New York International Ballet Competition

- A report on the rehearsals

by Kate Snedeker

June 26, 2003 -- Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the New York International Ballet Competition is a unique ballet competition for young dancers, aged 17-24, that takes place every three years in New York City. Though they are judged individually, the dancers can only compete as couples, 60 of whom applied for the 24 places in the 2003 competition. These talented dancers, many of whom are already dancing with professional ballet companies, represent 24 countries (however the majority of the couples are comprised of dancers from different countries). For their three weeks in New York -- two of rehearsals and one of competition -- the dancers are being housed in Fordham University dorms, and have been matched with host families that speak their native language.

The competition pas de deux dances, the Kermesse in Bruges Pas de Deux (Bournonville), the La Bayadere Shades Pas de Deux  (Petipa) and the Mazurkas (Limon), were not revealed until the dancers arrived in New York in order to make the playing field as level as possible. Thus, the two weeks leading up to the actual competition were packed with rehearsals, both for the pas de deux sections and the pre-prepared individual solo. Each morning, class was taught by former New York City Ballet dancers Deborah Wingert or Stephen Pier. At night, the dancers were treated to performances by NYCB, by American Ballet Theatre and of “Movin’ Out.”

The final two days of rehearsal before the opening night of competition for the 2003 New York International Ballet Competition took place Monday and Tuesday at the floor studios of the Fiorello Laguardia High School for the Performing Arts. The atmosphere was both cozy and slightly empty feeling, with the studios tucked in a corner of the maze-like eighth floor. Most of the school was empty, occupied only by a few workmen cleaning and preparing classrooms for the next invasion of students, but excited voices could be heard from the adjoining studios, where children in Jacques D'Amboise's National Dance Institute were preparing for their own performances.

In the one elevator, the small space was often crammed with dancers, tutu bags and dance bags. Once on the eighth floor, the dancers were situated in two fairly small, cluttered studios, one for pas de deux rehearsal and one for optional rehearsal of individual solos. On Tuesday, each couple was allotted 45 minutes in each studio, four couples sharing the limited space. In the main studio, Martine Van Hamel, a former principal dancer with ABT, oversaw the rehearsals of the Shades Pas De Deux from La Bayadere. It was a bittersweet rehearsal, for only the dancers who make it to the third round will have the opportunity to dance the pas de deux on stage. For the rest, the reward will be in the opportunity to learn a pas de deux and be coached through it by a great dancer and teacher like Van Hamel.

The pas de deux was broken down into a number of sections, with two couples (or men or women) at a time proceeding through the sections. At each pause, Van Hamel offered brief suggestions, sometimes just a quick comment, at other times a more detailed correction that entailed repeating a step or sequence of steps. While intense concentration and careful attention to corrections was the name of the game, nervous giggles and applause were also frequently heard. With other couples resting, sewing shoes, walking through the choreography or dancing along with the music on the sides of the rooms, careful attention and sharp reflexes were required of all in the room. Several of the male dancers added showy turns and leaps to the end of their solo, causing the occupants of that corner of the room to scatter backwards to avoid a painful fate. Applause rang through the studio after each pas de deux, the students appreciating the effort and talent of their fellow competitors.

Although many of the competitors are already professional dancers, there was a variety of talent visible during the afternoon rehearsals. A fairly slippery floor added to the challenge, with some fairly dramatic landings to one knee of double tours the obvious result. One young man finished his solo without problem, but with one ballet slipper across the studio from his final pose, the slipper having come off while he was dancing. The dancers were obviously tired, with two weeks of intense rehearsal and unexpected 90-degree temperatures outside having taken their toll. Some were likely preserving energy for the competition the next night and, knowing the statistics of dance injuries, some were probably trying not to aggravate them. A couple of competitors had already been lost to energy, and Giovanni Villalobos, who recently danced in the SAB Workshop, was present as a last minute replacement for a dancer who sustained an injury just prior to his intended departure for New York. Yet, many of the dancers performed at an impressively high level. Eddy Tovar, a Cuban who dances with the Orlando Ballet and Ogulcan Borova, a Turkish citizen who dances with Ballet Internationale, were among the high-flying men. Also of note in the rehearsals I saw were Armenian David Hovhannisyan, his American partner Laura Kleinke, and the Argentianian-Chilean couple of Ludmila Pagliero and Cesar Morales.

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