Grant Aris: Geneva Ballet and Auditioning in Europe

Grant Aris Geneva Ballet

By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa.

Grant began his career dancing with the Australian Ballet, with memorable performances in Bejart’s Le Concours, and work created for him by Meryl Tankard, Stephen Baynes, and Stanton Welch. Grant accepted a role with the Geneva Ballet in 1998. He worked as a soloist principal dancer with the Geneva Ballet interpreting and making work with many famous contemporary choreographers.  Grant gradually accumulated experience as a ballet master with Geneva Ballet before stepping up to this role full time. Dance Informa talks to Grant about his role at Geneva Ballet and auditioning in Europe.

Grant can you tell us about your current role?

“I am Assistant Director at Geneva Ballet. I am responsible for staging the ballets that choreographers give to us.  It is like their baby, they need to feel that they can trust me to see it to the stage in the way that they want. I am also responsible for translating between languages for visiting choreographers and guest artists where needed. And sometimes I give talks to the audience about the works we present.”

As an English born, Australian trained, and now Switzerland based artist, do you have a perspective about presenting yourself in different contexts and cultures? 

“Geneva is a city that has a very culturally diverse population. We represent that also in our company. So nationality of the dancer is not important, they can be from anywhere. We are looking for the human qualities, the contact the dancer can make with the other dancers, and with the audience.”

What makes someone stand out in an audition process?

“It is the personality of the dancer that stands out. The human qualities. But also grooming, grooming is important. I am not saying pink ballet tights are necessary, not given the type of company that we are, but rock and roll fingernails might not be appropriate. It stands out when someone is talking, it stands out not in a good way, but as not paying attention. So be present and pay attention.

This time around we only have three contracts, so we have invited dancers to come in. They will take company class and I will watch them and then we will talk and I will take them upstairs and give them some repertoire to see how they handle the material – how quickly they pick it up and how they make it their own. In the audition these days we also give them opportunity to present a variation. This is important to see how they see themselves, to see how they present themselves and what sort of dancer they think they are.”

If dancers are really keen on your company, what should they do in between auditions if they want to try again?

“They need to get experience in a company.  We rarely take anyone who doesn’t have that experience. We don’t have time to teach them how to work onstage. They should make a good CV, and contact lots of companies, not just us.”

What sort of experience are you looking for?

“Experience within a professional company.  Experience with diverse repertoire, not just Swan Lake.”

Does it matter where dancers have trained?

“No. But you need to keep your options open. You need to go to a curriculum where they offer everything.  Some schools don’t offer improvisation. In our auditions we will ask a dancer to improvise.  That is what the work requires.  We had a choreographer here recently who gave dancers three themes: ‘death’, ‘travel’, and ‘love’ and asked the dancers to pick one and improvise on that. Of course, these themes can be handled very simply (Grant mimes taking a noose to his neck), but if the dancer is intelligent, they will find unique ways to interpret this.”

What sort of investment do you make in your dancers?

“Well we pay them! But also, we give them opportunities to do more and more, and we see how they handle that.  If they handle it well, we give them more to do.”

To learn more about Grant Aris and the Geneva Ballet, visit

Photo (top): ‘Vacant’. Grant Aris of Geneva Ballet. Photo by Gregory Batardon.

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