Tag Archives: Lubomir Kafka

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.


Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy IV

12 Feb

Boieru and Vu An both both distinguished themselves with personality variations created by Maurice Bejart.  Boieru’s technique, pushed to the point of wobbling,  was out of practice in dancing classical repertoire.  Vu An brought form, intensity and his cool precision to a variation from Bahkti, Bejart’s questionable pastiche  version of Hindu iconography and philosophy, mutilating traditional Indian dance repertoire and form.  None the wiser for the cultural desecration, the Stockton audience cheered Vu An’s rendition.

Raffa and Bahiri lent a very Mediterranean warmth to Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  Theirs was an easy elegance and musicality, nurtured by their backgrounds of Algeria, Sicily and Naples, reminding one that some of the early ballet greats were southern Italian in origin.  They skimmed easily across the Marley flooring strips, turning and completing like well-oiled, elegantly constructed tops, pulled and retracted by the musical phrases stringing their steps along time.  Similar ease and understatement was exhibited later in the Kafka-Kurova rendition of La Fille Mal Gardee, an ease deception of the hours of construction and labor, so carefully framed by the technique that it seemed naturally inevitable.

Ballet sometimes seemed to have been made for little girls.  Certain this one performance proclaimed that cliche.  Above and beyond the enthusiasm of the adult audience, the clutch of girls, obviously Dorothy’s pupils, look alikes with long straight filly manes of hair, dresses flouncing a little. Mary Jane shoes, white stockings over sturdy calf and thigh muscles, already showing the effects of ballet barre discipline induced a whisper of moisture in my remembering eyes.

For the finale, Bahiri has just completed his solo variation in Corsaire, the staple made international first by Rudolph Nureyev and now standard competition fare.  Jung, in blue velvet etched with gold braid, had taken her position en pointe and started her variation. Suddenly total BLACKOUT!

An announcement quickly followed ” There has been a total power failure.  Would the audience please leave the auditorium as quickly as possible by the nearest exit.”

The audience complied, rapidly, orderly.  I made my way against the stream of bodies backstage to find Olga, standing calm but stricken, in her yellow silk pant suit.  With the aid of a small pocket flash fished out of my knitting bag, the dancers crept down the stairs to the basement dressing rooms and green carpet area.  They sat mute, expressionless, on the carpet in a near circle while the technicians worked to restore the power.  In less than fifteen minutes the  lights were on again, and some audience stalwarts had returned to their seats.

But fearing injury, the performance did not resume.  Visibly shaken, Dorothy brought the seven soloists on stage, explaining to the audience why it was impossible to ask the dancers to complete Corsaire.  The roses were distributed, the fans applauded and cheered despite the unexpected close to a glorious exposition of classical ballet.

Direction and arrangements were given for tomorrow’s transportation; borrowed tunics were retrieved; plans confirmed for a Sunday evening supper in San Francisco, and an exodus made for the final party near the Stockton Marina.  The power failure had induced a patron to guarantee a new lighting system for the Theatre.

The party consisted of pastry puffs filled with sea food and scallops quickly demolished, virtually gone by the time the dancers reached the party.  Vu An was the first to depart since he, Raffa, Bahiri and Boieru were scheduled to leave San Francisco before noon for New York City.  Dressed like an international preppy, Vu An might have inspired Cole Porter lyrics or inhabited a Noel Coward stage set, rather than the sweat and exertion of Petipa, Lander and Bejart choreography.

In the flat midnight chill that crept up around my ankles from the river at the Stockton Marina, any balletic Cinderella would have treasured pumpkins after a night’s exposure to those four dancing princes.  Olga and Dorothy had conspired to bring that magical story alive.

The only dance review related to that memorable gala was published in the March, 1983 issue of Dance News, an issue which proved to be the journal’s swan song.

Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy – II

12 Feb

When my turn arrived to question the Russian visitor, Gennadi looked at me and the surrounding scene behind long lashes and a smile worthy of de Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  His answers were translated to me by Olga and George.  Gennadi kept on smiling at me.  This was an interview?

The matinee hour loomed close.  We trooped back to the car after short, swipe-like forays in the nearby women and men’s clothing store before climbing into the car. “Don’t let him see too much, ” groaned Olga.  “He didn’t take much money out of Russia, only $15.”  [Olga later said this was standard Soviety practice before glosnost.]  The energies bounding around struck me like a wind instrumental ensemble, a counterpoint to my own lugubrious tones, heaving like the umpha-pah of a tuba.  Olga was the fife with a ceaseless supply of oxygen, Marda’s qualified for the piccolo pitch while George and Gennadi supplied the more mellow tones of oboe and bassoon.

During Round III, after the excitement around the defection of Lin Jian-Wei, the Shanghai-trained dancer, Olga stopped me in the aisle and asked if I would be willing to program Gennadi during his San Francisco visit.  Would I?  In that setting and with such a prelude, it reverberated like an imperial summons, with all the balletic mystique one could possibly conjure.

So Gennadi came, and stayed at the flat and was escorted around by Thelwall Proctor, professor of Russian at Humboldt State University.  Gennadi visited Anatole Vilzak at San Francisco Ballet, still out on 18th Avenue,where Vilzak gave him his graduation certificate from the Imperial Ballet School on Theatre Street;  Gennadi took the certificate with him to Nuvosibersk  for the Guild and Museum he had fostered there.  And ultimately he departed.

Labor Day weekend came a cheerily-voiced phone call.  The voice warbled over the telephone, “Renee, it’s Olga!”  She announced an international roster of seven competition winners would dance in November in Stockton.

Stockton? Yes, Stockton.  Stockton, California, home of the original Caterpillar Tractor Company; Sperry “Drifted Snow” flour; the first state hospital, an asylum for the insane George Shima, the Potato King, whose engineering efforts reclaimed so much  Delta land for agriculture from the swamps, land reclaimed that he could not own because he was Japanese-born.  Stockton, the first major American settlement of  Sikhs from the Punjab in India.  It was the Sikh presence which was responsible for changing the name of the Japanese Exclusion League to the Asian Exclusion League.

Enter Dorothy Percival, Stockton’s raison d’etre for the forthcoming galaxy gathering, and another redoubtable lady in dance.  Artistic Director of the San Joaquin Concert Ballet Association, member of the Pacific Regional Ballet Association,  Dorothy possessed a braid sometimes hanging down her back, making me think of the  Bird Woman of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, without whom those explorers would never have made it to the Pacific Ocean.  Whether or not Dorothy was part Indian, she was in spirit a Sackajaweah, and she could bird dog an idea into reality with equally persistent energy.  Straight-faced, forthright, a woman remarkably open and unpretentious, tempting one to strew flowers in celebration.

Dorothy, in my memory, proceeded from loving. She nurtured, involved and fostered more talent than was easily enumerated, and from atypical ballet body types and ages.  The expression emerged, however, for Dorothy had the remarkable gift of being alert to the best, and finding it without turning her back or closing the door on anyone.  With a skill born only from a surpassing devotion, Dorothy put them all to work, purposefully, providing that all-important climate where the young, vulnerable, aspiring, the dreamer was permitted to get to together, decide their direction, labor and ultimately go forth.  In my memory, with the final summation of talent required of such nurturing, Dorothy knew when, how and why to let the fostered to, to release them without clutching, without tears.  There may be naysayers to this evaluation written some thirty years ago, but I was never aware of it.

The seven dancers Olga and Dorothy collected had accumulated awards in junior and senior individuals, numbered thirty.  A few special dance award and national citations were also added.  European commitments between  September and November changed the personae, but the line remained international, both exciting and impressive.  It included Medhi Bahiri, Algeria; Marin Boieru, Roumania; Claudia Jung, Germany; Lubomir Kafka and Jana Kurova, Czechoslovakia; Nancy Raffa, U.S.A.; Eric Vu An, France.  The Stockton International Awards Gala was the U.S. debut for Jung and Vu An.

The list included a clutch of Prix du Lausanne winders: Bahiri; Kurova; Raffa.  Bahiri, Boieru, Jung, Kafka , Kurkova and Vu An ad earned medals at Varna , Bulgaria where the jet-ago phenomenon had fostered the first International Competition in 1953. Boieru and Jung won medals at Moscow, the Czechs in Tokyo. Boieru enjoyed the additional distinction of having partnered the Italian ballerina Carla Fracci. Equally staggering were the roster of companies the dancers represented: Basle, Switzerand; Bejarts Ballet of the Twentieth Century; Ballet West; Boston Ballet; Dusseldorf Opera, Germany; National Ballet of Prague; American Ballet Theatre; Pennsylvania Ballet; l”Opera de Paris where Louis XIV’s passion for ballet had enjoyed its first subsidized home.

The dancers were gathered by their facility for winning and with Olga’s specialty, handling talented dancers, who were in some way Russian-trained. They had not performed together prior to their Stockton arrival five days prior to the Gala and most had not seen each other dance.  The original performance, scheduled for November 5, would have enabled another appearance in southern California to defray their air travel expense.  An unavoidable delay meant that Dorothy and the San Joaquin Concert Ballet had to go the financing alone.  That was asking a lot for a valley town for a one-shot performance in the 1982 economy.  Characteristically, however, Dorothy remarked while talking in the pre performance hush, “If you don’t risk once in a while, you never get anywhere!”

Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy Get It Together

11 Feb

In my endless quest to clean out decades of paper accumulated, I came across  something from 1982,  a time before e-mail, I-Phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The story was submitted to a local newspaper but was rejected.  But since the tale is rooted in dance history and fact, I want to send it out with my own chuckles at the memory.  So here goes.

Where Olga Smoak is involved, where does one begin?  Knowing her is a tornado, pleasant variety, intense, an artistic typhoon all her very own. My knowledge of Olga Smoak began at Jackson’s First International Ballet Competition, 1979.  She hovered around the Czech entrants, Jana Kurova and Lubomir Kafka, medalists at Varna, Bulgaria, Tokyo and Prague.  They won the silver and gold medals in the senior women and men’s division at Jackson with an additional prize as best partners in the senior division.

The gossip from the Competition was that this energetic, slender, tiny-boned woman from Panama, with her sharp-nosed oval face was not only their interpreter, but the wife of the Czech juror, Pavel Smok.  The different spelling went unnoticed in the heat and steam excitement at that first competition in Jackson, partly because no one wanted to investigate, partly because there was no reason for anything official to bear Olga’s name at the time, nor the fact that this Vassar graduate listed New Orleans, Louisiana as her home and base of operations.

Everything may have appeared arranged.  Jana and Lubomir lived apart from the other contestants at the International Village at Millsaps College, where San Francisco Ballet entrants David McNaughton, Dennis Marshal and Laurie Cowden were housed.  No one took into consideration the list of awards Jana had acquired, including the famous Prix de Lausanne for aspiring dancers up to age 19.  Lubomir Kafka already had a reputation having been featured prominently in the Princess Grace-narrated documentary Theatre Street.  It seemed natural that the Russian-speaking wife of the Czech juror make herself useful while her spouse was out front on official jury business.  Finish memory, Olga Smoak, 1979.

Enter 1982 and Jackson’s Second International Ballet Competition.  The management was different, the publicists were different and a string of advisers was present providing an emphasis on the regional ballet training in the United States with regional preliminaries; a few of us were present at the Competition for the second time. This 1982 format was a precursory for what is now standard for The Youth America Grand Prix competitions.

Marda Burton, Mississippi belle and stringer for UPI, and I had lunch with Ben and Estelle Sommers.  Ben, “Mr. Capezio”, started his theatre business career at 14 as delivery boy for Salvatore Capezio, toting shoes over to Florenz Ziegfeld and his Follies. In 1982 Ben was a special honored guest at the Competition  along with Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Eudora Welty.  Estelle was co-chairing the Competition with Richard Englund of American Ballet Theatre II.  Ben and Estelle mentioned a Russian had made it to the Competition as a personal guest of Robert Joffrey and William Leighton, Mississippi Ballet International’s Executive Director.  Marda smelled a feature, and I evinced a mild curiosity since my assignment required I focus on the Houston entrants who emerged spectacularly with six prizes.

At the matinee intermission, Estelle, who had to be the Perle Mesta of the dance world, introduced Marda and me to the sandy-haired, grave-faced Gennadi Alferenko, still a trifle woosey from more than twenty-four houses on successive Aeroflot and American Airlines jets.  We smiled at each other, our first meeting with a Russian from Siberia.  Nineteenth Century Russian novels and their mindset did a double take when focused on this slender stranger from an area commonly considered exile, punishment, the back of beyond.

Since the distractions of Round I and the milling in the auditorium aisle were scarcely the ambiance for an interview I suggested lunch.  My American Express charge slip, saved in memory, reads Scroodges.  The occasion added a double memory;  in a nearby men’s clothing store was a promotional brochure with an image of Johnny Frane, a paternal cousin required to change his name because the clan objected to having a pugilist in the family.  That’s an international competition for you; unexpected connections, stronger by the minute, giddy by the second to the imagination.

George [Yuri] Zoritch, Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo principal, heavier in the chest with good living, sat between Gennadi and myself.  Olga Smoak sat on the opposite side with Marda Burton.  Giggling and exclaiming with her prototypic drawl, Marda flipped through Gennadi’s Russian-English phrase book while Olga turned her focus to me to provide a precise description of why she proclaimed herself “the happiest woman in the world.” Roped, collared, gripped, mesmerized, compliant, I listened.  Captivated as much by her intense energy as by her clarity of purpose and accented speech, my extremes of mood swings and checkered balletic love seemed mild morning dew in contrast.

How could a Russian bureaucrat possibly resist Olga’s combination of charm determination, calculation, intelligence and sheer wiles, simultaneously in the service of balletic art?  There she was, the Mata Hari of the ballet slipper,  conspiring to get the balletic best through West to East and East to West.  Olga is a Napoleona in an international warfare against cultural ignorance in an art form. No pitch of the voice, shrug of the shoulders, head nodding or flood of prose could pretend to convey the strength, depth and effectiveness of Olga’s strategies.  In Jackson’s late June heat, splashy drops of a thunderhead disgorging moisture, it was a double charge, honey chile, with the chorus and punctuation provided by the rise and fall of Marda’s relaxed “you alls.”

To be continued.