At their best, ballet competitions help you gauge your weaknesses—and your strengths. But they can be far more than a reality check.
For Daniil Simkin, competing gave him a goal to work toward (see our cover story, page 28). Preparing for the Helsinki and Jackson International Ballet Competitions was a reason to master new technical challenges, and the performing experience helped develop his stage presence. Confident and charismatic, he quickly has become an audience favorite at American Ballet Theatre. This issue also highlights three of Simkin’s ABT colleagues—Eric Tamm, Alexandre Hammoudi, Blaine Hoven—who, like him, seem poised on the brink of stardom.
Competitions also can help dancers get over tics that could undermine their careers later on. Read “The Judges’ Pet Peeves,” page 38, to find out what really costs dancers in the final rounds. It has surprisingly little to do with technique and a lot to do with attitude. Making a face over a slippery floor can be more damaging than a missed pirouette. Those are life lessons that are worth competitions’ relatively cheap price of admission (see page 39 for the entry basics on 15 top options).
There are always ways to improve. Researching a role before your debut, for one. In “Company Life” on page 68, Ashley Bouder talks about the work she did to understand Giselle before her performances with the Rome Opera Ballet. Other ways dancers give themselves an edge is by being picky about what they choose to eat. Pointe asked four pros to keep food diaries (“Your Best Body,” page 54), and what they snack on may surprise you (potato chips, grilled cheese, ice cream!).
But whatever you do that helps you be your best, remember that the person you need to beat each time you go out there is yourself. The yardstick for your abilities is your own expectations.
La La La Human Steps
You grow as a dancer when you’re training so diligently for competitions. You get in such great shape, your body responds without thinking, so you can more fully express what you want to onstage. I was trained classically, so when I had to prepare contemporary pieces, it got my body moving in a different way. And competitions helped my career along: American Ballet Theatre invited me to take company class after one, and I got a contract with The Washington Ballet at the World Ballet Competition.
San Francisco Ballet
Competitions helped me mature as an artist. They allowed me to showcase my personality onstage and gain confidence in my performing abilities. Rehearsing a variation over and over taught me that repetition can make a real difference in your technique. I don’t think competitions have given me any bad habits in terms of being in a professional company. Actually, they had a positive effect. Obviously when you dance in a corps you have to match the other dancers, but when you’re given opportunities like a demi-soloist role, competitions become beneficial because you know from experience what it’s like to be onstage alone and to perform to the fullest in front of a large audience.
Competing helped me develop a good work ethic. There were so many things happening around me when I was at competitions, so at a young age I learned to focus on my work and block out everything else. Competing also opened many doors for me professionally. Youth America Grand Prix led to a scholarship at San Francisco Ballet School, which allowed me to move from Japan to America in 2005. I learned so much being around San Francisco Ballet’s professional environment—particularly that maturity, elegance and passion are so important in dance.