian National Ballet), Kenneth Greve (Finnish National Ballet), Charles Jude (Bal let de !'Opera Bordeaux), Ingrid Lorentzen (Norwegian National Ballet), Mikhai l Messerer (Mikhailovsky Ballet), Gennadi Nedv igin (Atlanta Ballet)  plusAida Orillac,representing the Ballet Nacional de Panama. 

 

Some 164 dancers, from 27 countries, spread over five continents, had been due to audition. However, an unlucky 13were lost to last-minute injuries or cancellations. The minor mathematical discrepancy was occasioned by a young Pole, Mariusz Morawski, arriving at the theatre, unexpected and unregistered: after a quick conference between Makhateli and the panel of artistic directors, he was allowed to compete and allocated the number "200". The youngest of the auditionees was Minori Nakashima, one of 12 17-year-olds;and the eldest was another Japanese dancer, Machi Moritaka, who had turned 25shortly before the event. This age range setsGrand Audition apart from the major ballet competitions, such as the Prix de Lausanne, because it isspecifically aimed at post­ vocational dancers, looking for a job. At 39, the Japanese contingent was easily the largest; thisdominance was partly due to the regular D&D masterclasses in Tokyo, where Makhateli provides an annual Grand Audition scholarship.Italy and A ustralia were each represented by 17 dancers; France (16); and the US (13). Six travelled from the UK and othersventured from as far afield as Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan and Venezuela. More than half of those present (81) had travelled from outside Europe. Making it through to the second day were 48dancers,who were then split  into two consecutive classes on stage. 

 

These were followed by the performance of a variation, chosen from a selection provided by Makhateli. The 48 included ten Japanese dancers, seven from France, six from Australia and five from the US. The biggest decline came from Italy (17 down to three) although none of the ten dancers from the Ukraine or Russia made it through.Two of the young dancers from the UK (Eloise Hazlewood of the Dutch National Ballet Academy and Thomas Holdsworth from English National Ballet School) were selected; as were three of the four Polish dancers. (Dancing on a heavily-raked stage proved a huge challenge for many. Others set their own problems."Several dancers misrepresented themselves by choosing the wrong variation,"explained Makhateli. "If you know that you struggle with jumps or turns, then choose a variation that emphasises your strengths and not these weaknesses. Young dancers generally want to show off, adding fouettes or extra pirouettes to their variation s;but directors want to see their quality of movement, line, musicality and artistry, not tricks."

 

I would add that it's important to be different. I saw many attempts at the same popular solos, such as Aurora's entrance from Tile Sleeping Beauty. If you are one of a dozen or more dancers presenting the same variation then you have to be the best, and, by some measure, in order to be memorable. By contrast, Maho Miyagama gained three expressions of interest from directors; perhaps partly because she presented the only Esmeralda solo. Wearing a red tutu,shestood out from the crowd. Following this marathon of variations, the dancers reassembled in the theatre to discover that 23 had been selected for interview by one (or more) of the artistic directors. Forty-four scheduled interviews indicated that some dancers were in heavy demand. Messerer had left before the display of variations, having short-listed ten dancers to interview on the first evening. These included three that did not make it to the second day (all male) and eight that were not on any other director's list. This was an interesting contrast that goes to show how directors look for different attributes. Messerer felt that standard shad improved from the previous year's event, held in Brussels. He loved the concept, telling me: "It's a very convenient tool for directors to choose from amongst so many candidates in one go." I asked him if it had been worthwhile. "Yes, I invited two girls and one boy to the Mikhailovsky. We are a very international company now and so, in keeping with that, my choices were from Switzerland [Philip Hedges], Japan [Minami Tanaka] and Australia [Madison Whiteley]." As an added bonus, Messerer has also suggested several dancers for the Novosibirsk Ballet, with which he has a close association. Messerer's enthusiasm for the high standards of the auditionees was not universally shared. 

 

Greve told me he was" quite disappointed with the level," although he also praised the concept. "It helps the dancers get seen and practice an audition environment." Greve was looking for company dancers but, instead, offered two contractsto join Finnish National Ballet's youth company: Minari Nakash ima (the youngest entrant and the D&D Scholar from last year's Tokyo masterclass) and that lucky number  "200",Mariusz Morawski. "Writing thisarticle a month after the event, it appears that 16 auditionees have been offered contracts with one (or more) of six companies and there will be others when the Novosibirsk offers are known. More than ten per cent of those attending received a contract offer, which seems a decent return. Six went to Japanese dancers; three to French; two to American s; and one each to dancers from the UK, Australia, Switzerland, Poland and Italy. Crossing myself, I decided to venture into the dangerous territories of age, gender, height and weight. The youngest dancer to receive a contract offer was 17;the eldest, 23. Of the 165 registrants (including the latecomer), 129 were female and 36 (22 per cent) were male. These proportions changed to 31 female and 17 male (35 per cent) for the variation round; and of the 16 firm job offers, ten contracts have been offered to women, and six (37.5 per cent) to men. 

 

So, by this data, it appears that there is approximately a 15per cent better chance of a young man getting through, against his peers, than a young woman .The median height and weight of those chosen was less than the median height and weight of all applicants. For  men, the median height reduced from 181cm (all applicants) to 177 (those offered a contract); for women it reduced marginally from 166 cm to 164.In terms of weight, themen'smedian reduced from 10.8stone (all) to 10.2 (job offers); and for women, the median weight reduced from 7.5 stone to 7.08 stone. Notably the tallest, shortest, heaviest and lightest auditionees failed to win an offer. Physicality became an issue when I discussed the potential of dancers with the directors. Several told me they liked a particular dancer but that he or she was too tall, or too small, to be of use in their forthcoming repertoire. While decisions are still awaited from four companies, one dancer isalready in a new job thanks to Grand Audition. Eloise Hazlewood (aged 19) is now working as a member of Norwegian Ballet IL Exactly one month after the audition, she told me: "Mr Boyadjiev offered me a contract starting 'as soon as possible' and it wasan opportunity too good to miss.So,I retu med to Amsterdam, said farewell to friends and teachersand, within five days of the Grand Audition, I was on a plane to Oslo where I've already danced in my first premiere." Her parting comment to me was: "I can't thank Grand Audition enough, because without that wonderful opportunity, I wouldn't be dancing in Oslo, today." The 2017 Tokyo Masterclass (led by David Makhateli) will take place from August 7 to 11,and the 2018 Grand Audition will be held on February 6 to 7, again in Sant Cugat DesValles.

Related link to D&D Masterclass: www.ddballetintensive.com

DANCE EUROPE - March 2017
GRAND AUDITION
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!

DANCE EUROPE 
Raising the barr "GRAND AUDITION"

"The Grand Audition proved to be a very good opportunity, both for dancers and artistic directors."


Kevin McKenzie

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.)