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New York International Ballet Competition 2003

- A report on the first day of the first round (Wednesday, June 25)

by Alyson Abriel

June 27, 2003 -- The evening at Alice Tully Hall began with brief greetings and proclamations from the City and State of New York. In a written statement, Governor Michael Bloomberg declared June 25-June 29, 2003 as official “New York International Ballet Competition Days,” a charming gesture and faintly amusing in its official proclamation-speak.

All of the judges were introduced on stage which, for me, was one of the most thrilling moments I’ve had at the ballet. Seeing such luminaries as Natalia Makarova, President of the Jury, Dame Merle Park, Karen Kain, and Boris Eifman all in the same room was a once-in-a lifetime experience. After they exited the stage and took their seats in the theater, the entire front section of audience turned around to take in the spectacle of these wonderful artists.

After a brief pause, the competition began. There were eleven couples performing a pas de deux that evening. The competitors are judged individually—not as pairs.

The couples all presented August Bournonville’s Kermesse in Bruges Pas De Deux.

“This pas de deux of courtship for two young and shy people asks the dancers to meet the challenges of Bournonville’s airborne, filigree 19th-century technique, while emphasizing the lyricism of the choreography and the gentle character of the lovers” – from Playbill

The variation commences with a jubilant running entrance onto the stage. The men mime “would you like to dance” with the classic arms en haut, hands circling. The opening sequence of dancing displays many controlled arabesque and attitude positions with some moderately quick footwook. In particular, a double pirouette en dedans commencing from second position en l’air and finishing into developpe second is a very difficult move, especially for the women en pointe. Brief solo variations follow the opening sequence, with some more partnering work toward the end. The entire piece showcases quick footwork and difficult turning sequences. There are no bravura moments for either the men or the women nor were there extended sequences of posing or showing off high extensions. The choreography is fluid, light and non-stop. This pas is an excellent choreographic choice for the first round of a competition. Along with difficult dancing, Kermesse in Bruges requires quite a bit of interaction with acting and eye contact between the couples.

Eva Kloborg and Thomas Lund of the Royal Danish Ballet did a commendable job of setting this piece on the dancers. The spacing, dramatic moments, facial expressions, and general mood of the piece were all exquisitely executed. For young dancers, all performing a variation they had two and a half weeks to learn, in front of such an esteemed panel of judges, the overall acting quality of every single pair was commendable. Every nuance and comedic moment was played to maximum effect, with a number of couples gleaning chuckles and applause from the audience. There were points during the piece where a facial expression or gesture had to be made at unusual angles to the audience, or peeking around their partner. The timing and coordination of each couple was done perfectly. I was thrilled to see such close attention paid to artistic quality and mood in a competition setting. It was obvious that artistic standards, rather than technical bravado, were emphasized in the coaching and general spirit of this event.

The technical level of all the dancers competing is very high. Many of the competitors are professional dancers already. There were two or three dancers to whom the choreography was a challenge, but even the weak pairs looked confident in the steps, and used their stage presence to charm the audience. Standouts from Wednesday evening include Ogulcan Borova (Turkey), a principal dancer with Ballet Internationale in Indianapolis. He had an explosive quality to his dancing and perhaps the strongest sense of musicality of all the dancers. Yuki Sento (Japan) and Takuma Oshiba (Japan) were a very strong couple. Sento was controlled and elegant and Oshiba had a quality that makes me think he’s someone to look out for. He could really pull an audience into his dancing with an amazing stage presence and charming persona. Lydia Lee (Korea) was notable in her solo sequence. The dance begins with a quick tombee pas de bouree linking step, performed in second en face. Her timing, angle to the audience, and fluidity were perfect. The musical syncopation in many of the passages from this piece look deceptively easy, but can be awkward if not understood by the dancer. I enjoyed watching dancers such as Lee and Borova who really embodied the subtle qualities of H.S. Paulli’s score.

Also notable that evening were Laura Kleinke (USA), Kathleen Breen Combes (USA)--eliminated, Jonathan Jordan (USA), and Fabyanna Nemeth (Brazil).

Weak moments were mirrored in almost all of the couples. I saw a universal problem with turns. Takuma Oshiba (Japan) did the only cleanly executed quad of the evening, with a perfect finish in fifth. Otherwise, the men did mostly weak triples. The end of the men’s variation had a long drawn-out note, I assume time for many rotations, but most finished before the music had ended. Each took a very wide fourth or second as a preparation so I would have liked to see more revolutions with such a wide preparation. The afore-mentioned double pirouette en dedans from second en l’air also proved difficult for the women (especially in pointe shoes), and some were better at fudging the ending than others. Susanne Grinder (Denmark) was the only competitor who “stuck” this move, and got a smattering of applause for this achievement (I think everyone was waiting for this to happen). Many of the women were wobbling when holding a flat position such as attitude, or shifting their foot for the appearance of maximum turnout. Some day, pointe shoes will be made which are a bit easier to stand on while flat. There were a couple of slips and one major fall—all downstage center unfortunately—but no obvious errors in memory retention of the choreography or in the timing among the couples. Even with some major height differences, each pair perfectly synchronized quick petit allegro work.

Costuming was quite good, considering how difficult it must have been to come up with so many pairs of outfits for a wide variety in body types. The only exception was a pair of really shiny black lycra tights worn by Vitali Krauchenka (Belarus). Thankfully, he made it past the first round despite the fashion faux pas. I’m sure he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the choice.

The only mystery to me that evening was the judging criteria. Neither my press packet nor the playbill explained on what criteria the judges were scoring. Is it like gymnastics? Do you get points taken off for a slip? A fudged triple pirouette? Are there separate considerations for artistic merit vs. technical capacity? I was sitting two rows behind the judges, and didn’t get a look at the clipboards they were furiously writing on during the 30-second break between performers. I had barely enough time to jot down notes like “lovely couple interaction nice faces good arabesque problem with pirouettes” before the lights were again dimmed. A brief explanation of the criteria for scoring would have been beneficial to those audience members who weren’t initiated. On the other hand, this is certainly not the Olympics (my only frame of reference for competitions).

Ilona Copen, Founder/Artistic Director, and Eleanor D’Antuono, Artistic Director, have provided New York, and the international dance scene, with a wonderful event, showcasing talent from around the world. The quality of coaching was top-notch. What a wonderful opportunity for these fine ballet dancers too meet one another, and to have the experience of intensive study, coaching, and performance at Lincoln Center. I feel honored to have been able to observe such a great collection of young talent from around the world.

Results are available for each round at the New York International Ballet Competition website. Here are the results for the first round of competition: Results from Round 1.

For a complete listing of recipients, please visit the discussion in our forum.

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