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Jottings from Jackson 1994.

Jackson 1994--a time of firsts for many. The first time a South African dancer was able to compete in an international ballet competition. The first time ever that the charming Czech couple danced to a live orchestra. The first time once-Soviet dancers were able to represent their own countries at Jackson. The first time I, a seventeen-year veteran of the Moscow International Ballet Competition, was able to attend its American sister and compare notes.

For Jane Fidler, a seventeen-year-old from Cape Town, her two solos in Round One, which showed good, clean technique and fluidity, sadly did not convince the jury to pass her into Round Two. But instead of packing her bags immediately, as she would have had to do in Moscow, Fidler took advantage of Jackson's generosity and stayed on free of charge. Not only was she able to watch the ensuing rounds, she also took the opportunity to join the choreographic workshop each day, and performed in the final glitzy gala. Adela Pollertova (seventeen) and Michal Matys (eighteen) from Prague, each the winner of a junior bronze medal and the title Best Junior Couple were, according to their coach, Vladimir Necas, "very excited about performing with a full orchestra in the gala--they only dance to tapes at home." Their thrill was evident in their sugar-frosted presentation of the Nutcracker Grand Pas de Deux.

There were thirty dancers from five of the one-time Soviet republics--all demonstrating the Russian schooling. It was a shock to them when, after only four received awards, they realized that they no longer hold the reins. For redheaded Anna Dorosh (twenty-five) of Ukraine, a veteran of many competitions and winner of two gold and two silver medals, the Jury Award of Encouragement that she received this time seemed demeaning. "The Chinese are now proving themselves superior to the Russians," remarked Dinko Bogdanic, past contender and now a regular noncompeting partner. "And they are also showing how much quicker they have grasped contemporary choreography." (A surprise to me, too, to see erotic couplings in unitards after previous competitions had showed works in the "hunter-and-deer" style.)

So what impressions did I bring back from two and a half weeks in Jackson in the reams of notes and jottings I made? First and foremost, I tip my hat and my quill to the Jackson people, who know how to turn an event into a pageant--and a very happy one at that. It was like a family reunion where dear friends caught up with each other and new members were introduced (especially beneficial when it was around the swimming pool).

I was impressed with: the pomp and ceremony of the Olympic-style opening and closing ceremonies complete with flaming torch (nimbly brought on by the popular Bogdanic), with flags of all nations, a choir, the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard, and the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

The financial aspects of the competition were remarkable. The total budget of $2.1 million brought in a return of $5.3 million in city revenue in 1990, and the same is expected this year (an economic study is being carried out during the summer). The masterminds behind sponsorship fund-raising are Warren Ludlam, Jr., and William Mounger, who, almost single-handedly, raised over a million dollars of financial support.

There was a wonderful volunteer system, without which the city of Jackson could not afford to run such a vast international event. Over two thousand Jacksonites came to work full-time to assist their visitors and overwhelmingly showed us what true "Southern hospitality" is all about. Their genuine kindness, organization, and practicality covered every conceivable need, including transportation--fleets of brand-new white cars stood at the ready to whisk you away, and a regular bus system made the rounds of theater, hotel, rehearsal halls, and students' campus. Two hundred twenty-five host families were appointed to watch over the IBC visitors like relatives. Committees saw to the planting of pink and white periwinkles throughout the city, the hanging of banners on lampposts, and finding the competitors' national flags for the ceremonies (not an easy task with so many "new" countries). The orchestra had to prepare thirty anthems, and there were four hundred musical tapes to sort and finally return. Impressively, translators for all but two of the foreign languages were found in the local area. Finally, there were the patient volunteers who sat at the various information desks and answered volumes of questions (medals for them all!). Running alongside the competition was an international dance school [see page 53] with three hundred students.

For the first time the competition saw dancers registered under their native countries but who are now actually working elsewhere. Out of the twenty-one finalists, ten live and work in countries other than their homelands. As a result, many of these dancers have now acquired mannerisms that separate them from their original training, and this situation brings up the question as to whether nationality status may soon be a thing of the past.

We all agreed that the most exciting aspect of this competition was the evident talent in the Junior category--especially in the men. "Each boy was special," said Konstanze Vernon, member of the jury and director of the Bavarian National Ballet. "Each one brought a special element to his performance. I am very heartened by what I see. It shows there is good teaching, good coaching, and hope for the future."

Vladimir Vasiliev, the Bolshoi superstar and also a member of the jury, agreed with this. Sitting around the pool in the steamy sultriness of a Southern summer, he also told me that he wasn't too happy with computer voting. "How can you differentiate between lyricism and dynamic pyrotechnics with the press of a button? Both performances may be excellent in their own way. Too many talented dancers did not make it into the second round because they'd chosen to show artistry first rather than excitement. How can a machine take account of artistry?"

Many others agreed, especially the large contingent of Russian teachers and critics who had witnessed many fire-cracker performers take medals at last year's Moscow IBC. This year's gold medalist, Japanese Dai Sasaki, was no exception--his kamikaze attacks onstage and his buzz-saw tours a la seconde left one breathless with admiration. But, as Tatiana Dzouloukhadze, one of the international teachers, said, "He did the same variation each time and only his costume, and not his character, changed."

At the final party after the gala I talked to many of the competitors and teachers regarding their opinions of the results and the general organization of the competitions. Romanian dancer Alma Munteanu found this competition different from others. "It's more of a show," she said, "true American style." She was impressed by the overall high standard and was glad she had come, though sad she hadn't won a medal. She too, at age twenty-four, received an Encouragement prize. "I loved watching the Danish boy [Johan Kobborg]--he showed us what to do and how to be neat and tidy," she said.

Another competitor wondered if Kobborg should have been given the top gold and not the Grand Prix, for he had not shown the full gamut of styles in his performances. "How do we know that he can be dramatic and flamboyant?" she asked. "We saw him only as a gentle, often humorous performer, and always in the Danish style. What about Don Q?" Silver medalist Marina Antonova agreed. Dancing under the Russian flag but working for the past four years in Richmond, Virginia, she also questioned what the jury was looking for--technical tricks or classicism? "Perhaps we should have dance festivals nowadays rather than competitions," she said. "Then we could show our individual styles."

We all picked Kobborg early as the overall winner for his musicality, his finesse, his command, and his beauitful Bournonville bounce. Finding him in the hotel lobby at 2:00 A.M. waiting to check out, I asked him how he felt about his prize. "This is it," he said, smiling. "No more competitions. I'm delighted with the result here." He gave credit to his lovely partner, Henriette Muus, to his teacher, Margaret Mercier, who won the Best Coach prize, and especially to Frank Andersen, who flew to Jackson just in time for the third round. Having nurtured Kobborg's talent from school days, his winning of the Grand Prix is a jewel in Andersen's own crown as he steps down from his role as director of the Royal Danish Ballet.

On July 3 a grand exodus took all visitors, workers, and volunteers away from this fairy-tale existence--Kobborg to find a huge television press reception awaiting him in Denmark, Michal Matys off to Stuttgart Ballet, and Adela Pollertova back to school for another year. So one could not but wonder if these departures heralded the arrival of the Lilac Fairy, who, as in Sleeping Beauty would spin her magic spell, causing cobwebs and greenery to grow around the town of Jackson, until it is awakened in 1998 to celebrate the next USA International Ballet Competition.
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Title Annotation:USA International Ballet Competition
Author:Willis, Margaret
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1994
Previous Article:Firebird.
Next Article:Laying the groundwork: USA International Dance School.

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