Before now, I had hardly watched any ballets. I saw "The Nutcracker" live once when I was in elementary school and again at after a pep rally in high school. I own that soundtrack plus a couple more ballet scores, but other than that, the world of dance is a mystery to me.
But one of the perks of my job at the Jackson Free Press is receiving opportunities to cover events such as the USA International Ballet Competition. After the coverage we did in preparation for the event, I wanted a chance to see how it all came together and exactly what the big deal was about surrounding this event.
The USA International Ballet Competition began in 1979, with ballet dancer, author and educator Thalia Mara and a host of others spearheading it. People always wonder why the competition is here out of all of the incredible cities in the nation. The answer? Mara saw a need for more arts and a bigger dance community in the south. The USA IBC is one of only four ballet competitions that International Theater Institute of UNESCO has sanctioned in the world. The others are in Moscow, Russia; Helsinki, Finland; and Varna, Bulgaria. Like the Olympics, USA IBC occurs every four years, and this is its 10th cycle and 35th year.
The committee's organizers seem to have pulled out all the stops for this year's competition. On opening night June 14, a succession of speakers, including Mayor Tony Yarber and USA IBC Director Sue Lobrano, took the stage, delivering speeches on how proud Jackson is to see so many faces from so many places. Audience members watched an inspiring film about the USA IBC's history and then dancers from all around the world walked down Thalia Mara Hall's long aisles, a member of each group carrying the flag of their native country. 2002 USA IBC junior gold medalist Joseph Phillips, who is from the U.S., lit the competition's torch and stood in the middle of the 91 dancers who hail from 20 different countries.
Complexions Contemporary Ballet performed "Innervisions," a modern dance work set to Stevie Wonder songs. In leaps and bounds and turns, the troupe sent the audience to a place of love, heartbreak, self-fulfillment, beauty and the fullness of a life well-lived.
June 16, I headed to Thalia Mara Hall to cover session four of round one. Competitors included American dancers Megan Wilcox, Savannah Louis, and Olivia Gusti; Japanese dancer Mizuho Nagata; senior Korean dancers Ga-yeon Jung and Ji-Seok Ha; Mexican dancer Daniel A McCormick; Chinese dancer Mengjun Chen; Brazilian dancer Mozart Mizuyama; Phillipine dancer Jayson Sarino Pescascio; and Russian dancer Olga Marchenkova.
The dancers performed variations from ballets such as "Flames of Paris," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake." The most impressive performances,—at least to a inexpert ballet spectator like me—were the pas de deux. Such grace and strength seem to be required, and the crowd cheered loudest at the end of those performances.
Mizuho Nagata performed the "Wedding Pas de Deux" from "Coppélia" with non-competing dancer Ogulcan Borova, and the two Korean dancers performed the "Grand Pas de Deux" from "Don Quixote."
I don’t mean at all that the rest of the dancers weren't incredible. Whether the dancers were male or female, performing a pas de deux or just going solo, they were amazing. They made ballet look easy, though you can tell from the occasional stumble that it's not. Each dancer took the stage with grace and precision, and they absolutely captivated me and, I'm sure, the audience.
I will not be able to go tonight, though I hope our photographer Trip Burns will be able to attend. But I'm missing fencing practice tomorrow night to catch the performance of the Trey McIntyre Project. Look for an update on dancers in round two tomorrow, and check out more photos tomorrow night.
To see photos from opening night and session four of round one, visit www.jfp.ms/usaibc2014