Tag Archives: Edward Villella

Violette Verdy. 1933-2016

11 Feb

For some odd reason comments about Violette Verdy written yesterday, along with some comments about Misty Copeland’s coverage on KQED’s Independent
Lens, didn’t make this blog’s printed record. So I will try to rectify.

Facebook messages have been warm, loving, nostalgic and Carol Egan managed
to post a coaching session of Verdy against the background of the Opera in
Paris that is captivating, judicious and clearly supportive.

I remember her coming to San Francisco as a guest artist on two occasions
when I was still a correspondent for Dance News. The first was
when Kimiko Sugano supported her appearance with Edward Villella for a
Pacific Ballet season when Alan Howard was artistic director. I was invited to a pre-performance gathering and was introduced to Verdy who appeared to have read my 1000 word columns in that departed dance journal. I have forgotten how the conversation progressed but I remember expressing my irritation over Maurice Bejart’s use of the opening sequence in a Bharata Natyam concert for an elaborate, sexy exposition which showcased Suzanne Farrell. Verdy smiled with understanding and said, “Ah yes, Maurice is clever but he ia a plagerist.” I could have hugged her, for her appraisal was spot on and, of course, she agreed with me. Violette Verdy!

The next time she appeared was when San Francisco Ballet had a season at
the Palace of Fine Arts, just before Michael Smuin came back from American
Ballet Theatre. At the opening , Verdy danced The Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,; I can remember where I was sitting for her final movements came downstage on the diagonal. There was the crispness within the lyricism, the Gallic inflection punctuating the music and the correctness of the canon.


Words on Dance Celebrates Edward Villella

30 Oct

Deborah Kaufman, who started Words on Dance two decades ago, invited Sarah Kaufman, the Pulitzer Prize dance critic for The Washington Post [and its second dance critic award, following the late Alan Kriegsman] to interview Edward Villella for its Monday, October 27 event at ODC’s Theatre at 17th and Shotwell, San Francisco. Villella had taught class at City Ballet School the previous Saturday and there was a reception in his honor the same weekend. The three page notes for the occasion mentioned this was Villella’s fifth appearance for Words on Dance.

Words on Dance typically shows film snippets of the artist, interspersed with the interviewer querying the interviewee. Operation Villella was no exception, and it enjoyed the added section of his 1997 Award Footage at the Kennedy Center, plus three or four separate filmed comments by Jacques d’Amboise, Robert La Fosse and Jock Soto regarding various aspects of Villella’s impact on the U.S. male ballet dancer scene, his artistry and being a member of the same company.

Nine different screenings were preceded by appropriate queries and comments. In addition to the Kennedy Center screening, the Villella solos from Balanchine’s Apollo and Tchaikovsky pas de deux demonstrated his intense kinesthetic impact, and his presence as Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Villella recounted how the great teacher Stanley Williams provided him with the gesture from which he was able to convey the kingly quality of the elusive summer spirit.

Villella, whose degree in Marine Transportation must also have provided him with some training in analysis, repeated some of the wonderful comments he shared at a lunch at the Tenth USA IBC event in Jackson, Mississippi this past June where he appeared carefully while convalescing with pneumonia. Most of these included the image Balanchine provided to him of Byzantine icons for Prodigal Son and his own realization that the ballet’s style was heavily influenced by the Russian constructive art movement of the early twentieth century. The screening for this was provided by snippets from the 2014 Joffrey Ballet production for which he supplied crucial coaching. From the looks of it, the production was far more stream-lined physically than the images I remembered from the early NYC Ballet productions [I saw Jerome Robbins n the role] and even the seasons when it was included in San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire.

Kaufman asked him about ballerinas, and Villella confined himself to two comments. He extolled Patricia McBride with whom he was frequently featured and told the story of having one dancer counting out loud wrong timing in the finale of Agon.

Perhaps the comments I enjoyed most came from Villella’s observations about Rubies, the middle section of Balanchine’s three-part work, Jewels. He said he realized that it was all about race horses, with the woman as the filly and him as the jockey, reinforced by the four men and the tall woman the other part of Rubies.

The final ballet screening featured Miami City Ballet in Villella’s 2009 production of Symphony in Three Movements. Shot from a distance, the company he directed for twenty-five years looked precision-perfect. Villella was asked during the question and answer period about his experience with Miami City Ballet; he commented on the challenges of working with a small budget with ballet supporters less than familiar with the ballet world, but clearly anxious to display that special sheen in Miami.

He said, “I looked for talent because technique could be acquired.” Those of us attending previous Jackson Competitions knew Villella would appear during Round III. More than one dancer from that final cut found themselves dancing in Miami, including dimunitive Chinese ballerina, Wu Haiyan, gold medalist in 2002 now with her own school in Portland, Oregon and Katia Carranza, a bronze medalist now with Ballet de Monterrey, Mexico. They danced as Miami City Ballet principals.

Villella’s staging of Reveries for the Ice Theater New York and his scene with
Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in The Odd Couple completed the program.

Part of a responsive audience shy of the SRO category were Helgi and Marlene Tomasson, Dennis Nahat, John Gebertz and Kristine Elliott, plus San Francisco Ballet principals Matilde Froustey and Luke Ingham..

2014 USAIBC Results, June 27, 2014

20 Aug

These comments will see the website not quire two months following the announcement of winners for the 2014 USAIBC Competition. In thirty-five years technology has devastated “scoops”, Facebook and YouTube almost decreeing “sayonara” to ritual and decorum.

The IBC Staff, Jurors, finalists, seeded dancers, coaches, press, family, friends and IBC volunteers gathered on the Mezzanine to learn the results of 8 sessions of Round I, 3 sessions each of Rounds II and III. Vicki Blake Harper, a six- competition press and public relations veteran, had managed to print the three page announcement to supply the press with the data.

The third page was nearly full listing scholarships and positions with junior companies of U.S. companies before the perfunctory notice of the Gala, and statements by Edward Villella, Jury Chair, and Sue Lobrano, Executive Director.

Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet offered full scholarships for 2015 Summer Intensive to Blake Kessler, Matthew Griffin; from the People’s Republic of China Taiyu He and Yue Shi plus Gustavo Carvalho from Brasil. Griffin, He, Shi and Carvalho are also designated to continue into the Joffrey Studio Company.

The Joffrey also offered positions in the Joffrey Company for the 2015-2016 season to the Koreans Dae Han Na and Jeong Hansol. The two Koreans are still students, Dae Han Na of Korea National University of Art, Jeong Hansol of Sejong University.

Trainee and company contracts, 2014-2015, have been offered by Ballet West to semi-finalist Anita Sineral-Scott, U.S.A; Makenzie Richter, U.S.A. with Houston Ballet’s Second Company; Texas Ballet Theater to semi-finalist Paula Alves, Brazil; Memphis Ballet offered Matthew Griffin, U.S. a trainee position for 2014-2015.

Matthew Griffin also garnered a full tuition scholarship for Colorado Ballet’s 2015 Summer intensive and a one-season contract with Columbia City Ballet.

Gisele Bethea, U.S.A., has been offered a full scholarship and stipend for the fall 2014 and a Studio Company position, Spring 2015 with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre.

Finally, Olga Marchenkova and Ilya Artamonov, Bolshoi Ballet dancers from Russia, are invited to dance leading roles in South Mississippi Ballet’s 2014-2015 production of The Sleeping Beauty.

In all, these opportunities count as much as the following awards:
Robert Joffrey Award of Merit: Daniel Alejandro McCormick-Quintero, representing Mexico, but a student at San Francisco Ballet School,$1,000.

Jury Award of Encouragement, Female: Romina Contreras from Chile, $500.

Jury Award of Encouragement, Male: Yue Shi, People’s Republic of China, $500.

The Choreographic Award went to Nicholas Blanc for Rendez-vous, danced by finalist Aaron Smyth, Australia. Both Blanc and Smyth are affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet, Blanc a former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, then ballet master with the Royal Scottish Ballet before assuming the same position with the Joffrey Ballet. The Award brings with it $2,500.00

For the Best Couple Awards, the Junior went to Yasmin Lomondo and Gustavo Carvalho of Brazil; scarcely surprising since they were the sole couple participating throughout in the junior division, courteous and attentive as well as exact and musical. Both receive $1,000 each. The Senior Best Couple were
from Korea, Ji-Seok Ha and Ga-yeon Jung.

Announcement of Medals start with the Bronzes. The Jury is permitted to award two Bronzes and two Silvers for either men or women and this occurred amongst the Junior Women’s Bronze, the Men’s Bronze, the Women’s Senior Silver. The list went as follows:

Junior Women Bronze: Yasmin Lomondo, Brazil and Paulina Guraieb Abella, Mexico, each $1,500.

Junior Men’s Bronze, Gustavo Carvalho, Brazil, $1,000.

Junior Women’s Silver, MacKenzie Richter, U.S.A., $3,000.

Junior Women’s Gold, Gisela Bethea, U.S.A., $5,000.

In the Senior Division, the Awards lined up as follows:

Senior Women Bronze: Ga-Yeong Jung, Korea, $3,000

Senior Men’s Bronze: Aaron Smyth, Australia and Ivan Duarte, Brazil, each $3,000.

Senior Women’s Silver: Irina Sapozhnikova, Russia, and Tamako Miyazaki, Japan, each $5,000.

Senior Men’s Silver: Byul Yun, Korea, $5,000.

Senior Women’s Gold: Shiori Kase, Japan, $8,000

Senior Men’s Gold: Jeong Hansol, Korea, $8,000.

Missing from this roster were some dancers I liked enormously but who apparently took too much liberty in their classical variations. Jurors, enjoying coaching lineages stretching back almost to the time the classical repertoire was being established at the Maryinsky and Bolshoi Theatres in St. Petersburg and Moscow, or managed to acquire similar guidelines through migrating teachers or lengthy observation, pick up on such deviations. Generalized performances may permit such liberties; competitions do not and should not. As a result, one or two riveting dancers remained in the finalist category and the anguish was apparent
on their faces as the press conference terminated.

Adding my own opinion, there were several dancers already dancing with ensembles or companies. Beyond the requirements in classical variations, the professional rigors gave those competitors an edge in sheer performing skills; in the instance of the senior women it definitely showed. One or two other dancers revealed growing pains amongst the jurors manifesting such physical adjustments in degrees of reticence.

At the Gala, the medalists achieving gold status will dance twice, one classical variation and their contemporary selection.

2014 USA IBC More on Round II Choreographic Selections

14 Jul

For the Press Briefing Monday morning, June 23 at Jackson’s Clarion Ledger, jury chair Edward Villella explained the raison d’etre for assigned choreographic selections seen during Round II’s three sessions. As artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, Villella came regularly to Round III and the Gala of prior Competitions; in some instances to Round II also, which up to and including 2010 this round was a choreographic free-for-all. The pieces were either choreographed by the contestants or created by their teachers. Even with restrictions when the works had been created, few, if any, contestants chose a work in company repertoires, although the 1979 Competition enjoyed a Lew Christensen solo from Scarlatti Portfolio, danced by David McNaughton, and possibly others from European repertoire. In subsequent years, some European contestants utilized dances created for other competitions to demonstrate interpretive versatility.

Villella stated he was not impressed by most Round II selections; well he might. In addition to cavorting to pop tunes, some costumes flirted with nudity, a foretaste of the shorts-wearing teen-age students attending this year’s International Ballet School; shorts frequently seemed to be the garment of choice at performances and some social functions usually considered somewhat formal. Though not quite a prude, the sessions made me wonder about the future of the art and the mind-set of some contestants. What a dichotomy when romantic tutus are in a ballet company’s standard repertoire!

Villella mentioned, when approached for the job of jury chair, he expressed his desire to see works by contemporary choreographers which would challenge the dancers, maintain technical skill and foster evidence of individual interpretation. Chosen for this task were works from Trey McIntyre for solos, two for the men, two for the women, one each in the junior and senior categories, two pas de deux by Michael Neenan for seniors and one for the juniors. The costumes also were specified, simple, undistracted by sequins or ruffles.
McIntyre’s choreography, one of the more off-beat of current choreographers, used excerpts from Bad Winter and Leatherwing Bat, which, not seeing the full ballet, says nothing about the charm of the music. Bad Winter employed a vintage-sounding vocal by Steven Tracy of “Pennies from Heaven” for junior women and the delightful Peter, Paul and Mary folk tune, “Leatherwing Bat” for the junior men.

For the senior males, McIntyre selected Book Trio music from Henry Cowell’s Book Trio “Four Combinations for Three Instruments and Trio in Nine Short Movements” under the title (serious.) The senior women got an excerpt from Robust American Love, “A Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” performed by Fleet Foxes.

Michael Neenan’s selections included a ‘Thirties style pas de deux from Penumbra to music by Alberto Ginastra, and a Switch Phase excerpt by “Café Tacuba” from Brooklyn Rider’s Passport album, a selection of angst and tension. The sole junior pas de deux, The Last Glass excerpt, Beirut’s “Un Dernier Verre” but sung in English was suitably gentler. `

Seen once, the choices allowed audience and jurors to assess the competitors’ interpretive abilities. Over the three sessions, this decision manifested wisely, the interpretative edge going to dancers familiar with American predilections for lyrics or dramatic tension. I remember most junior selections and the pas de deux, the senior women’s selection dimmer in my impression. Seniors numbered twenty-three, juniors twenty-one, with twelve senior pas de deux, only six for the juniors. Fifteen juniors danced solos, eleven seniors performed alone.

The Last Glass, the junior pas de deux, featured the girl frequently with her back to the audience, once or twice in broad a la seconde en pointe spider-like in movement, lifted, dancing pirouettes; in the end en pointe, back to the audience, right foot beating delicately on the calf of the supporting left leg, to convey, apparently, the fluttering response of reciprocated young love. Of the juniors, just two junior Brasilians, Yasmin Lamondo and Gustavo Carvalho, danced this pas together into the finalist category. Romina Contreras of Chile, with a senior partner, also made the cut from this pas de deux. The remaining junior males interpreted Leatherwing Bat and the junior women Bad Winter.

For Bad Winter the junior women were required to wear black trunks, a striped stretch tunic covered over by an exaggerated white jacket with wide lapels and lengthy tie-like closing. Standing stage center-back, the dancer started to edge forward foot parallel to the stage, three such movements before the reedy rendition began. The body moves to face back, arms raised to make an incomplete square; some not-quite pirouettes follow before the words “Pennies from Heaven” are heard. There is a jaunty salute and one starts to think “Charlie Chaplin” or “Danny Kaye” as the dancer rolls on the floor under the admonition of not being under a tree. There is another movement upstage, some demi-pointe pirouettes before the dancer lifts the white front tails above her head, falls on her back and lifts her feet as the lights are cut.

Likewise, in Leatherwing Bat, the young men had an elaborate jacket, multi-colored, perhaps the several-hued wings of a parrot, in white tights, lifted their arms like wings, moved the forearm sometimes like semi fores, head twitched bird like, sidewise body lunges, some technical bravura in service to the quirky, occasionally rhyming, bird specie litany, the slightly bouncy rhythm seeping into the pulse. It was one of McIntyre appealing folk themes, easy to appreciate, the men’s interpretive grasp equally clear.

(serious), the McIntyre selection for senior male soloists, combined precision of execution, unexpected gestures in unexpected postures with beautiful, classical movement erupting from the quirky sections. From upstage center, the dancer stood, extended their arms, inspected their hands bending forward, wrapping them around legs in a la seconde, head and body, apprehensive of being followed. The movement heads downstage right, crosses over to mid-stage right, small inflections interspersed with turns and semi-crouching steps. At the finale, the dancer falls to his knees, and falls between the curtains. Interpretation ranged from the totally precise of China’s Mengjun Chen to the controlled frenzy of Ivan Duarte from Brazil.

Matthew Neenan’s pas de deux were easily understood. After all, the two dancers need to react to each other; that necessity alone helps assessing interpretive strength. Combined with steps and music, it provides an accurate appraisal of range. The excerpt from Penumbra, danced by six couples, specified the women wear a floor-length skirt but allowed the women to choose, red, mauve, filmy tulle and uneven-length black. In contrast to Switch Phase, emotional controversy was comparatively minor, though the woman drags herself across the stage to grasp her partner’s legs toward the end, after having lain prone with the suggestion of completed love making. There was a spectacular lift and a startling head-first drop of the woman; in the end man and woman have embraced.

Switch Phase is stormy and the man gets as good as he gives; they turn, head touching head; there is one magical moment when the pair touch each other’s forefingers moving from hip to chest before going into other movements, signaling a cautious recognition of the other’s separate being requiring respect. After the lifts, or supported arabesques, there is upright, body-to-body contact and resolution. Phrasing again was the key to the effectiveness of each presentation. Melissa Gelfin, USA, and Arianna Martin, Cuba, gave distinguished interpretations as did Aaron Smyth.

These three sessions, replete with excitement; revealed the choreography as choices, physical forms of understanding over technical competence. The thirty-one finalists were the result.

N.B. The above was written during the Competition; the prior entry on Round II was written in San Francisco

The Three Fellas: David, Richard and Todd

13 Jul

The three fellas, David, Richard and Todd, are photographic muskateers; all three were at Jackson in June, 2014 for the fifth time; alphabetically David Andrews, Richard Finkelstein, Todd Lechtick. The three are admittedly bonkers on dance and particularly ballet. Finkelstein and Lechtick are now official photographers for the USA IBC since Hubert Worley resigned from the position. Initially, all three came from the Rockies and Los Angeles.

Finkelstein, a theatre designer in his other life, three years with the University of Colorado, now resides in Harrisburg, Virginia where he teaches theatre deisign at James Madison Unniversity. Lechtick spends working hours at a University of California, Los Angeles affiliated clinic as a medical technician, and David Andrews runs a radio business near Denver. Andrews is the only one of the three who has yet to build himself a web-site. Finkelstein and Lechtick have image and bio-filled websites well worth visiting.

Because they float in and out of the press room, or linger to exclaim over a recent shoot, comment on the dancers, compare notes on cameras or check the roster of events, they have become part of the intrinsic ambiance of a Jackson Competition for me; I would sorely miss their absence. Richard and Todd verge on being Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee is size, Richard the one with glasses; David Andrews flirts with Beanstalk height.

Brief exchanges with them vary. Richard and Todd extolled two competitors’ classes taught by juror Nina Ananiasvili, one of the 1985 Prix de Jackson winners, now artistic director of the Georgian National Ballet after a career including lauded appearances with American Ballet Theatre. Todd’s website includes his images of her teaching. After the first class, substituting for jury chair Edward Villella, who was diagnosed with pneumonia, Olga Smoak murmured with awe, “She was channeling Raissa Strutchkova, her coach.” Richard said he had never seen or heard anyone teaching so firmly in such a positive, accepting manner. Todd’s images, taking during the second competitor class, show her dancing full out at moments. Moments like those make the raison d’etre for their showing up every four years, to spend inordinate hours recording social events, classes at the International School, in addition to performances. Thrifty USA IBC administration gets full value; Richard shows up each competition with photographic reproduction equipment he makes available, gratis, for what he produces. He provided images for me when I was reporting for the British web-site ballet.co.

Richard and Todd were housed at Cabot Lodge, courtesy of the Competition. Richard was seen trudging out the automatic doors at 7 a.m. to process pictures, Todd not much later. Every evening Richard had a handsome still image of a dancer on view in Thalia Mara’s foyer, and possibly a dozen or two more to interest the dancers.

David’s contributions have been quieter, still important. Until this year when the organizers changed procedures, he could be counted on to hand out tickets to the International School student, sitting in Belhaven’s Student Lounge, or chatting with Claudia Shaw at the table where a video monitor screened the official video record from the night before. David and Todd could be found at Belhaven’s cafeterias at noontime. For Richard, it was a hamburger at the Lamar, where I remember the late, wonderful Patrick O’Connor, responsible for getting Edwin Denby’s reviews into their first book form, exclaiming over the vigor of Yannis Pakieris. sharing the men’s silver with David McNaughton in 1979, Jackson’s first competition.

Todd recorded three lunches sponsored by USA IBC, the first on Dance for Parkinson’s Patients; the second on George Balanchine; the third on Women in Ballet with the 2014 women jurors. The words “special,” “privileged;” mean something to him. After years photographing around Los Angeles, helping Dwight Grell with his noted collection of Russian ballet material, Yvonne Mounsey paid for Todd’s initial airfare to Jackson as thanks for his devotion to her school. “She knew I was doing this primarily for the love of the art.”

David is more laid back about his photography; that doesn’t mean he’s less involved. Back in Colorado he photographs the Colorado Ballet and many recitals. “The fathers seem to have taken over,” he observed about the drop in copies of what he videotapes in the Denver area. He drives from Denver to Jackson; until this year, stayed in one of the rooms at Caldwell Hall made available to Competition lovers. This year he holed up at the King Edward Hotel, run by the Hilton Hotels, known as the Hilton Garden Inn, remarking laconically about the valet charges for his car and the fact he didn’t really notice the sound of the trains that passed his window at least once a day. He taped the second Ananiasvili class; I look forward to the historic record.

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.

USA IBC’S #10 Coming Up

17 Apr

The USA International Ballet Competition Number 10 is scheduled for June 14-28. It will be a first for Edward Villella as the jury chair, the final competition for Executive Director Sue Lobrano who has guided the Jackson, Mississippi event since the fall of 1986 when Karlen Bain relinquished direction because her husband’s job took him out of state.

This year 109 candidates have been invited from 21 countries; 48 juniors, ages 5-18, 61 seniors, ages 19-26. Sixty-one dancers are from the United States, eighteen from Japan and fourteen from Brazil.

Latin American juniors will represent Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru; People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are sending competitors, plus South Africa and Switzerland. Amongst the seniors additional dancers are listed coming from Cuba, Colombia and Panama. Seniors are arriving from Australia, France, Poland and Portugal. Asia will be further represented by Mongolia and the Philippines, and from the Russian Federation add to the countries listed as sending junior hopefuls.

Among the senior competitors will be Mario Vitale Labrador, originally from Alameda, California, one-time dancer with Oakland Ballet who attended the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and upon graduation was given a soloist contract with the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Labrador was awarded the George Zoritch Prize at the April Arabesque Competition in Perm, Russia. San Francisco Ballet School will be represented by Daniel McCormick, level seven, as a junior entry.

Determining who would be invited were Adam Sklute, artistic director, Ballet West; Virginia Johnson, artistic director, Dance Theatre of Harlem; Megaly Suarez, former teacher at Cuba’s National Ballet School, now artistic director, Florida Classical Ballet. The trio reviewed all tapes submitted by entrants, selecting 109 candidates. It’s also possible there will be last minute drop outs.

The jurors represent Australia, Canada, China, Georgia, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and Spain and United States, Chair Edward Villella.

John Meehan, Dance Chair, Vassar College, represents Australia following a career with American Ballet Theatre; Andre Lewis, artistic director, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canada; Feng Ying, artistic director, National Ballet of China; Nina Ananiashvili, artistic director,State Ballet of Georgia; Gigi Hyatt, deputy director, Hamburg Ballet School, Germany; Hideo Fukagawa, former principal, Munich State Opera Ballet, choreographer, Japan; Hae Shik Kim, founding director, Dance Conservatory, Korean National University of Arts; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, Joffrey Ballet, United Kingdom; Alexei Fadeechev, artistic director, Stars of the Russian Ballet Festival, Russian Federation; Trinidad Vives, former co-director Houston Ballet, Artistic Associate, Boston Ballet, Spain. John Meehan, Hideo Fukugawa and Hae Shik Kim have served previously as Jackson jurors.

It also should be noted Gigi Hyatt was junior gold medalist at Jackson in 1982; Nina Ananiashvili shared the 1986 Competition’s highest award, Prix de Jackson, with Andrus Liepa.

For anyone following ballet from Competition to Competition, jury, hosts, teachers comprise a who’s who in the international dance world, an intense brew with the competition rigors;an incredible sachedule of rehearsal space, production rehearsals, the steady progression of sessions. Round I starts the Sunday morning following the opening entry of the competitors bearing the flags of their respective countries. Jurors, teachers, host and hostess are introduced, the flame is lit to burn in front of Thalia Mara Auditorium throughout the two-week marathon of dance. The opening ceremony is completed by an invited dance company; this year it’s Complexions.

The Competition has carefully calibrated how many competitors it can handle within the length of any given slot in a program, starting with the juniors and progressing to seniors. The competitors have drawn numbers for order of appearance; sometimes a couple will have widely divergent numbers.Round I requires either two variations or a pas de deux by a couple, whether junior or senior; in some instances the partner will be non-competing. After Round I’s winnowing, the eliminated have the choice to remain as the competition’s guests, taking classes, and participating in a large ensemble presentation created by a choreographer to open the Gala. This practice was inaugurated by Dennis Nahat, active at several competitions.

Another gracious gesture by the Competition organizers, now for third or fourth time, are two evaluators. These two individuals take the jurors’ scores and comments and if competitors eliminated want to know, the evaluators will discuss the jurors’ comments with the dancer. The two this year are Ravenna Tucker, former Adeline Genee, Prix de Lausanne winner and Royal Ballet principal, now Associate Professor of Dance, Bellhaven University; William Starrett, Joffrey Ballet dancer, Bronze Medalist, Jackson, 1979; Artistic Director, Columbia City Ballet.

Round II, devoted to contemporary work, makes choreographers eligible for a prize. Some remarkable choreography has been displayed. I fondly remember Lew Christensen’s solo of Harlequin received a bronze medal in 1979, danced by David MacNaughton, awarded the senior men’s silver medal, the gold given to the late Lubomir Kafka, Czechoslovakia.

Round III means back to the classics; if precedent follows, another contemporary piece.For a soloist, it means two classical variations again and another contemporary piece. At the last two competitions each finalist was given a cash award of $1,000 from a fund established for that purpose by a Jackson devotee of dance.

Guiding the sessions will be Wes Chapman and Susan Jaffe, former principals with American Ballet Theatre, serving as host and hostess.

Finally, the International Ballet School Faculty is comprised of several returning instructors, and former Jackson competitors. Tatiana Tchernova, affiliated with the National Ballet of Canada returns as well as Rhoda Jorgenson, one-time dancer with American Ballet Theatre and The Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, now with Maryland Youth Ballet; veteran teacher at the USAIBC Marcus Alford, once affiliated with Gus Giordano, Atlanta’s jazz master; he will be joined by Meaghan McHale. Contemporary dance is represented by Rachel Leonard and Ashley Walton, university graduates moving from classical training into modern work. Aside from Tchernova, ballet instruction will be given by David Kearny, one-time New York City Ballet member,joining Natalia Makarova’s Makarova and Company.

The two ballet teachers will be joined former former USAIBC competitors Ana Lobe, dancing with Jose Manuel Carreno in 1990. After Ivan Nagy invited her to join the English National Ballet, she danced briefly with Ballet Mississippi before Dennis Nahat engaged her for the Cleveland-San JOse Ballet Company. The second, Laurie Anderson, was Houston Ballet’s first African-American principal dancer, nurtured by Ben Stevenson, partnered by Carlos Acosta. Following a twenty-four year dancing career Anderson is active in Houston Ballet’s education arm, teaching ballet and conducting master classes.

One-time Joffrey dancer Lisa Slagle will be complete the ballet instructor list along with Jerry Opdenaker, former member of Pennsylvania and Kansas City Ballets, now resident in West Palm Beach. Slagle danced with the Tulsa Ballet before starting her own school in the Dallas area.

Along with heat, occasional thunderstorms, and all the incredible logistics, the 10th USA IBC is an exciting dance event to anticipate.