The 7th New York International Ballet Competition - A Look into the Future of Ballet
By Mila Gorokhovich
June 27, 2003
For an aspiring professional ballet dancer, competition can be a word applicable to the very core of daily life. Not only does a dancer compete to be the best in ballet class, rehearsal, performances and auditions, but also he/she strives to constantly improve and grow as a dancer, thus competing against him/herself. The New York International Ballet Competition, founded by Ilona Copen, provides a unique opportunity for dancers to challenge themselves in a three-week intensive period and ultimately gain valuable experience, exposure and lessons for life. The forty-eight dancers (twenty four couples) who are selected to compete by the Artistic Board obtain the chance to compete against others as well as to push themselves to the best of their ability and reveal their strengths and glory to distinguished ballet masters as soloists. The stage is lit for each couple to take the space and make it theirs completely. I had the exciting opportunity to attend the second round of the three-round competition, held in Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on June 27, 2003. The Judges included USA -Natalia Makarova President of the Jury- Prima Ballerina Assoluta ;ARGENTINA-Gustavo Mollajoli -Artistic Director Ballet do Theatro- Municipal do Rio de Janeiro ;CANADA Karen Kain -Associate Artistic Director -National Ballet of Canada; CHINA- Zhao Ruheng Artistic Director-National Ballet of China; DENMARK-Frank Andersen-Artistic Director-Royal Danish Ballet; ENGLAND-Dame Merle Park- Former Director; Paris Opera Ballet; FRANCE- Elisabeth Platel- Etoile -Paris Opera Ballet School; THE NETHERLANDS-Rudi van Dantzig-Former Artistic Director-Dutch National Ballet; RUSSIA; Boris Eifman-Artistic Director-Eifman Ballet.
Out of the initial twenty four couples, sixteen were chosen to continue to the second round. This round included Mazurka- contemporary pas de deux by Jose Limón and the most exciting part - solo variations. Every dance except the solo variation was taught during the first two weeks of the competition. This included pas de deux from La Bayadere, Bournaville's Kurmesse in Bruges and the Limón pas de deux. Thus, each couple danced the same choreography and after a few times, one can differentiate the various elements that distinguish the couples. As a ballet dancer myself, I enjoyed critically analyzing each couple and at the end, I was anxious to know if the couples I deemed superior were the same ones the judges would choose. However, like all other competitions, this one is extremely subjective and you never know what the judges are looking for. How much does it matter if a dancer accidentally displays a sickled foot, does not jump as high as he could, or if the girl doesn't stretch out or hold her extensions? These are some of the mistakes I noticed and wondered how important they would be in disqualifying the dancers to the next round. When I saw the list of winners, I realized that the judges look a bit beyond the small technical details.
The Limón variation was a nice combination of ballet and modern and it did not seem particularly complicated. It lacked fancy turns or particularly large jumps or even held out extensions. However, there were certain key moments, which displayed the ability of the dancer to lengthen extensions and the man's lightness in his jumps as well as his firm hold and support on the girl. One such moment was towards the middle of the dance when the man lifts the girl and she moves her legs in a bicycle-like motion before opening out into a grand jete position. Simultaneously, the man carries her and runs diagonally across the stage. This routine is done twice and one can easily see the stability and precision with which both dancers execute this strange step. Some ballerinas opened up to a 90-degree angle, some more open and not knowing the details of the choreography, it was hard to figure out which was technically correct. On the other hand, it seemed as if some of the male dancers ached holding the girl and almost stumbled, while others elegantly managed to hold her up without looking like they would fall over. The latter was easily visible. Alexandra Lawler and Christopher Ricket from Australia did a nice job especially with this part because it was clear that he was able to confidently support her and she moved with him while expressing her own unique style. However, Kristoffer Sakuri, who won the male silver medal, did not do as well a job with his partner, Susanne Grinder, both from Denmark. Her bicycle movements seemed more like a random wiggle and on the one big lift, it seemed as if he lifted her with quite a lot of effort instead of appearing light and easy. Dance is an illusion - someone heavy set can appear as light as a feather and someone petite can often seem like a boulder. Nor did Sakuri display much height in his small solo. The crowd went wild when the Georgian couple, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili presented their version - sharp movements, beautiful extensions and Suluashvili appeared as a supportive partner to the delicate Jaiani. The pas de deux also has a moment of several consecutive chugs in the brief male solo. Suluashvili performed them effortlessly. Jaiani won the women bronze medal.
Admittedly, Ludmila Pagliero (Argentina) and Cesar Morales (Chile) also did a fantastic job with the pas de deux and at first I wondered if the crowd rooted for them because they were last or if they were indeed very talented. It was probably a mix of both, but the latter certainly outweighed the former. Although Pagliero did not hold the jete in the complicated lift, she was particularly energetic and both were fluid in their dancing. They gave off a fiery radiance and were a pleasure to watch even as we have already seen the same dance fifteen times before. My intuition was right - Pagliero won women silver medal and Morales won the male gold medal.
The solos were fascinating to watch and it's interesting to note that most of the dancers chose non-classical ballet repertory. According to Erica de la O, a competing dancer from the USA, many of them realized that they would probably be taught classical choreography upon their arrival to NY and that is why they chose something different for their solo. De la O was one of the highlights, a gem in her long crimson dress who danced to "Por el Fuego" (choreography by Harrison McEldowney) by the Gypsy Kings. Her dance incorporated a bit of flamenco arm movements, vibrant jobs and her presence took over the stage even as she is very petite. Although she made it to the final round, I was disappointed that she did not get placed.
Alexei Agoudine from Russia was the only one who choreographed his own dance to "Time" by Queen. And while it had a bit too much crawling on the floor, he definitely came off as talented with his plethora of clean turns, long lines and fluid movements. It is also refreshing to see a dancer explore his own creativity and come up with a dance from his own imagination. Agoudine claimed a male bronze medal. Cesar Morales was a great finish to the exciting round. His confident attitude and super energy made him soar above all the other dancers. The techno music "Rock Your Body" probably added to that sensation but it was the perfect song to match the seemingly flawless technique intertwined in the rapid speed of Bernard Courtot's choreography.
After having a chance to speak to Erica de la O, I left the hall feeling enthralled and inspired by this assemblage of talent. It is no doubt that they will all continue dancing successfully into the future. A former dance teacher of mine commented that this dance generation is strange - the girls are getting taller, the men are getting shorter and ballet is slowly integrating with abstract contemporary movements. While that may be the case, it was obvious from the evening that talent continues to rise even as young dancers of tomorrow challenge themselves beyond the tradition.
Ludmila Pagliero (Argentina), Silver
Caitline Valentine (USA), Bronze
Victoria Jahiani (Georgia), Bronze
Ludmila Pagliero (Argentina), The Igor Youskevitch Award
Kathleen Breen Combes (USA), The Lefkowitz Award for Special Achievement
Ogulcan Borova (Turkey), Gold
Cesar Morales (Chile), Gold
Kristoffer Sakurai (Denmark), Silver
Alexei Agoudine (Russia), Bronze
Jonathan Jordan (USA), Bronze