Feature: Judith Jamison

Friday 7 April 2006

When you are auditioning for dancers, what qualities do you look for?
Well, it’s the way you walk in the door and stand around. The last audition I had was for four men and one woman. About 250 women showed up and about 100 men. So you know, I survey. And I’m very good at that, it’s one of my talents! I can see almost right away what’s gonna work and what isn’t. It has nothing to do with body shape, it has to do with looking healthy. It has to do with how much technique you’ve got, in different ways because when we audition the first thing a dancer has to do is take a ballet barre and nobody is ever ready for that because they’re like “oh, we’re joining this jazz company.” No. They’re in trouble already, especially if they only have one discipline. I look for multi disciplines.

Our auditions are not about technical ability. It has to be about knowing how to dance. Everybody in the younger generation can now raise their legs up to here, they can do fifteen pirouettes, they can all jump high, so I’m bored with that. Everyone can do that. Fine. Do it. It’s wonderful, but how do you dance?
So during the audition I try to find out how they connect the tissue, how they have a pre-action, an action and a reaction. I’m not looking for usual beauty. I’m looking for interesting looking people . . . who can dance.
You talk of the mix of techniques which you combine, classical, jazz and contemporary. How easy is it to find dancers that are so versatile?
Easy. They study in our school. We have everything from yoga to Bharanatyam. I’ve found that this generation of dancers really take advantage of cross training, trying to perfect a Horton class on a day when your body might feel like a ballet class. That’s exactly when to do it because then you have to change your way of thinking. My dancers know that I’m a perfectionist and they really understand that I need them to keep their bodies in tune – but then they have a natural talent. And I’m holding for the rest of it, they’re growing and learning as they grow. They’re not kids. They are talented young people, they have the gift of dance and they know what the requirements are.
The words of the Noel Coward song go “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington”. If you were Mrs Worthington, would you?
I’d put my son, I’d put my daughter, I’d put . . . anybody on the stage who looked like they were halfway interested. I’d put them in the audience, I’d put them backstage, I’d show them how things work.
Oh, there’s nothing like the theatre and certainly nothing like dance. It’s a joyous, tough, committed life and you have to have a passion and love for it. We have kids as young as three on one of our programmes. They’re having fun, they’re not committed to anything – they’re having a good time. Roundabout when they get into their teens and it looks like they are really serious about this, then you give them a little support but let them know that they don’t necessarily have to turn into a dancer. We beg for artistic administrators! People that want to work behind the scenes!

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