Street-Dance Surprise At Ballet Next Audition: Barre, Then Flexin’
At Ballet Next, auditions start with ballet, and shift to “next” pretty quick.
Artist director Michele Wiles, a former principal at American Ballet Theatre, leads the barre and combinations. Then the dancers meet her artistic collaborator Jay Donn, one of the Brooklyn founders of the street-dance style Flexin, for some poppin’, tuttin’ and freestyle.
“Sometimes, they don’t know what to do,” said Wiles. “But some dancers really stand out.”
Wiles uses the two-step audition process to find adventurous ballet dancers for her own company, but also for NextGeneration, the program she launched in May to help dancers grow artistically before making major career decisions.
“There are a lot of transition periods in a dancer’s life, particularly between high school and college and whether they want to go to collage,” said Wiles. “There are also dancers who jump off of being in a major company and are looking for a place to go.”
Wiles created the program in response to what she heard from parents and dancers, but she knows from experience how fast dancers can commit to a company before they know what else is out there.
“You make the decision, and there is no period to weigh the options,” said Wiles, who joined ABT’s studio company in 1997 and rose to principal dancer in 2005, before retiring in 2011.
Her hope now is to give ballet dancers some time to “open up,” she said. “They are being trained for a ballet future.”
Part of that future involves adapting to new and challenging choreography, which her participants learn from working with Jay Donn, who encourages improvisation and freedom.
“We make improv turn into choreography,” said Donn.
When he works with BalletNext newcomers, he wants to see the individual artists come through, even within ballet precision. “I want them to be themselves. I want to see true emotions,” he said. “You can be at 90 degrees and just feel more relaxed about yourself.”
Joining Donn on the BalletNext faculty is Jesus Pastor, a soloist at ABT. “He’s well-versed in contemporary and classical ballet and putting those elements together,” said Wiles.
Marjorie Liebert, a movement therapist and ballet teacher, is also on board, helping dancers use ballet technique in a more natural way. “It’s sort of breaking through the mirror,” said Wiles.
Michele WilesNisian Hughes
At a recent audition, Wiles worked with applicants for NextGen, leading the barre exercises to pop music and getting the energy up by having the dancers run around the perimeter of the room, then introducing them to some new choreography with Jay. Followed by sit-down talk with the group.
“I get a lot of joy of of performing,” she said. “But giving younger dancers confidence and knowledge to open up gives me just as much pleasure.”
Video by Justin Maiure