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New York International Ballet Competition

- Gala Awards Ceremony

by Kate Snedeker

June 29, 2003 -- After three weeks of rehearsal and competition, the 2003 New York International Ballet Competition concluded with a Gala Awards Ceremony on Sunday night. The evening provided not only an opportunity to recognize the prize winners and those who contributed their time and experience but also a chance to see performances by participants and alumni.

With most in the audience yet unaware of the final results, the evening began with an air of suspense. The curtain withdrew to reveal all forty-eight participants, judges, and others involved in the competition seated on the stage. Each participant and judge was introduced by Tony Randall, the evening's master of ceremonies.

The judging panel, led by Natalia Makorova, included Gustavo Mollajoli, Karen Kain, Frank Andersen, Dame Merle Park, Elisabeth Platel, Boris Eifman and Rudi Van Dantzig. Enthusiastically applauded by the students were the two class teachers, Deborah Wingert and Stephen Pier, as well as the coaches, Martine Van Hamel, Eva Kloborg and Thomas Lund, and competition directors, Ilona Copen and Eleanor D’Antuono. After the introductions, Cynthia Gregory was presented with a special gold medal in recognition of her special dance achievements.

The twenty four competing couples represented a great deal of emerging talent and it was no surprise that the awarded medals reflected the level of dancing but the level of recognition was unexpected. At the NYIBC, only three gold medals have ever been awarded, and the only man to have been so honored is American Ballet Theatre's star, Jose Manuel Carreno (competing in 1987 as Jose Manuel Torres Carreno). This year the jury awarded gold medals to two young men, Chile's Cesar Morales and Turkey's Ogulcan Borova. Both are exciting dancers with solid technique if not ideal ballet bodies, so it will be interesting to see how their ballet careers evolve.

The presence of American Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie on the stage reflected the decision, for just the second time in NYIBC history, to award the Igor Youskevitch Award. A one-year contract with American Ballet Theatre, though not necessarily in the next year, was bestowed upon silver medalist Ludmilla Pagliero. Pagliero was the lone female silver medalist while Kristoffer Sakurai (Denmark) received the only silver medal for the men. Bronze medals were awarded to Caitlin Valentine (US) and Victoria Jaiani (Georgia) and, for the men, Alexei Agoudine (Russia) and Jonathan Jordan (US). Another young American, Kathleen Breen Combes, was the recipient of the Lefkowitz Award for Special Achievement.

In the gala performances, NYIBC was well represented by current competitors and alumni alike. Miami City Ballet's Mikhail Ilyin, a silver medalist in 2000, performed Edward Villella's jazzy Saint Louis Blue March (music by Glen Miller) which included a tricky sequence of double tours in alternating directions. Dancing his own choreography, 1990 Bronze Medalist Venti Petrov drew amused chuckles for his clever program to LeRoy Anderson’s Patent Pending. Bernard Courtot de Bouteiller, another silver medalist, and Stephanie Murrish also performed.

From the 2003 competitors, both medalists and non-medalists, came performances of both competition solos and pas de deux. Kristoffer Sakurai and his partner, Susanne Grinder, both from the Royal Danish Ballet, gave a delightful and polished performance of August Bournonville’s Kermesse in Bruges Pas de Deux. Sakurai’s elegant upper body and fluid dancing were again on display in his solo to Louise Midjort’s When Without. Victoria Jaini and fellow Georgian Temur Suluashvili offered up a moving interpretation of the second competition pas de deux, Jose Limon’s Duet from Mazurkas, a pas de deux in a style unfamiliar to many of the competitors, set to music from Frederic Chopin. Marius Petipa’s high flying choreography for the Shades Pas de Deuz from La Bayadere was no challenge for medalist Cesar Morales and Ludmilla Pagliero. Morales sailed through the menage of grand jetes and landed confidently to one knee out of the final double tour, while Pagliero appeared confident, if not totally stretched in many positions, throughout.

In his solo, Morales demonstrated his flexibility and control in a beautifully positioned, slow arabesque penchee. Morales’ fellow gold medalist, Ogulcan Borova, also got a chance to demonstrate his technical prowess in La Bayadere, dancing one of the male solos. Although he was obviously limited by the small and unsprung stage, Borova’s powerful and precise technique left no question as to why he received the top honor. Jonathan Jordan was especially impressive in his solo, a high powered piece to Ira Macintire’s Possession that included traditional bravura steps as well as karate-like kicks. Other performances from award winners included Alexei Agoudine in solo of his own creation, Time, Caitlin Valentine in Katie Garza’s Sweet Sorrow, and Kathleen Breen Combes in Septime Webre’s And So It Goes, Andrea Bena, Christopher Rickert (outstanding in an excerpt from Natalie Weir’s Jabula), Saori Nagata, Erica de la O and Takuma Oshiba.

Congratulations go to all the dancers, and to Copen and D’Antuono who put so much effort into organizing the competition. It is a rare opportunity for young dancers not only to be seen by many artistic directors but also to have the experience of coaching from top dancers and teachers. However it would seem that in order to really draw the top talent, NYIBC needs be held in a theater with a properly sized and sprung floor. Performing on an un-sprung floor, as was done this year, is not only potentially injurious, but doesn’t aid in building the confidence of these young dancers. For an otherwise wonderfully organized and executed competition, the lack of a sprung floor for competition is a glaring fault. During the evening, Ms. Copen announced that the competition will now be held every other year. One looks forward to seeing another crop of talented young dancers and improved facilities in 2005!

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

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