Thinking about auditioning overseas? Singapore Dance Theatre's Jessica Garside tells Nina Levy about the highs and lows of looking for work outside Australia.
If you’re a full-time dance student, chances are you’ll consider the option of auditioning overseas. While opportunities to work as a dancer in Australia are increasing, the greater population size and density of Europe, America and Asia mean that these continents have many more dance companies offering many more jobs. Then there’s the lure of experiencing life in a different country and culture. Auditioning overseas can be a daunting process, however, as young Australian dancer Jessica Garside knows better than most. Now dancing with Singapore Dance Theatre, Jessica has auditioned for around 30 European, American and Australian ballet companies. She told Nina Levy all about her experiences auditioning overseas and has some fantastic insights and tips to share.
Nina Levy: What made you decide to pursue auditions overseas?
Jessica Garside: There are just so many more opportunities for professionals overseas. In Australia we only have three full-time professional ballet companies, whereas in Germany, for example, you can find a public theatre in nearly every city – complete with its own orchestra, dance, opera and theatre company.
NL: What differences did you notice when auditioning overseas, in comparison to auditioning in Australia?
JG: The sheer size of some of the cattle-call auditions in Europe can come as a bit of a shock. There are a lot more opportunities in Europe, but there is also greater competition for the places available. You meet people from all over the world. The auditions I’ve done in Australia haven’t been as “brutal” as some of the ones in Europe, but this is just a practicality due to the difference in numbers. I’ve been to a couple with 150-plus girls invited, so the directors are forced to make big cuts right after barre, simply to create enough space for those left to actually move in the centre.
NL: What are the challenges of auditioning overseas, in comparison to auditions in one's home country?
JG: Sometimes the language barrier can be a challenge, but more often than not an open audition will be conducted in English as the common language. There can be some cultural differences in the studio, but generally if you are polite and respectful you shouldn’t have any difficulties.
NL: Given Australia’s distance from... well, the rest of the world, many dancers take an audition tour, heading to Europe or America for an extended period of time to do multiple auditions. As a dancer who has taken three European tours, what do you think are the benefits and challenges of an overseas audition tour?
JG: As an Australian planning to audition in Europe, an audition tour is a necessary hurdle. It’s a long way, flights can be expensive, and you want to make the trip as worthwhile as possible by trying to fit in everything in one go. The situation is a bit different if you have a European passport – then you have an option of moving over there and working while you go to auditions. An advantage of going on an audition tour is that you don’t have any other demands on your time while you’re on tour, so you can concentrate on auditions. It is a very difficult option though. You are constantly travelling and this takes a toll on your body. It’s expensive and time consuming – the money spent on food and accommodation can add up very quickly. Finding somewhere to do class every day can be a struggle depending on travel times and the size of the city.” It’s also difficult to eat well while you’re away, as there are not many opportunities to cook your own food, and the healthier option is often more expensive when you are eating out. It can also be difficult to stay in shape over an extended period. Finding somewhere to do class every day can be a struggle depending on travel times and the size of the city. It’s definitely an advantage to know your way around Europe before you head off on a big tour, or to go with someone who does. I found it much easier on my tour this year for a number of different reasons; I knew the public transport system very well, I had friends in different countries who I knew I could stay with (and take company class with), I could speak a reasonable amount of German and I knew which companies I was actually interested in. This meant that I could organise a much more focused calendar, rather than trying to go everywhere possible and wearing myself out.
NL: What did you learn or gain from doing overseas auditions?
JG: I think you always gain something from an audition (even if it’s just a slightly thicker skin!) In the beginning it’s worth going to as many as possible just for the experience. I think I’m much more confident in my abilities after spending time overseas and I have a much better understanding of the international dance scene and where I fit into it.
NL: Tell me some audition stories...
JG: I went to one audition that was held on a raked stage, which was a new experience for me! Luckily I had prior warning and I’d had a chance to take an open class in Paris with a raked studio floor a few days before, so I had an idea of how it would affect me. I had one awful experience, which is funny in hindsight. I had a private audition organised in Cottbus and I was catching the train from Mannheim with two connections overnight. Unfortunately my first train was delayed and I missed that connection. This meant I spent about two hours stranded in a tiny train station in the early hours of the morning waiting for the next train. Instead of arriving one and a half hours early, I ran into the building with about two minutes to spare, threw on my leotard and rushed into the studio just as they were about to start. Needless to say, it was not my strongest audition!
NL: How are you enjoying working for Singapore Dance Theatre so far? And living in Singapore?
JG: Living and working in Singapore has been a great experience for me so far. It’s a really vibrant, multicultural city, the public
transport system is fantastic and I’m enjoying finding my way around. The company has been very welcoming and I had my first
performances in my second week of work, so I already feel like a part of the team. It helps that there are a couple of other Australians in the company already.
Jessica trained at Terri Charlesworth Ballet Centre (now Charlesworth Ballet Institute) and then WA Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), dancing professionally in two seasons with WA Ballet whilst at WAAPA.
After graduating, Jessica went on her first audition tour of Europe and the UK in 2015, attending auditions for companies and schools such as Dresden Semperoper Ballett, Staatsoper Hannover, Dutch National Ballet Academy and Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. She was accepted into Akademie des Tanzes in Mannheim, Germany, and spent a year living in Germany dancing with Badisches Staatsballett Karlsruhe while completing a masters in dance.
After completing her year in Germany, Jessica auditioned for major companies in Europe, America and Australia, including Hamburg Ballett, Staatsballet Berlin, Leipzig Ballett, Ballet Ireland, LINES Ballet (US), Bucharest National Opera Ballet, Ballet de L’Opéra-Théâtre De Metz Métropole and Bayerisches Staatsballet Munich, to name just a handful from her list! Jessica started an apprenticeship with Singapore Dance Theatre in March.
This article is part of Dance Australia's annual Audition Guide. Read Jessica's tips for auditioning overseas in the June/July issue of Dance Australia, plus articles about what to expect from an audition class, auditioning for the Australian Ballet and a calendar of auditions for full-time dance courses! Don't miss out! Look out for the new issue at your favourite magazine retailer or subscribe here, or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia here.
If you subscribe NOW you will receive MIsty Copeland's DVD and go in the draw to win her autographed pointe shoes. See our offer here.
Pictured above: Jessica Garside dancing in Nacho Duato's Jardi Tancat whilst training at WAAPA. Please note that in the print magazine this work is incorrectly attributed. Photo: Jon Green.