Saturday February 20, 2010 - The Amy Marshall Dance Company are celebrating their tenth anniversary this season with performances at Ailey Citigroup March 25th thru 28th. Last summer Kokyat and I had a real blast watching Amy's Summer Intensive showcase and in January her Winter showcase included a segment by her Company dancers that literally pulsated with physicality and pure energy. Above: Chad Levy, all in black right-of-center, leads an group of auditioning dancers across the floor.
Click on each of Kokyat's images to enlarge.
Needing a few additional dancers for her upcoming performances at Ailey, Amy held auditions today down at the 5th floor walk-up Battery Dance studio in Chinatown and she invited Kokyat and me to share in observing the process. We arrived a bit before the scheduled start-time to find a big crowd of hopeful dancers including a few people we recognized. Above: Chad Levy sets a group of auditioners in motion.
I'd never watched a dance audition before; it's a process that is both exhilarating and sad because you sit there watching these young people dance their hearts out knowing that only a very few will get chosen in the end. If I had money I could easily have formed four very fine dance troupes from the talent on view today: not just technically impressive but sexy, beautiful, strong and highly individualized personalities who I'd love to watch in performance contexts.
Dance buffs who limit their performance horizons to Lincoln Center, City Center and the Joyce miss so much of the depth of dancer-talent in our great City. In these depressed times when companies are folding right and left, the number of un- or under-employed dancers is sadly huge. That 130 dancers showed up for the audition today is a sign of the times.
Amy is re-staging a piece she did for the large group of dancers at her Intensive last summer: a tribute to athletics in general - and to the Olympics most specifically - the piece is entitled GOING FOR THE GOLD and features the infectious musical score known as HOOKED ON CLASSICS. Kokyat and I watched this in rehearsal and performance last Summer and I can't think of anything more purely enjoyable that I've seen danced over the years. But for all the humour of the music and Amy's incorporation of signature moves from various sports, the piece is a real workout physically.
I asked Amy in advance what she would be looking for and she replied:
"A lot of what we will do will be based on who we've worked with in the past since we know their dancing and who stands out ...personality will be a major part of this audition. We need dancers who can show a sense of humor. I am not interested in pure technicians. To me, technique is a given; it's what they do on top of that is what I am interested in."
The auditioning dancers were split into three large groups. Chad Levy, Amy's husband and a dancer who leaves me both high and exhausted when he goes into full-performance mode (even though he's merely demonstrating in a studio) talked to the first group and showed them a combination set to throbbing jungle drums. Chad made it look like a piece of cake when he demonstrated but in fact I think it was pretty complicated, incorporating an air turn...
...floor time, and constantly shifting port de bras, all while maintaining the flow of motion. The group then tried it en masse, with barely enough room to dance full-out. After a few trials and Q and A's, the group was broken down and the dancers moved across the floor in groups of four to six.
Chad told the dancers he wanted intensity above all; he wanted to see an 'in your face' attitude and urged them not to worry too much about the specific steps but to show who they were as individuals. Above: #77 Jamison Goodnight has it down pat. Certain dancers began to stand out from the crowd. The three large groups were winnowed down to about a dozen dancers each. I was glad to see that most of the dancers I particularly liked made it past the first cut.
Now things got tough. Chad and Company dancer Alexandra Karigan (above) taught the dancers a phrase from the actual piece they'd be dancing. It was pretty amazing to see how quickly the dancers absorbed this new set of demands and they took off in groups across the floor as a disco setting of COPPELIA rocked the studio. "Sell it!" Chad yelled. "Let's see big personality here!" The dancers turned it on full-blast. The phrase was so fast-paced and athletic, wrapped up in the humorous gloss that Amy wanted to see.
As group after group finished the combinations there was considerable tension but also a great feeling of camaraderie. As dancers were cut there were fond goodbyes and well-wishes.
There was another cut and a couple of dancers I thought were shoo-ins were eliminated. The boy in dreads at the left/rear in the above photo gave a really dynamic performance but was passed over. Jamison Goodnight (#77) just glowed all afternoon and there was no way she wouldn't get a spot. Amy urged the departing dancers to keep working hard and to stay in touch; she even brainstormed a fun idea for an upcoming outdoor dance fete where she might be able to use all of them.
Now down to a small group, Amy surprisingly asked to see the combination danced without comic flourishes. The dancers went across again, looking dead serious. Dani Betchel (the blonde above) seemed like a sure thing. There was another cut to ten dancers and I thought finally: the cutting is over and these are the lucky winners.
Nope! Katie Schultz (a dancer we had liked so much at the Intensive last summer and who had gotten a spot in Amy's performances without having to audition) told me only six were going to be needed. The ten danced again; I could tell that Chad and Amy and the assisting Company dancers were having a hard time whittling it down to a half dozen. Above: Alex Karigan, Chad Levy, Amy, Aileen Roehl, Natasha Czarniewy, Katie Schultz and intern Shanelle Cummings.
And finally, the lucky half-dozen were chosen: Drew Heflin, Yon Burke, Jamison Goodnight, Kelly Bangs, Dani Betchel and Michael Wright. I had picked Yon and Jamison out of the crowd almost before they started to dance; Kokyat thought Drew was a sure winner from the start and as the process went on it became clear that these six dancers had the "IT" qualities that Amy and Chad wanted.
Now we are looking forward to see how these six young people mesh with Amy's established troupe of very accomplished and unique dancers. We'll be keeping up with them as the performances in March draw nearer.
Thanks to Amy, Chad and the Company dancers for a really insightful and 'exhausting' experience; I felt drained at the end, and I hadn't done anything but watch. And thanks to Kokyat for documenting the afternoon in a crowded setting.
Above: Michael Wright and Dani Betchel, in blue and yellow respectively, were among the chosen few.