Changes ; Jackson, Mississippi, 2014

7 Jul

Yes, there were changes, particularly losses in the individuals who made the Competition first happen. Gone is Thalia Mara, the visionary for whom the Civic Auditorium was renamed; gone also was Robert Joffrey the jury chair for the first three Competitions, 1979, 1982, 1986; Warren Ludlum, the attorney sharing Harvard Law School with Max Thelen, Jr., the connection providing my decision to attend the first Competition through print-maker Phyllis Thelen, Max’s wife, and Warren’s wife, Helen. Missing also is Karlen Bain, who assessed herself as the first “local” Executive Director for the 1986 Competition; her assistant, Sue Lobrano, stepped up to the plate when Travis Bain’s job took him away from Mississippi.

I think that was the last time Frankie Keating climbed around backstage to record the dancers. I remember Estelle Sommers telling me that Frankie broke her foot in Moscow when the IBC Committee went to the Moscow Competition, hoping to enlist Yuri Grigorovitch on the 1986 Jury. The aid of Olga Smoak made that presence possible, Nina Ananiasvili and Andris Liepa representing the USSR and being awarded the first of just three Prix de Jackson’s being awarded competitors, all of them foreign-trained by the bye. Despite the fact Keating was a native of Mississippi, the Competition never asked her to display her record of those first years.

More recent changes include the loss of veteran supporters like Martha Underwood; she organized the hospitality part of the Competition, providing host families not only for the V.I.P.’s but also for the contestants. They ran errands, entertained them at dinners when schedules permitted, some remaining life-long friends with their charges. I well remember a Fourth of July picnic out near a small pond or lake which Martha assembled for those remaining over the national holiday. Marilyn Beach organized the car pools for some five competitions; now she and Ann Cook marshal the volunteer ushers who fill the programs for each session.

The press room also has changed, though the location in the Mississippi Arts Building is along the same corridor, looking out at the stark patio separating the building from Pascagoula Street. The Museum moved to a building behind the auditorium and in the last fours years a garden and extensive patio with stage has covered the bare space between the two cultural buildings, eliminating some of the parking spaces where Competition professionals like Claudia Shaw used to park. Walking along Lamar Street past the Arts Building, the approach to the Museum is gracious with plantings grouped with donors identified. Where border and walk ends, the patio space opens up and you just know it was planned for parties, at least in the summer and early fall. It was utilized for the Grand Ball following the Gala Performance.

From four computers in the press room, it now provides two for writers; access to a printer is through the press personnel. Telephones, still available in 2010, are absent. Cell phones are the instrument of choice and expectation, a little difficult on a hold out like me. I missed some events because of my tardy acceptance of technology. The press office equipment is lent to the Competition like the vans and cars chauffeured by volunteers; their number has dwindled along with the scheduled runs of school buses ferrying dancers to rehearsal halls and the students to classes. 2014 was the first year that the Fourth Estate, writers, photographers, videographers did not spend a Friday lunch with USA IBC Officials.

Budget constraints were manifested in other ways. The Flame was lit at the opening ceremony, by Joseph Phillips, Junior Gold medalist 2002, with appropriate gravitas and flourish. In 2014 it did not burn during the day outside the auditorium.


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