As job interviews go, a ballet audition is very quiet.
Sixteen future dancers gathered in the Sacramento Ballet practice space last Saturday. They stretched, they brought bottles of water — but they didn’t talk. There was no formal interview process. They did not meet all the department heads. They didn’t say where they hoped to be in five years. Instead, they made a plie. Turn those feet outward, creating a 180 degree straight line, and dip the knees. And even. And even.
For an hour and a half, 16 dancers stood up and showed Sacramento Ballet executive director Anthony Krutzkamp how fast they could learn, and how flexible and strong they were. Stefan Calka, a Sacramento Ballet dance coach, sat at the front of the room with printed resumes and portraits of dancers. Jill Marlow Krutzkamp, Anthony’s wife, watched intently.
Anthony Krutzkamp and Calka sifted through more than 600 applications from people wanting to dance in Sacramento. The process started in the fall; six more applications arrived on Friday evening, just before the deadline. They still do not know how many places they will have to fill at the Sacramento Ballet. It will depend on how many dancers leave for another job or retire. It could be a few; it could be none. The dancers have until April 1 to accept a contract for the next season.
The creative team spent entire days watching every minute of every dancer’s video submission. They did Zoom auditions for dancers overseas. Putting on shows is their first job; developing a pipeline for the next wave of dancers is a second gig that takes a lot of time.
“Coming out of a pandemic, we said we were going to watch all the videos and invite only the people we’re interested in,” Krutzkamp said. “We just didn’t know it would come from everywhere. That would be Australia, Southeast Asia, Eastern/Western Europe, South America, Africa. It’s crazy. So I’m tired. I fell asleep with a laptop in my lap last night, going through the last little bit of what I can go through. But we did well. We only have the people we want to watch.
Before the dancers began work on Saturday, Krutzkamp did what he could to set expectations and let them know he was a human being. He expects learning, not perfection.
“I will give instructions. It never happens in auditions,” he told the dancers. “If I tell you to do something you’ve never done, don’t do it. I like your ACL. You love your ACL.
With that, he nods to the accompanying pianist in the corner. A song familiar to anyone who has ever been to a wedding began. The wooden piano sounds, “Canon in D”, also known as Pachelbel’s Canon. You’ve probably seen a bride slowly walking down the aisle more than once. Jill Krutzkamp leaned over and very softly whispered to a reporter, “We had it at our wedding.”
Anthony Krutzkamp slowly circled the class, gently offering instructions. Point your little toes down. Shoulders down. He looked but didn’t watch the dancers take his instructions. The staff observed how the dancers’ legs fit together. They observed how quickly they performed the movements. Above all, they watched how the dancers learned.
When Anthony Krutzkamp announced a more naughty song, a dancer finally spoke. “You want attitude?” she asked. “Spicy,” Krutzkamp said with a smile. And the piano started again.
It sounds stressful because it was absolutely stressful. Before the audition started, dancer Jackson Kettel, 28, stood outside Clara’s arts center and marveled at the blue sky. “I haven’t seen a cloud since I got here,” said Kettel, who was from Norfolk, Va.
“I like where I am. I’ve been there for a few years. I kind of like to keep myself fresh. Auditioning is just kinda healthy, I think. It’s also terrifying. So there is always that,” he said.
Erin McMahon, a 28-year-old who dances in Roanoke, Va., laughed at Kettel’s description. Seems about right. She is engaged and will be moving to California to be with her husband, who has a job at a Bay Area startup. She was drawn to the Sacramento Ballet’s genre style, which blended classical, neoclassical and modern dance.
“I’ve had a lot of friends over the last few years who have danced in Sacramento, loved it, and they’ve done a lot of different things. I know a lot of people over the decade who have been here so I thought it was worth applying.
That would be music to Krutzkamp’s ears. He is obviously proud of the variety of his ballet. “You can’t get bored,” he said.
The Krutzkamps and Calka know everything about the variety. They all danced professionally before landing administrative jobs. Now, instead of participating in the stressful trials, they lead them. And they try to give the dancers a different experience from their own; no cuts in the middle of the tests, for example.
Calka said moving into teaching made sense.
“These last years of dance, I was already at peace with everything I did, all the roles and the things I wanted to do. So I have to check those boxes and have all those good things, and then it’s just being across the room.
The room is of course tense. Anthony Krutzkamp slowly circles, observing the movements of four young men and 12 women.
After 40 minutes, a favorite emerged. A young woman near the front caught the attention of Jill Krutzkamp and Calka. Anthony came to ask the name of the young dancer.
“She picks up the nuances, the timing and the coordination,” whispered Jill Krutzkamp. “She is super strong. She is super smart.
All this without maintenance. Anthony Krutzkamp says he doesn’t need to hear about his professional ambitions. Want to dance in New York or San Francisco? Awesome. Do you like Sacramento? Also awesome. Dip those knees, wiggle those feet, get your leg fully extended.
“If there’s someone who wants to use us to become amazing, that’s fine. Because we have to be part of it. Right?” he said. “But…we have some pretty phenomenal dancers that I know are going to be with us. They like it here. Law? And I’m happy to keep them.
What if they leave? It just opens up a place for someone who was in this room on Saturday, sweating as they were in an impossible position.