Our auditions are now open – in conversation with Mark Annear and Kim Sheard
Each year, we look forward to opening applications to aspiring young dancers from the UK and around the world, and meeting them at our auditions. We spoke to our Head of Training and Access Mark Annear and our Auditions and Admissions Manager Kim Sheard about the application and audition process.
What are your roles in the audition process?
Mark: My role is to oversee the whole process. I guide our audition artistic managers in the process, assist Kim with the scheduling and look after the whole overview of what happens in our auditions.
Kim: I do everything needed to make auditions happen – from creating the application form, answering questions, taking information from the forms, sending out information, and communicating with families and potential students, as well as with our internal staff and the venues we use. Once the auditions happen, I send out all the results and I am the main point of contact for successful applicants until they walk through the door in September.
What do you enjoy most about auditions?
Mark: Seeing the potential that’s out there and the interest in the School. Every year we see so many young dancers who are interested in auditioning with us and it’s through this that the art form is thriving.
Kim: One of the things I enjoy most is seeing the kids walk out happy. When I know that they’ve had a good experience, it’s fulfilling for me because it means that we’re doing something right. We know some might find the idea of the School intimidating so it’s lovely to see kids of any age come and experience our auditions and realise that it’s not scary.
What does the audition process look like?
Kim: The audition process for full-time training starts with a preliminary audition. Depending on their age, they might do a second audition. Then there’s the final audition process where they come into the School. After that, the results are sent out. Anyone applying only for an Associates place does the same ‘preliminary’ audition but doesn’t have to do the other rounds. Associate decisions are made on the first audition alone.
Mark: The preliminary audition is a ballet class for each age group. It’s nothing particularly complicated. We’re trying to find dancers who look like they have the potential to benefit from our training, so the content of the audition is quite straightforward. We do some simple physical checks, looking at things like feet/leg line and flexibility. These are generally done in front of the panel by demonstrating different positions.
In the final audition process, the applicant has an interview with a member of the pastoral or academic team. There’s also a session with the physiotherapist to do a range of movement assessments and to give our healthcare team an idea of any previous injuries or health conditions. Then they spend one or two days in their final audition where they’ll do dance classes. Aside from the ballet classes, they might do a character class if they’re younger, or contemporary if they’re older, and they might do a bit of repertoire as well. From this, we get a much broader picture of their potential for the School. It’s a very comprehensive final audition process. They get a good chance to spend some time at the School, and we get a good chance to see them.
Who’s involved in the auditions?
Mark: Our auditions artistic managers look after the preliminary auditions. Paul Kay is our UK Auditions Manager and Rachael Hunt manages our international auditions. In the first stage, they’ll have another panel member with them which will be one of our artistic team, an Associate Teacher or a former teacher of the School. In the semi-final, the panel grows and will include the Artistic Manager of the programme the applicant is auditioning for and other relevant members of the artistic team. By the final audition, our Artistic Director Christopher Powney and our Head of Artistic Programmes and Production José Carayol will also join the panel. In the final audition, we also have external guests come in. There will also be a teacher to deliver the class and a pianist to accompany. At every stage, someone will be there to coordinate the day, to sign applicants in and to make sure everything runs smoothly
What surprises people most about auditions?
Mark: Most people are surprised at how friendly and relaxed it is. That’s one of the things we really try to do – to make sure that any student coming into the audition feels comfortable because it can be a daunting experience for them. Particularly for our Junior Associate auditions, we audition students as young as seven years of age, so it can be scary for them, but even if you’re 16 or 17 auditioning for The Royal Ballet School is a big moment. We want to help them to do their best in their audition so we try to be really welcoming, which maybe people don’t expect.
Kim: Most people would not expect me to make an absolute fool of myself in front of the auditionees to make them laugh – but I do! That’s part of what I do when I’m there on audition days. No matter how much we tell people that there isn’t a selection process to get into the auditions, people seem to be surprised by the fact that anyone who wants to can do an audition. Some of these young people will come to us probably not expecting to get in, but they want the experience. And I really want to make sure that the experience is a positive one, regardless of the outcome. As long as they leave feeling good about themselves, about what they’ve done and that they’ve enjoyed themselves, that’s what matters. I think one of the things that the students are surprised by is that we’re not trying to give them lots of difficult things to do. A lot of them come in expecting it to be really hard but that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to see what tricks they can do. We want to see their core ability, strength and potential. It’s not about how many pirouettes you can do or how high you can lift your leg.
How many people audition?
Kim: Our UK and video auditions have generally around 1,200 applicants every year for ages 11 to 18. We get another thousand or so for Junior Associates. Depending on how many international auditions we do, it could add up to another thousand.
What question do you get the most from applicants?
Kim: The one that probably matters the least: what should I wear? The answer is you should wear whatever you would normally wear to your dance class, preferably with few frills and lacy, strappy bits. Wear something you’re comfortable in and that you’re going to feel you can do your best in. Don’t buy anything new. You don’t need a new leotard or shoes.
Another question I always get is about the application photos because people think they matter a lot more than they actually do. The photos are only there for memory aid. They are not anything we make decisions on. I think some people spend far too much money getting professional photos done and it’s not necessary. You can easily do it in your home. This is one answer I wish people would listen to more!
What does the audition day look like from start to finish?
Kim: You’ll be asked to arrive within half an hour before the audition starts. All the information you need will be given to you before the day such as your class time and arrival time. When you arrive, there’ll be someone to check you in and they’ll take your name and hand you a number. You’ll pin your number on your front and back. We don’t mind if they’re a bit wonky!
Once you have your number, you’ll be taken into a studio where you can wait with your parents. Then the panel and the teachers will come in and introduce themselves. We’ll also tell parents when they can expect the audition to finish. We put all auditionees into number order and take everyone into the room. You do your ballet class, which is similar to a regular class, and then you come out, get dressed, and go home!
Mark: We usually have three, four, sometimes even five auditions in a day and can see up to 155 students. We wait until we see how many applications we have, how many students of the same age and where they will be auditioning. Then we have to allocate audition slots, which depends on how many applicants we have. It’s all done in age order so it won’t depend on when you apply. This is why we can’t change someone’s audition slot because it’s a long process arranging the different age groups. We have to be quite firm on time slots otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see everyone.
How many places are available?
Kim: Everyone always wants to know how many places are there, and the problem is that there is no set answer to that, because every year is slightly different based on the number of places available. Every individual associate centre has a different number of students in classes that they can take and that are available. Every single year group at White Lodge or at Upper School will have a different number of available places and every year that’s different.
Mark: We don’t necessarily know in November how many places are going to be free in April. It depends because current students do internal auditions for the next full-time programme. At the preliminary stage, we really are looking for potential. From each audition group, there’s no set number, we might take 10 from a group of 20 people, we might take none into the next stage. It’s solely based on the individual and whether they have what we’re looking for to go into the next stage.
What would you tell someone who wants to audition?
Mark: I’d say come along and do it. Have fun. You don’t know if you don’t try. There are a lot of people that don’t think they are right for the School, but they actually are so if you feel you want to audition, have a go.
Kim: If you love ballet, then come do this for the sake of having a wonderful experience. And if something comes from it, even better.