It may sound like a clichéd movie plot: a small-town boy, following his dream, practices diligently, puts his heart and soul into his work, overcomes the odds and earns the chance to make his dream a reality.
But this is no Hollywood script, it’s the real life of Bishop teen Andrew Hallenbeck, who got to audition with the prestigious Juilliard School.
Hallenbeck was vying for one of just a 150 or so spots among thousands of applicants from more than 40 countries. And – spoiler alert – the kid knows what he wants, and knows how to get it.
Hallenbeck, who has been dancing for a short time, did not make the cut, but his audition left such an impression, that the director of the dance program at Juilliard declared “the kid’s got talent.” Hallenbeck was asked to come back and try again next year when he had more experience under his belt, not something every dancer is invited to do.
That phrase, “the kid’s got talent,” is frequently used to describe the 18-year-old, his mother, Kellie Hallenbeck, said in an interview.
She said Hallenbeck has always loved the spotlight, from always raising his hand in class to playing Hans Christian Andersen in elementary school and becoming a key player in Playhouse 395. He’s made his mark in various ways, from playing a scene-stealing acrobatic dragon in “Mulan,” to serving as assistant director and choreographer on several Playhouse 395 productions.
“He’s wanted to be on stage since he was a little boy,” Kellie said.
Hallenbeck said he remembers doing the “Chicken Dance” at one of his mother’s parties when he was young and loving the response – the attention and applause.
He said he also loved playing dress-up and other games as a kid. He would rehearse for and act in several Missoula Children’s Theatre projects, including “Treasure Island” “Robin Hood” and “The Frog Prince.”
Hallenbeck has also appeared in many Playhouse 395 productions, primarily as an actor, but increasingly as a dancer and assistant choreographer, in “Willy Wonka” “South Pacific” and “Music Man.”
Hallenbeck said his interest in dance also increased, until he realized it was something he wanted to pursue. The problem (and this is where some of the movie cliché stuff comes in) is the lack of local training opportunities. Dennis Wayne, an internationally-renowned choreographer and dance instructor – otherwise known as “fate” for the purpose of this story, stepped in. Wayne took over the studio space at the Playhouse 395 office on West Line Street in September 2010 and began teaching several dance classes.
Hallenbeck recalled that he was putting together an audition routine at Wayne’s studio, when it was still being used by Playhouse 395. Hallenbeck was using the space as a friend of Playhouse when Wayne came upon him mid-dance. Hallenbeck said Wayne asked him to do a couple moves.
Kellie said that Wayne described her son as very energetic and passionate, a little rough around the edges as a dancer, being that he had no formal training, but nonetheless said, “The kid’s got talent.”
Wayne took Hallenbeck under his wing. (This would be the part in the clichéd movie when there would be the 1980s dance-training montage, à la “Flashdance” complete with an inspirational sound track, like “Eye of the Tiger.”)
In the summer of 2010, Hallenbeck sent in an audition tape and was accepted, with a scholarship to attend an intensive dance seminar at the California State Summer School for the Arts in Santa Clarita. Hallenbeck studied African, Jazz and Hip-Hop dance, five hours a day for six weeks.
Following the intense summer session, Andrew decided to shoot for the stars and audition for The Juilliard School.
“If I’m going to dance school I might as well go to the best,” Hallenbeck said.
Graduates from the arts, music and drama school – begun in 1905 and named after Augustus Juilliard – have gone on to collectively win more than 105 Grammy Awards, 62 Tony Awards, 47 Emmy Awards, 26 Bessie Awards, 24 Academy Awards, 16 Pulitzer Prizes and 12 National Medals for the Arts.
The audition requires a recording of an applicant’s talents, be it a dance or acting video or an audio recording for musicians. If applicants pass this stage they are asked back for a live audition. The live auditions consist of a series of demonstrations and then the cuts are made.
Hallenbeck said the chance to simply audition was an honor. However, Hallenbeck was cut early in the live audition.
Hallenbeck was in San Francisco in February 2011 to audition. Not shy or short on assertiveness, he approached the audition director and told him he had worked hard and traveled a long way to get to the audition and demanded an audience.
So they gave him one.
He said he knew it was a long shot to get in to Juilliard with only a year of training, but he also knew his strong suit was his solo routine. However, he was cut from the audition before the solo features.
Hallenbeck danced and was still not accepted. “They said, ‘Thank you, have a nice year,’” Hallenbeck recalled. Then the Juilliard dance director called Wayne and said, “‘Hey, the kid’s got talent. Have him go to school and train for a year and come back.’”
Hallenbeck plans to do just that.
“There’s no question he’ll get in. He’s a talent – especially at choreography,” Wayne said earlier this year.
In the meantime, Hallenbeck has been accepted to the Claire Trevor School of the Arts of the University of California, Irvine. Hallenbeck said Wayne gave him a good recommendation.
Hallenbeck has been accepted as an art major, but hopes to get into the dance program.
He said his passion would be to choreograph, something that comes naturally to him.
“I like music and I move to it,” he said.