TORRINGTON – How valuable is a reputation?
After 50 years of building a reputation for professionalism in dance instruction, Nutmeg Ballet was forced to put it to the test this year. Audition tour director Joan Kunsch injured her arm and was unable to go on her annual 18-city nationwide recruiting tour. But, “Nothing will be canceled,” she promised in early December.
“It was up to me to solve it,” said Kunsch. “I thought, ‘Who better to represent Nutmeg than the former students who are making professional company careers around the country?’”
She compiled a list of about a dozen Nutmeg alumni around the country and called them. They eagerly accepted the challenge.
For example, Kunsch said, “We have a Nutmeg graduate, Amy Potter, who is a principal dancer in the Oklahoma City Ballet, and I called her and she’s ecstatic to do it. She said, ‘Proudly, I would do it. Proudly.’”
Another former student, Thel Moore, trained at Nutmeg from 2012 to 2015. He agreed to cover three of Kunsch’s scheduled cities, including Richmond, Va., where he is a danseur at the Richmond Ballet Company. Moore said in an email, “What I typically look for in an audition is a base in classical ballet but also a love for ballet as well. I’m looking for a spark that you usually can’t teach but mold into something beautiful.”
He said students are nervous at first, but “when they see the brochure [and] how beautiful the building is and how incredibly professional the staff is, they usually lighten up and get really excited for the audition.”
The far-flung team of Nutmeg-trained dancers are directing auditions in January and February in nearly 40 cities in the United States and Canada. Some of these cities are on Tim Melady’s usual itinerary as audition tour co-director. Melady, Nutmeg’s principal ballet master, is also standing in for Kunsch in several cities. Speaking by phone from an airport near St. Louis, Mo., Melady said, “I have been to the West Coast. Seattle had a good turnout. Portland had a good turnout. San Francisco had a good turnout, and they are all so interested in Nutmeg and Torrington.”
He said, “We’re so lucky that we have such a respected reputation.” When an auditioning dancer asks about Nutmeg, he refers them to former Nutmeg students in the area, who are happy to talk about their experiences.
Melady said the constant influx of students from thousands of miles away is enriching for them, for Nutmeg and for Torrington. “People come to Nutmeg and say, ‘Oh my God, we’re meeting people from Wyoming! From California! This is crazy.’ Everybody knows about Nutmeg Ballet. It’s wonderful.”
Kunsch said that when she has gone on the audition tour – which she has done every year since 1993 – she tells dancers, “Not only are you auditioning for Nutmeg; Nutmeg’s auditioning for you.”
She tells them, “We’re not looking for perfection. If you were perfect, would you need us? We’re looking for trainability.”
Moore said, “Bringing talent from all over is very important because it keeps Nutmeg as one of the best schools to train at in the United States.”
Melady said, “[The auditioners] have heard of us, and they’ve heard of our reputation. And that’s a real advantage. Our reputation is golden. There are more and more schools just vying for this slice of talent. And there is always talent.”
Victoria Mazzarelli, artistic director, said Torrington auditions at the Nutmeg Conservatory attract not only local aspirants but dancers from New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for both the summer and year-round programs. Remaining auditions at the Conservatory at 58 Main Street are Feb. 1, 15, 29 and March 7, from 9 a.m. to noon. And by the way, said Mazzarelli, locals are most welcome!
“During these next few months, our year-round students and faculty are rehearsing and preparing for our Spring Studio Series that will be held on March 18, 19, 20 and 21,” she said.