Kubanych Shamakeev and Liriy Wakabayashi, leading soloists with the Chelyabinsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, won top prizes in the Arabesque-2020 Senior division.

Andrey Chuntomov, Courtesy Arabesque-2020

Inside Arabesque-2020, One of Russia’s Top Ballet Competitions

Much like everything else this year, the XVI Russian Open Ballet Competition Arabesque-2020 was unlike any in its three-decade history. Rescheduled and shortened because of the coronavirus pandemic—and on the brink of cancellation until the very last moment—the competition nevertheless took place October 24 to November 2 at the historic Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre.


Arabesque-2020, which was originally scheduled for the spring, is one of the most prestigious international ballet competitions in Russia. Since its inauguration in 1988, it has attracted more than 1,400 young ballet dancers and choreographers. This year, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the competition rounds were held without an audience. But ballet fans could watch the second and third rounds, as well as the opening and closing gala performances, online. (All live broadcasts are now available for streaming on Vimeo.) Online viewers could also vote for their favorite participants and contribute to, and thus determine, the monetary size of the Audience Choice Award.

Pointe followed Arabesque-2020 online and spoke with its organizers and prizewinners via email to find out what it was like to hold a ballet competition during a pandemic.

Arabesque and Its History

Originally named after the great Russian ballerina Ekaterina Maximova (the full name is the "Ekaterina Maximova Arabesque Ballet Competition"), Arabesque is a biennial event that regularly draws hundreds of young dancers from Russia and around the world. They compete in two categories: junior (13–17 years old) and senior (18–25 years old).

Legendary Bolshoi dancer Vladimir Vasiliev serves as its artistic director and jury chairman. Vasiliev, now 80, has been closely involved with the competition for the last 30 years.

"The competition has become a launching pad for many dancers in their future careers," says Vasiliev. Past prize- and diploma-winners include ballet stars like Maria Kochetkova, Daniil Simkin, Viktoria Tereshkina, Ivan Vasiliev, Vadim Muntagirov and Kimin Kim.

Yuri Chernov, Courtesy Arabesque-2020

From right: Subedey Dangyt and Kamilla Ismagilova won second and third prize, respectively, in the senior men's and women's category

Arabesque-2020 by the Numbers

Initially, the organizers were expecting more than 300 participants from 27 countries, including the U.S. "There were so many applications for this year's competition that we didn't know how we would be able to evaluate everyone who had applied," says Vasiliev. "But the pandemic has made its own adjustments."

Because of the coronavirus, nearly 65 percent of the applicants couldn't attend. Still, 107 young dancers and choreographers took part. They spanned 11 countries, including Argentina, Japan, Greece, Finland, Spain and the UK. Competitors from Russia hailed from 20 cities.

"Even though we had fewer participants, those who did come had a particularly memorable time here because they were eager to be onstage after a monthslong hiatus," says Vasiliev. "I am really glad that we were able to give them this opportunity. And I enjoyed, as never before, seeing their desire and drive to become the best in their profession."

.

Health Safety Measures

The organizers followed strict health safety protocols. In addition to providing a negative COVID test, all participants and staff were required to wear masks. (Dancers could take off their masks only during rehearsals and while onstage.) Temperature checks were conducted at the theater's entrance, and access to the building was restricted for the entire duration of the competition. In the studios, special purifying devices were installed, cleaning air 24 hours a day; and sanitizers and masks were available in common areas. Spaces were disinfected before and immediately after each event of the competition.

Discovering New Talent

Seventeen dancers advanced to the third and final round of the competition, with winners announced on October 30. This year, the Grand Prix was not awarded. It has been given only three times in the competition's history; its most recent recipient, Korean-born Kimin Kim, is now a principal dancer with the Mariinsky Theatre.

Kubanych Shamakeev and Liriy Wakabayashi, leading soloists with the Chelyabinsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in Russia, were the undisputable favorites—and a true discovery—of this year's competition, winning the jury over with polished duets from Don Quixote and Esmeralda. Shamakeev won first place in the senior men's category and Wakabayashi placed second in the senior women's (first place was not awarded). They also took first prize in the contemporary dance competition and received the Press Jury Award.

"We wanted to show not just a competition number but a true theatrical performance," says Wakabayashi. Originally from Japan, she received her formal ballet training in Europe, graduating from the Royal Ballet School Antwerp in Belgium. While the pair say it was challenging to perform without an audience in the theater, they knew there was a live broadcast being watched by thousands of viewers online, including their families back home.

A ballerina in a red tutu does sous-sus andleans into her male partner's right arm as he lunges to the right. He wears a black and gold bolero jacket and black tights.

Wakabayashi and Shamakeev perform the Grand Pas de Deux from Don Quixote

Andrey Chuntomov, Courtesy Arabesque-2020

"When we learned that we had won prizes, we couldn't believe it," says Shamakeev, who was born in Kyrgyzstan and is a graduate of Kazakhstan's Almaty Choreographic School. "Our happiness knows no limits! We celebrate our victory with our coach, Tatiana Predeina, to whom we are immensely grateful."

Vasiliev thinks Arabesque-2020 will have special meaning for all of its participants. "I am sure that this competition, and the time we spent together in Perm in such unprecedented times, will be remembered by all of us forever."

Yuri Chernov, Courtesy Arabesque-2020

Junior category competitors Uliana Moksheva and Rasmus Algren perform the Act II pas de deux from Giselle.

Check out the Arabesque-2020 classical category winners below. (The full list is available on the competition website).

Junior Women

Second prize: Viktoria Snigur, Diana Tovtyn

Third prize: Daria Chugunova, Uliana Moksheva

Junior Men

Second prize: Ivan Sorokin

Diplomas: Anastasia Kaplina, Bogdan Pleshakov, Tamila Shishkalova


Senior Women

Second prize: Liriy Wakabayashi

Third prize: Aleksandra Krisa, Kamilla Ismagilova

Senior Men

First prize: Kubanych Shamakeev

Second prize: Subedey Dangyt

Third prize: Algren Rasmus, Marat Safin

Diplomas: Natalia Pivkina, Ksenia Ring

Latest Posts


Pacific Northwest Ballet's Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan, photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe

The Radiant Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan: Why She's One to Watch at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Hollywood could make a movie about Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan's big break at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

It was November 2017, and the company was performing Crystal Pite's film-noir–inspired Plot Point, set to music by Bernard Hermann from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Ryan, then a first-year corps member, originally was understudying the role of another dancer. But when principal Noelani Pantastico was injured in a car accident, Ryan was tapped to take over her role.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Yonah Acosta in Sin La Habana, Courtesy Miami Film Festival

The Miami Film Festival Is Streaming 2 Films Spotlighting Cuban Ballet Dancers, Including Yonah Acosta

Many ballet companies are sharing digital productions these days, but if you want to get your ballet fix on the silver screen, the Miami Film Festival has something for you—and you don't have to fly to Miami to see it! Two ballet-centric films, the drama Sin La Habana (Without Havana) and documentary Cuban Dancer, will be featured in theaters and virtually at the 38th annual Miami Film Festival, running March 5 to 14.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Maria Kochetkova. Darian Volkova, Courtesy Kochetkova

Maria Kochetkova on How COVID-19 Affected Her Freelance Career, and Her New Home at Finnish National Ballet

When international star Maria Kochetkova embarked on a freelance career three years ago, she never envisioned how a global pandemic would affect it. In 2018, the Russian-born ballerina left the security of San Francisco Ballet, a company she called home for more than a decade, for the globe-trotting life of a guest star. Before the pandemic, Kochetkova managed her own performing schedule and was busier than ever, enjoying artistic freedom and expanding her creative horizons. This all changed in March 2020, when she saw her booming career—and her jet-setting lifestyle—change almost overnight.

After months of uncertainty, Kochetkova landed at Finnish National Ballet, where she is a principal dancer for the 2020–21 season. Pointe spoke with her about her time during the quarantine and what helped her to get through it, her new life in Helsinki, and what keeps her busy and motivated these days.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks