On Aug. 28, 26 kids showed up for Western Ballet Company's Nina Novak Scholarship auditions, hoping to become one of 14 recipients of a one-year grant to study dance.
This is the debut year for the scholarship, which aims to provide artistic opportunities for low-income children. All applicants must show proof of income and a signed parental commitment to bring the child to class.
"The students will need to try out again, but the hope is that once they're in the program, they'll just keep on going until they reach the highest levels," Western Ballet board member Camilla Kao said. "This is a wonderful program. I hope it continues."
With big numbers pinned to their chests and parents ushering them forward, the kids, ranging from 6 to 12 years old, gathered on the floor to stretch. They tried to copy instructor Alison Share, giggling as they flexed their feet, pulled their legs into "butterfly" position and attempted to touch their noses to their knees. Some did it with minimal strain. Others grunted and propped their knees up to make the job easier.
When artistic director Alexi Zubiria entered the room, the real auditions began. At the barre, the applicants were evaluated in groups of four. They stood on their toes, as high as they could go. They plied, making sure to keep their backs straight. They bent backwards. They pointed their feet. They rotated their legs. They skipped across the room to piano music, giving Zubiria their best pageant smiles.
Throughout, Share wrote comments on a clipboard, evaluating the future dancers for physical attributes — flexibility, size, feet shape — and also rhythm and focus.
"There's a combination of traits we're looking for, and it has both to do with the body and the focus," Zubiria said. "The body is the instrument of ballet and it's important for dancers, but we also need for students to understand the music and have some musicality."
An hour later, it was over. The kids filed out.
Melanie Garcia, 9, of Mountain View said she wants to be a ballerina.
"I've wanted to do ballet since I was 7," she said. "My dad found this program and I hope I get in. I thought the audition was easy. I think it's fun and all the steps weren't too hard."
On Friday, the recipients were announced, and Melanie got her wish. She was one of 14 children to be awarded scholarships, including three other Mountain View residents: Michelle Zhang, Ying En Poh and Alan Yulian Dominguez.
This program was established by Zubiria, a former International Ballet Competition silver medalist who discovered dancing as a youth in Venezuela. He named the scholarship after his mentor Nina Novak, a Russian-born classical ballerina who escaped from the Holocaust and danced with George Balanchine in New York.
Zubiria, who joined Western Ballet three years ago, said he has always wanted to create these scholarships, inspired by similar programs in Latin America.
"They have this in other places in Colombia and Cuba and we're just trying to bring the talent from people that cannot afford it, from underprivileged families," Zubiria said. "With this kind of opportunity a child can — well, who knows what they can achieve?"
The next auditions are set for Saturday, Jan. 8.