Jackson, Mississippi 2014; Arriving Friday, June 13

5 Jul

Jackson, Mississippi, June 2014 for the Tenth USA IBC, seemed welcome and familiar as the Delta plane lowered and then landed; the remembered green and trees renewed memories, making me feel I was returning after a recent visit instead of the four-year hiatus. Bobby Everett, in charge of hosting visitors, greeted me; two volunteers behind an unused check-in counter determined what arrivals were verified, before down the escalator I went to collect luggage. I joined the likes of Gina Hyatt, 1986 Junior Women’s Gold now affiliated with the ballet school in Hamburg, Germany; Russian juror Alexei Fadeechev; jury chair Edward Villella; evaluator William Starrett who earned one of the first Senior Men’s Bronze Medals [four men in 1979], now artistic director, Columbia Ballet, South Carolina; Rachel Leonard, modern dance teacher for the International Ballet School with earlier connections to ODC/SF. Luggage retrieved with William Starrett assisting with the stowing in a min-van, seven of us, exchanging various verbal pleasantries, rode off with the idea I would be the first off at the Millsaps Cabot Lodge on State Street.

The trip down the tree-lined approach to Jackson’s Edgar Willey Evers Airport renewed the sense of tranquility and stillness the Jackson area landscape’s provides, even in wilting heat. With unobstructed vistas, expectation is heightened. How changed would Jackson be?

Well, yes and no regarding the drop offs. Overshooting the left onto State Street as instructed by Everett, the van’s driver instead headed towards the Marriott Hotel where jurors, evaluators and teachers were booked for the Competition’s duration. Little seemed changed; there was construction of a turnaround at Capitol and Lamar with barricades on the sidewalk. The baked look of the one-story buildings, brick, imitating ante-bellum grace and Louisiana door-length shutters was familiar as the van turned down Lamar Street,passing the Lamar, 60-year veteran café serving southern and Greek food weekdays, and opposite the shiny black stone facade of the building housing Steve’s Uptown, turning the corner of Lamar and Pascagoula with the Mississippi Arts Building on the left, a driveway and then Thalia Mara Auditorium where 90 competitors were scheduled to start Round I on Sunday.

The young student from Panama, whose air travel required nearly a day, was deposited at Gillespie Hall, Belhaven University. Belhaven has hosted IBC Competitors for a good part of the competitions since 1979; more recently it’s been USAIBC’s official competitor housing site. The dormitory seemed new to me, but it may have been in place in 2010. Last passenger, me, out at Cabot Lodge, the driver headed the van back to Edgar Evers Airport for his next load. The Lodge hadn’t changed, the sole difference being African-American desk clerks.

Down the hall on the first floor were Claudia Shaw and Connie Luchau, IBC’s videographer for the past four competitions, 2014 her fifth. For Connie it was a virgin exposure to ballet. After greetings, we decided to dine at The Mayflower on West Capitol, hub for locals and the Competition contingent – jurors, teachers, press. Noted for seafood, it was a crowded Friday night; after a short wait we gorged on a Mayflower specialty – soft shell crabs. Claudia reminded me how huge the crabs were in 1998; the standard two served hanging over the oval platter. She also mentioned while packing video equipment for the drive back to Houston in 2010, she ate there as a production crew assessed the interior for possible angles in the movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. At the Competition’s end in 2010, The Clarion Ledger had published a feature about Jacksonians auditioning as extras.

Driving back to Cabot Lodge, passing the Governor’s Mansion, a white-pillar affair occupying a full downtown city block, we glimpsed a cluster of individuals assembled in a garden corner, the scene evoking Southern summer elegance. The dignitaries of the Competition, the IBC officials and major Jackson sponsors gathered, an appropriate prelude to Saturday’s Opening Ceremony.


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