Ballet Careers
Remie Goins, a student at International City School of Ballet in Atlanta, performs at the YAGP finals. Photo by VAM, Courtesy YAGP.

You've watched First Position, the 2011 documentary about dancers at Youth America Grand Prix. You've studied videos of past ballet competition winners online. Now, you're interested in joining those elite ranks by entering a competition yourself. But what if your school doesn't have a program set up to guide you through the process? Pointe asked four experts to break down what ballet competition newbies need to know.

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Jenna Anderson, a costume apprentice at UNCSA, hurries to construct a Coppelia-inspired tutu.

It was a hectic scene last Wednesday morning at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. Inside a conference room at Jackson's downtown Westin Hotel, strewn pieces of tulle, satin and other trimmings littered the floor, while the frenzied whirring of sewing machines and snipping scissors filled the air. While 100+ young ballet dancers were competing for medals and scholarships at the nearby Thalia Mara Hall, 11 costume designers from the U.S. and Canada were vying to win Project Tutu, a "Project Runway"-inspired contest hosted by USA IBC and Tutu.com. Their challenge? Create a perfectly constructed tutu with three assigned materials... in just three days.

Hand-stitched embellishments by designer Kevin Kreisz of Kiki Kouture. Photo by Amy Brandt.


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USA IBC senior gold medalist winners Yungting Qiu and Sicong Wu in Zhang Disha's Sad Birds. Photo by Richard FInkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

It's been an exciting two weeks here in Jackson, Mississippi, as 119 dancers from 19 countries have competed for medals, monetary awards, scholarships and company contracts at the USA International Ballet Competition. But the IBC has offered more than prizes—dancers have also been networking and taking master classes, including a fascinating lecture demonstration series with choreographer Alexei Ratmansky that included learning Petipa's original choreography from Stepanov notations.

This week, 32 finalists performed two classical variations and one contemporary piece over the course of three nights. Meanwhile, semi-finalists worked intensely with choreographer Matthew Neenan on an original work, which they performed at last night's Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Awards Gala. Audiences also had one last chance to see select finalists perform, before the jury (led by chairman John Meehan) joined them onstage to present the medals.

So without further ado, here are the USA IBC winners!

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2014 Junior Gold Medalist Gisele Bethea and partner Michal Wozniak at the 2014 USA IBC Awards Gala. Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

From June 10–23, 119 competitors from 19 countries will gather in Jackson, Mississippi, for the 11th USA International Ballet Competition. Held every four years, the USA IBC has helped launch the careers of dozens of stars, including Daniil Simkin, Misa Kuranaga and Brooklyn Mack. "The 2014 competition was good, but we're making this year better," says jury chairman John Meehan. Changes include broadened age limits for competitors and a larger sum of prize money. This summer's competition also has a special focus on Marius Petipa in honor of his 200th birthday. There will be an emphasis on Petipa repertoire, and choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will give a workshop for competitors on his reconstructions of original Petipa choreography. This edition will also honor the legacy of Robert Joffrey, who was a catalyst in launching the USA IBC with founder Thalia Mara. Dancers from The Joffrey Ballet will perform in the opening ceremony.

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Younji-Grace Choi at the 2014 USA IBC. Choi is now a dancer with Cincinnati Ballet and will return to the USA IBC as a senior competitor this summer. Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

Exciting news today: the USA International Ballet Competition has just announced its list of invited competitors for the summer 2018 competition. The USA IBC has invited 119 dancers from 19 countries out of over 300 applicants to compete in Jackson, MS June 10-23.

Since the last USA IBC in 2014 the competition has expanded its age limits; the junior category now allows dancers ages 14-18 and the senior category dancers ages 19-28. Of the 119 competitors this year, 53 are juniors and 66 are seniors. The United States has the highest number of competitors invited (52), followed by Japan (23) and South Korea (14). The other countries represented are Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Philippines, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

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Kyle Froman for Dance Magazine.

As told to Madeline Schrock and Nancy Wozny.

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

Igor Burlak, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

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.

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Gisele Bethea and Michal Wozniak in a coaching session. Jim Lafferty.

Every four years, dancers from around the globe descend on Jackson, Mississippi, for the USA International Ballet Competition. The only IBC hosted in the U.S. (the others are held in Varna, Bulgaria; Helsinki, Finland; and Moscow), it has served as a major turning point in the early careers of artists such as Nina Ananiashvili, José Manuel Carreño, Johan Kobborg and Sarah Lamb. This June, 99 dancers from 20 countries got their chance to not only compete for medals, but be seen by company and school directors from around the world.

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American Dance Competition

 

As a young dancer with Orlando Ballet, Audrianna Broad watched her former classmates from Harid Conservatory struggle—and fail—to  find work dancing professionally. “It takes a lot for dancers, girls especially, to make it in ballet,” she says. “But it helps if important people are watching them.” So, after earning a degree in economics from Rollins College (while still dancing full-time), Broad founded the American Dance Competition.

 

Now going into its fifth year, the annual competition is still evolving. Dancers first compete in a non-elimination preliminary round in which they learn two classical variations, one coda and one contemporary variation and then perform them—all in one day. “This puts everyone on an even playing field so the judges can see their strengths and weaknesses in comparison to the other dancers,” says Broad. “Everyone gets the same amount and quality of coaching.”

 

For the second round, students bring as many solo or group variations as they’d like, although most perform two classical and one contemporary piece. The judges’ comments are recorded for dancers to listen to after the competition.

 

Each year, ADC awards about $25,000 in scholarships to 10 to 12 contestants. Directors of regional companies and schools (including Atlanta Ballet and BalletMet Columbus) often offer apprenticeships and traineeships. Starting this year, dancers who score high enough will be invited to the international final round in Shanghai.

 

Although most competitors are from Florida, any student aged 7 to 21 is invited to enter. Registration for the March 2010 competition begins November 2. Visit www.theamericandancecompetition.com.

—Jennifer Stahl

 

   
Twelve Schools, One Anniversary

 

Canada’s National Ballet School celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with an array of activities. One highlight will be the Assemblée Internationale 2009, a weeklong choreographic festival that will bring more than 120 students from12 NBS partner schools to Toronto. The participating schools (all of which already have a pre-existing relationship with NBS) are San Francisco Ballet School, The Royal Ballet School, Paris Opéra Ballet School, National Ballet School of Cuba, Royal Danish Ballet School, Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, Hamburg Ballet School, Stuttgart’s John Cranko School, Dresden’s Palucca Schule, Rotterdam’s Codarts, Amsterdam’s National Ballet Academy and The Hague’s Royal Conservatory.

 

Each school will perform a traditional work that reflects the ballet legacy of their particular culture. A second performance will feature choreography by the students themselves—and each piece will be danced by a mixed cast of students from the 12 different schools.

 

Toronto-born Rob Binet, 17, will represent NBS with Surge, his work for seven couples. “I love choreography, and that’s what I want to do for a career,” he says. He’s excited for the unusual opportunity to set his work on an international group of dancers.
“The collaborative process during these joint rehearsals is what’s of real importance,” says NBS artistic director Mavis Staines. “In addition, the students will also get different techniques from a wide variety of ballet teachers.” The festival concludes with a student-centered conference that focuses on themes such as the challenges of becoming a professional dancer. The Assemblée Internationale 2009 takes place November 15–21 in Toronto. www.nbs-enb.ca/50th.

—Paula Citron

 

USAIBC Dance School

 

Even if you’re not competing in the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS, you can still participate, albeit offstage, through the affiliated International Dance School. During this two-week summer program, intermediate and advanced students ages 12 and up study with renowned faculty (including Rhodie Jorgenson and Tatiana Tchernova) and watch every night of the competition. “The combination of dancing all day and watching the ballet ideal we’re striving for was the best balance for my learning style,” says Aimee Long, a former participant who is now a freelance dancer. At the last USAIBC in 2006, a handful of the 296 students were selected to receive scholarships to summer programs at Boston Ballet, The Rock School and Joffrey Ballet. Applications for 2010 USAIBC International Dance School will become available in late November. www.usaibc.com/school.html

—JS

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