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Varna IBC competitor Antonio Gameiro Casalinho. Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, Courtesy Varna IBC.

Every two years, dancers from all over the world head to the Bulgarian coastal city of Varna to try their luck at the Varna International Ballet competition. Established in 1964, the competition famously takes place at a leafy outdoor theater near the Black Sea, and its roster of past winners (Sylvie Guillem, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova) reads like a who's who of dance history.

This year's IBC, which took place July 15–30, brought together 120 dancers from 34 countries. After the third and final round, the winners were announced over the weekend. Yuan Zhe Zi (Jessica) Xuan, a grand sujet at Dutch National Ballet, won first place in the senior women's category. Sinuo Chang of China took first in the senior men's, while his partner, Siyi Li, placed first in the junior women's category. A few familiar faces from the competition circuit also made the list. Antonio Casolinho, a student at the Academy of Ballet and Dance in Portugal and this year's Junior Grand Prix winner at Youth America Grand Prix, took home the Special Distinction Award, Varna's top prize for juniors. Katherine Barkman, a principal guest artist with Ballet Manila, placed second in the senior women's category, fresh off her silver medal win at June's USA IBC in Jackson.

Read on to see the full list of prizewinners, then head to Varna IBC's Facebook page to catch videos of the competition. Congratulations to all!

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Dutch National Ballet principals Anna Tsygankova and Artur Shesterikov. Photo by Michel Schnater, via Twitter.

Ballet has officially entered the 21st century. While more companies are using cinema or live-streaming to bring their performances to the masses, Dutch National Ballet has gone a step further. Last weekend, in a collaboration with &samhoud media and Chester Music, the company premiered its first virtual reality production. Night Fall, a dreamy ballet inspired by the white acts of Swan Lake and La Bayadère, was choreographed specifically for virtual reality by Peter Leung. Viewers are dropped right in the center of the action, with the dancers and a lone musician swirling around them.

 

The effect is goose bump-worthy: At one point, principal dancer Anna Tsygankova rushes right up to the camera—almost within arm’s reach—before she bourrées back into the darkness. Not only that, but the 360 degree camera allows you to have more than one, flat perspective. “The fact that [viewers] can look around and have some choice in what they look at will make it a unique experience,” says Leung in this behind-the-scenes video.

 

The downside? You need to wear a Samsung Gear VR headset or strap your smartphone to a Cardboard to get the full effect. But even without these devices, it’s fun to see where the future of ballet is going—especially if it means bringing in more audiences. For instructions on how to watch Night Fall, click here.

 

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