Nov. 23, 2016 02:22PM EST
We asked five frequent judges for their advice, their pet peeves and their approach to the scoring process.
Peter Stark, head of the men’s program at Boston Ballet School, associate director of Boston Ballet II
Valentina Kozlova IBC, Youth America Grand Prix
I am an advocate for competitions. I know there are people who are against them, but dancers can learn a lot when they’re working one-to-one versus in a classroom setting. My mentor Bruce Marks, who was chair of the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson for many years, said, “the process is the prize.” It’s true. As a coach, I’ve had dancers win and lose, but I certainly feel like the process of setting a goal and working on something is valuable.
One technical aspect that really has bothered me is that dancers are so hyper-focused on getting a leg up that they’re losing their hip alignment. That’s something I’d really like to see stop. I don’t find it attractive, and I don’t find it anatomically sound.
If a dancer is new or nervous about competing, I’d tell them this: You do the technical work in the studio, but when you walk onstage, you need to trust that it’s there and dance from your heart. At that point, you’re good at turning or not. There is nothing that is going to happen two minutes before the curtain goes up that will make your pirouettes better. You can have fun and connect on a human level, and that can make the difference.
Nina Ananiashvili, artistic director, State Ballet of Georgia
Beijing International Classical Ballet and Choreography Competition, Helsinki IBC, Prix de Lausanne, USA IBC, Valentina Kozlova IBC, Youth America Grand Prix
I was a competitor myself many times. I know how hard it is, so I try to give credit to the students. Of course I’m looking at talent, but everybody can make mistakes. I fell down during a competition, and I won. I tell dancers: Don’t be worried. You have the opportunity to come onstage and dance in front of these fantastic judges. Enjoy it.
Students today have very good technique. The flexibility? Incredible, and just yesterday, I saw 15, 13 pirouettes on pointe. But that doesn’t show how they are dancing. If they do 15 pirouettes and they are dancing? Fantastic. And everybody’s splitting, not jumping. Ballet isn’t gymnastics. We need to show off the art. If I ever have my own competition, I will write in the rules: No à la seconde kicks. Everybody can do that, but to show a nice position is very rare.
I see a lot of competitors who don’t know their character. They just do steps. And another problem around the world: Everybody’s dancing every variation the same way, especially the boys. There’s no difference now between Don Q, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Giselle. Everybody does the same arms, same steps. In Don Q, why are the arms like this? Because it’s a Spanish dance. You cannot do Sleeping Beauty’s arms in a Spanish dance.
Shelly Power, artistic director and CEO, Prix de Lausanne
Prix de Lausanne, Youth America Grand Prix, Valentina Kozlova IBC
The length of time I have to see competitors guides how I score them. My first impression of a dancer is extremely important. A weeklong competition like Prix de Lausanne is easier on the jury and allows for more time to suss out whether my intuition was correct. However, when the competition consists only of a two-minute variation, then that first moment is crucial. I leave room for error on account of the time allowance and that is when I look at potential: what could change, what can improve, what does this student need to get to the next level and do they have enough to get there.
I often see students dancing variations that are outside their technical ability, and this only hurts their scores overall. Age is important, and an appropriate variation is one that the student understands and can give proper attention to artistry. Artistry comes from the heart, however. I am looking for honesty and purity, for that spark in the eye that tells me they love what they are doing and respect the art form.
As for tricks, students and coaches need to ask one question: Does the step add value to the solo or take away from it? Solos need dynamics, stage skill, steps that link the music and story being told, and an artistic connection to the movement and music.
Deborah Hess, faculty, Canada’s National Ballet School
Beijing IBC, Japan Grand Prix, Youth America Grand Prix
My mantra is “potential, potential, potential,” because I am looking through the glass ball to see a bud that could blossom. What comes across most is that deep love of dancing, and how that can grow with training and encouragement. And I am always looking for students who enjoy the rigor. You can really see those who have the self-motivation to enjoy the work that’s required to be a dancer.
When judging contemporary, I look for how much they can change their temperament, musical diversity and nuance. Some students can really capture our imagination in a piece that’s very different from their classical variation. I am not so much looking at the choreography, but how they are doing it.
Some dancers may not excel in competitions, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be valuable company members—I know several who went on to become principal dancers. Someone can be excellent at a variation, but if they struggle to pick up different movement styles or can’t work well in a group, they will not do well in a professional environment. Use competitions to improve your skills and learn from everything around you.
John Meehan, international jury chair, USA International Ballet Competition
Genée IBC, Prix de Lausanne, USA IBC, Youth America Grand Prix
The first things I notice are confidence, presence, posture. I can tell so much about what I am about to see from the way dancers use their feet as they walk onstage. Bravura technique is exciting, and when combined with control and artistry it makes for a winning combination. But detail and neatness in technique counts for more than some young dancers would think.
As for artistic aspects, I look for musicality, focus, épaulement and port de bras, physicality, and expression appropriate to the piece that they are performing. Whether it’s a classical performance versus a contemporary one, we are still looking for quality in whichever style is being presented. Contemporary work is a chance for a dancer to show another aspect of their dancing through freedom of movement and dynamics, which we don’t see in their classical variations. I have seen riveting performances of contemporary work where there are no tricks or steps derived from the ballet vocabulary.
Dancing a variation, whether in a competition or in the context of a ballet performance, is essentially the same thing. The key is to focus on the intention of the choreography. Finally, managing the stress of a competition can teach you a lot about yourself—a valuable lesson as your career progresses.
Nov. 08, 2016 05:05PM EST
The 12th International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize will take place in Toronto on November 15. The event, which honors Bruhn's danseur noble legacy, is a pretty accurate predictor of up-and-coming talent. Last year's winners included NBoC second soloist Hannah Fischer, who danced as a first-cast lead in Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale during NBoC's opening, and recently promoted San Francisco Ballet principal Carlo Di Lanno.
This year, the lineup is as stellar as ever:
- Our June/July 2016 cover star Cassandra Trenary and 2015 Star of the Corps Gabe Stone Shayer, from American Ballet Theatre
- Hamburg Ballet's Madoka Sugai and Christopher Evans
- Chisato Katsura and Harrison Churches from The Royal Ballet
- Natasha Sheehan and Angelo Greco from San Francisco Ballet
- NBoC's Félix Paquet and Calley Skalnik
The dancers were selected to compete by their artistic directors, so we imagine that the opportunity comes with a considerable vote of confidence.
Recently, The Erik Bruhn Prize added a choreographic category and this year's contestants include ABT principal Jeffrey Cirio, HB's Marc Jubete, Calvin Richardson from The Royal Ballet and Myles Thatcher from SFB. NBoC choreographic associate Robert Binet will join them.
In an interesting twist, the dancers compete as a couple from their respective company, but each can win independently in the Male or Female Outstanding Dancer categories. In fact, the last time two dancers from the same company won was in 2012 when Royal Danish Ballet principal (and Feb/March 2014 cover star) Ida Praetorius and 2015 Standout Performer Andreas Kaas (an RDB soloist) each took home the prize.
Cheers to all of this year's competitors!
November 1, 2016... Karen Kain, Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada, today announced that Corps de Ballet members Félix Paquet (22) and Calley Skalnik (21) will represent the company at The Twelfth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 7:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Choreographic Associate Robert Binet creates a new contemporary work commissioned by the National Ballet, Self and Soul, as part of the competition.
Aug. 30, 2016 05:27PM EST
It's that time again! Prix de Lausanne registration opens on September 1.
Every year, the Prix de Lausanne brings some of the world's best ballet students together, pushes them to the next level and changes lives. We're not exaggerating: You've probably heard Maria Kochetkova's story about entering the competition against her teacher's wishes, winning and starting on the path toward international ballet stardom.
The competition runs January 29 to February 5, 2017, in the city of Lausanne, Switzerland. Last year, 67 dancers were selected to compete, and 20 of them advanced to the final rounds. The prizes are significant: Scholarship winners are awarded 16,000 Swiss Francs to cover the cost of living at summer intensives, while other prizes include diplomas or even contracts.
We love seeing students earn summer intensive scholarships and apprenticeships, and we especially love that the competition is live streamed! With former Houston Ballet Academy director Shelly Power as the new competition director, it looks like there are fresh ideas at this year's event. And we're sure the dancing will be as stellar as ever.
Aug. 19, 2016 12:57PM EST
For aspiring dancemakers who dream of seeing their work performed in a professional setting, the Joffrey Ballet's seventh annual Winning Works competition is an opportunity you'll want to take note of.
The award recognizes promising African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab and Native American artists with a $5,000 stipend, at least 30 rehearsal hours and a group of dancers from the Joffrey Academy Trainee Program and Joffrey Studio Company to set their work on. Winners will premiere their completed original works at a performance in March 2017.
This past year, American Ballet Theatre principal Jeffrey Cirio was one of the winning choreographers. His work, Chapter 1, Chapter 6, included elements of step dancing, and was presented at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in March.
As part of the application, artists must submit a video clip with a short excerpt of their choreography, and a letter describing the kind of work they plan to create. If they choose, this year's applicants can also draw inspiration from the poet Gwendolyn Brooks (the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize), whose centennial the Joffrey is celebrating.
The full application is available online, and the deadline is October 1. Start getting those creative wheels turning!
Jun. 10, 2016 04:26PM EST
The summer Olympics may be just around the corner, but we know that ballet dancers perform superhuman feats all year long. Next week offers an especially good chance to see this in action, as talented dancers from around the globe come together for the World Ballet Competition.
WBC celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and from June 13–18, you can livestream each day's competition rounds for free. About 150 dancers ages 9 to 24 take the stage in Orlando in hopes of winning cash prizes and scholarship opportunities. They represent over 20 different countries, and were pre-selected through a video audition process.
Each day's livestream starts with a pre-show broadcast, and the coverage promises to take viewers behind the scenes and inside the action, including interviews and backstage access. The competition itself is notable for its electronic scoring system, which shares results with the audience—and couch potatoes worldwide—in real time.
The week culminates in a gala performance on June 18, featuring many familiar faces who have graced the pages of Pointe, like New York City Ballet's Daniel Ulbricht and Pennsylvania Ballet's Mayara Pineiro, who will perform alongside competition finalists. And judging from past history, we can expect some pretty exciting things from the young talent on that stage. Past WBC competitors have gone on to dance for companies like San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet, Ballet West and The Washington Ballet.
Catch the livestream starting Monday, June 13, at 4:30 pm Eastern time.
Dec. 30, 2015 11:06AM EST
The lack of female choreographers in the ballet world has come under recent scrutiny. Why are so few women given opportunities to create for major companies—especially when they're out there, steadily making work? How can companies, schools, patrons and mentors cultivate emerging choreographers? Many companies have addressed the dearth through deliberate programming, like the English National Ballet's "She Said" program, while institutions like New York University's Center for Ballet and the Arts has created a specific fellowship for women.
Now, Oregon Ballet Theatre has a choreographic competition for female choreographers. Three winners of Choreography XX will have the chance to create a new ballet, which will premiere in the summer of 2017, for OBT.
The application details for the competition can be found here. Keep in mind that entrants must be at least 21 years old, and a citizen of either the U.S. or Canada. The deadline to submit is March 31. Good luck!
At age 15, competition veteran Hannah Bettes traveled to the Prix de Lausanne, her sights set on getting into The Royal Ballet School. The teen left the competition with a scholarship—and the Audience Choice Award, to boot. That same year, Bettes won the gold medal in the senior division at Youth America Grand Prix and the bronze at The Beijing International Dance Invitational, adding to her already impressive resumé of YAGP and World Ballet Competition accolades. Yet by the time she signed a contract with Boston Ballet in 2014, the glamour of the competition stage seemed a distant memory. “Joining a corps de ballet was a huge change,” says Bettes. “I’d be lying if I said it was easy.”
While most young professionals expect to pay their dues in the corps, the contrast can seem especially stark for dancers emerging from the competition circuit. Beyond adjusting to fewer solo opportunities, they no longer have the personalized attention of a private coach. Furthermore, many start company life with a preexisting fan base, whose high expectations may increase pressure to progress quickly through the ranks. As the accolades and YouTube fame begin to fade away, competition dancers who approach company life with a fresh perspective will ultimately make the most successful transition.
Finding Your Piece of the Puzzle
When competing a variation, dancers have certain artistic liberties with regard to expression of character. But corps work is about blending in. “I can’t always interpret the movement the way I’d like to artistically, because it will throw everything off,” says Bettes. She hasn’t found the change discouraging, though. “Sure, I miss having the entire stage to myself,” she says. “But the corps is so essential. Without it, no one can see the talent of the principals.”
Birmingham Royal Ballet artist Alys Shee, who won medals at the International Ballet Competitions in Helsinki, Moscow, Cape Town and Jackson, as well as the grand prix at the Star of the 21st Century IBC, quickly learned to approach group work practically: To maximize efficiency, corps dancers must commit to a ballet’s cohesive picture. “Sometimes, we only have two weeks to pull together a production,” says Shee. “If each dancer tries to get her leg a little higher than the one next to her, it’s never going to come together.”
Joffrey Ballet artist and fellow IBC alum Cara Marie Gary had a somewhat different transition into company life. Because Joffrey doesn’t have a traditional hierarchical structure, she was cast simultaneously in soloist and corps roles during her first season. “I’d sharpen my peripheral vision in one piece, then have my moment to shine in another,” says Gary. “When you think of big productions as puzzles, you appreciate every single piece.”
Becoming Your Own Coach
A private coach can feel like a life force to competitive dancers. But most companies won’t be able to provide that kind of one-on-one attention to corps members. “It was a shock at first,” says Gary, who deeply misses working with coach Vlada Kysselova on a regular basis. “I was so used to relying on her unique eye for detail, and her ability to pinpoint corrections to suit my body.”
For Shee, who trained one-on-one with Nadia Veselova Tencer and Evelyn Hart, the toughest aspect of self-coaching is staying motivated in class. “You can’t expect anyone else to push you and make you want to come in and work.” She finds it helpful to work with a private strength-and-conditioning coach to supplement her training.
Bettes focuses on being especially observant in class. “There are still corrections given, but they’re more general,” she says. “You have to watch other people, and apply their corrections to yourself.” She also finds it helpful to study the principals, to try to distill and apply the distinct qualities that make them great.
And there are unique benefits to less individual attention. Gary, for one, eventually found artistic freedom in the absence of a watchful eye. “By approaching things from within, you explore your own limits and learn to find the nuances that help you develop as a professional artist,” she says.
Pressure to Succeed
For many, winning a medal is a sign of future success—a tall order for competition dancers to live up to. In addition, fans often follow competitors’ careers with high expectations and vocal opinions. Shee doesn’t view this added attention as a negative. “I’d like to think that true ballet lovers wouldn’t say anything spiteful about a dancer who encounters obstacles during her career—because they understand how difficult a career it is,” she says. “Knowing I have fans out there only inspires me to continue pushing toward my goals.”
Bettes found that joining a company helped subdue outside expectations. “Back when videos of my competition performances were constantly being uploaded to YouTube, I felt the need to impress my fans,” she remembers. “Now, I focus on the expectations of the artistic staff, the other dancers and myself.”
And unlike competition accolades, artistic decisions in companies aren’t made on the basis of a scoring system. “There are so many variables to company life,” says Shee. Bettes remembers to pause and appreciate her surroundings. “When you’re constantly striving to win that contract, it’s easy to get caught up in goal-setting,” she says. “Now that I’ve signed with Boston Ballet, I’m where I want to be, and I can focus on developing into the professional adult I’d like to become. I’m dancing at my own pace.”
Nov. 20, 2015 05:06PM EST
Shelly Power, the Houston Ballet Academy director, will take on the dual role of artistic director and CEO of the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition. Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch credits Power for building up the Houston Ballet Academy, which has grown into a nationally recognized training program. It's noted for not only its artistic excellence, but also the school's dedication to development programs like career-planning and wellness. The Prix de Lausanne has a similar vision, with programs that promote education and health for the competing dancers.
Hopefully Power's presence at the Prix signals an even greater commitment to placing dancers on healthy career paths and nurturing growth over competition.