Cora Bos-Kroese on the audition process for Kylian ballets and the skills necessary to be seen (and chosen)

Welcome back, everyone. Here we are with another interview, this time with Cora Bos-Kroese. Cora recently set Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura on us at Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, and she was a blast to work with. Back in the day she was a fantastic dancer who worked intimately with Jiri Kylian. These days she splits her time between setting his ballets all over the world and running her own dance projects in The Netherlands.

I sat down with her to have a conversation about what she’s learned from working with Kylian (and Forsythe!), advice she has for dancers, and her own personal projects in the dance world. I’ve broken up our conversation into three parts, which will come out when ready. In this first section, we talk about the audition process, and the qualities she looks for when running an audition for a Kylian ballet (hint: it’s not perfect ballet technique).

I hope you enjoy our conversation. As usual, if you have any questions, or want to share your thoughts, feel free to comment below. Our conversation wasn’t nearly as tidy as this transcription of it, and in my editing process sometimes I had to leave things out. Dancers  are often especially skilled at non-verbal use of language. This can make it quite hard to bring all of the meaning that is implied with a look or movement onto words on a page. I suppose that’s a natural reflection of who we are.

 

L: Let’s talk about the auditioning process. I’m sure a lot of people are curious about what you look for when you’re setting a Kylian ballet.
C: Well number one, the person has to be musical.
L: Yes, actually I included that in my notes because I thought “Is there anything that’s absolutely necessary for his ballets?” 
C: Well, you know, if someone is not musical – and I’ve had it a few times – it’s just a disaster. You have to listen to the music. Jiri didn’t really work with counts so much unless it was necessary, so you were listening to the bing and the bong or the low notes.
L: So that’s a big one. Number one: You have to have musicality.
C: Of course you also have to have an overall proportioned dancer, and basic classical technique. That’s a bit of a precedent. And some pieces, with some bad feet, I say “Ok I can’t do that.” For Bella Figura the girls do have to have some kind of line.
L: It is called Bella Figura for a reason.
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Les Ballets de Monte Carlo performing Bella Figura, photo by the great Alice Blangero

C: And then for some pieces it’s less important and it has to be movers. So some things people can get away with if they’re a bit more rounded… but he liked his women feminine. It wasn’t so tight – maybe the ballet aesthetic is a bit to another extreme and doesn’t work. When I choose men I also… certain pieces are about male and female energy. So when you start to look at the man and he looks more flourishing than the girl I’m like “Whaaa…” It’s difficult.

L: It doesn’t match the artistic vision.
C: Not really, if I’m really honest. I also don’t always need to see someone with high legs or this or that but I can see by their stance in a room whether they’re in their body or not. Like having a human connection to who they are in space. Someone that’s green and not aware of people around them also doesn’t work, because there has to be this connectedness of energy… so I look at energy as well.
L: So you look for someone who feels in their body – I mean there’s no real way to analyze that…
C: But it’s also maturity. I think in certain pieces, they need to be mature. They cannot be green, and sometimes it’s an eighteen year-old girl being very much in her body. Then I can take her. So in those cases it’s not like I didn’t take you because you’re too young. I didn’t take you because you weren’t mature enough.
L: You haven’t had the life experience that you need. You were saying an understanding of classical technique is important. How do you feel about modern dancers in his ballets? 

C: We were speaking about that last night, Urtzi [Aranburu] and I. We’ve both been to different companies, some more from a modern background, some more from a classical background, and for certain pieces – like 90% of Jiri’s work – it’s easier to go to a classical company and get them to get moving more. Easier than when you have a real moving company that cannot create any form. It’s harder because we [at NDT] also used that classical class as a base; it’s not like we’re going to do Martha Graham class in the morning and then do Jiri’s work – so there is always that classical essence.

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Making shapes. Photo by Alice Blangero

L: So you need to be able to make shapes.

C: Yeah, somehow there’s this kind of visual thing, like you can take a picture and see the line or the connectedness.
L: But you also have to be able to move really freely.
C: Like the softness in the knees and everything. When we were dancers at NDT, he gave us the material and he made us go to the extreme, but then you went and you thought about it. I did at least – I thought “What more can I make out of that.” And then I pulled everything out of the cupboard to make it the best I could.
L: Actually in a way I feel that the same kind of thing is recreated when we learn a ballet from you. You give us a framework, you teach us the steps, and then we try to figure out how best to do it. Then you give us some more ideas to think about, and bit by bit we piece it together and find something new. It’s so enjoyable to complete the puzzle in that way – in your own way.
C: And it’s doing that kind of work for yourself that makes you a better dancer. It’s not just doing steps perfectly. It’s important to say the right thing from what his essence asked. So I look for that sort of intelligence that brings it to another place. You see the detail and the person thinking about it, not going to the side and just staring into space like “Ohhhh I have to do it again and I’m blocking,” but just doing the work.
L: Like “How do I connect the steps together.”
C: Yeah. “Okay I haven’t figured it all out yet,” but if somebody’s already figured out the A, B, C, and you see them do that well, you know they’ve thought about it, and you see that. Okay, somebody can go from A to Z, but then how they got from A to Z is what matters.
L: That’s an interesting thing because in auditions sometimes, I know personally…
C: It’s overwhelming.
L: Yeah, you have so much being thrown at you – you need to take in all of the new information all while synthesizing everything you’ve already taken in. I think someone who’s good at auditioning is able to do both well. It’s quite a skill set. Of course, there’s going to be a range of speed and understanding within each company.
C: And then of course sometimes you say “Ok, this person’s interesting, but they’re a bit slower,” but you forgive that because you don’t have to be Speedy Gonzalez. Of course you can’t be too slow, but if some people need more time, it’s ok. I don’t judge that too harshly.
L: This makes me think of something I’ve noticed: people unafraid to ask questions in auditions first of all get personal advice on how to do a step better, and second – they get attention from the person running the audition. Do you think that helps people?
C: Well, it’s a tricky thing. I’m not sure. Sometimes I think “Oh, they’re trying to get to me…”
L: Well, that’s the other side of that coin.
C: But of course it depends on what and how. Because sometimes you get somebody that’s in front of you the whole time and they ask you “Well what what about this? What about that?” and you’re like “Wait a minute. Go back there. I want to see another person.”
L: But you can’t really say that – “Go back, please move away.”
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“Please move away.” BMC in Kylian’s Chapeau, photo Alice Blangero
C: No. But in my mind, maybe I’m thinking that.
L: That might penalize someone a little bit.
C: Yeah like someone being in your face. But also there are some people that you don’t see so well. I remember this audition; it was quite a lot of people and there were some people that stayed in the back which was kind of a shame. You sort of miss out on them. So it’s finding a happy medium: not to push into the front but not to completely dissolve in the back.
L: That’s something I’ve thought a lot about, because Urtzi, when he was auditioning us said “I can see you all no matter where you are.” Which is true, but I have my doubts as to how much you get seen if you’re in the back all the time. Maybe he sees you, but…
C: But then usually the people in the back want to dissolve because they feel inadequate or they’re not sure of what they’re doing. 
L: Or insecure. That’s something I’ve thought about plenty – like rotating lines in an audition.
C: Yes. We try to do that. Like “Let’s do smaller groups so I can really see,” and now here, with the videoing we did check it out afterwards. “What about this? Yeah, I’m not so sure about this one…”
L: That’s a good point. Video has changed the process as well.
C: And I don’t always use it. Here, just about everything was being videoed. I was like “Wow, that’s kind of amazing.” Because also you’re teaching stuff so you’re self-absorbed in “Am I teaching the right things?” You have to filter through all those videos afterwards, but it was good. I actually saw people better.

Thanks for reading. In the second part of our conversation, Cora and I talk about her many experiences with Kylian, what she learned from working with him, and what makes his work special. Check out part 2 here.

5 thoughts on “Cora Bos-Kroese on the audition process for Kylian ballets and the skills necessary to be seen (and chosen)

      1. I’m sure listening would be good too! Interviews usually take me awhile, because I let the conversation stew, and then re-write it from notes. I like the result, but it’s no easy task. I think you’re doing great work!

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  1. Pingback: Cora Bos-Kroese on organizing dance projects, risk and fear, and performing to the best of your ability – Corporal Culture

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