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Subject: "'Competitions and The POB Concours' discussion" Archived thread - Read only
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05-03-02, 05:31 PM (GMT)
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"'Competitions and The POB Concours' discussion"
This thread is for discussion of Katharine Kanter's piece "Competitions and The Paris Opera Ballet Concours" in the March Ballet.co magazine:

Hope you have found the piece stimulating and please feel free to comment on it and/or interact with others thoughts below....

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: 'Competitions and The POB Concours' discussion MAB 07-03-02 1
  RE: 'Competitions and The POB Concours' discussion Renee Renouf Hall 21-03-02 2

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07-03-02, 04:50 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: 'Competitions and The POB Concours' discussion"
In response to message #0
   I have only ever been to one Ballet Competition and that was the First International Diaghilev Competition for Young Dancers held in Moscow at the Tchaikovsky Hall in 1992 and I have to admit I enjoyed it. My tickets for this event cost me between 2p and 10p over three days but I missed the first heat and the final.

Almost all the competitors were from the former Soviet Union with a sprinkling of Western European and Japanese hopefuls. The repertory of these dancers was fairly predictable with a great number of Corsairs and Diana & Acteons. When it was announced that a couple from Siberia were to dance the Balanchine Tchaikovsky pas de deux an audible murmur of excitement was heard from the audience. Balanchine was a very rare treat in Moscow at that time and it was enthusiastically applauded despite being rather poorly danced. The most generous applause of the competition went to a girl from the Stuttgart School who treated the audience to some Cranko and Forsythe.

At this point I would like to address three of Ms Kanter’s arguments. Firstly, concerning auditions. The majority of the kids I saw were from the old USSR. How on earth could they manage to finance themselves in order to attend auditions outside of their native country? The winner of this competition, a Georgian boy, was able to dance with the Birmingham Royal Ballet as a result of winning. I would imagine it would have been impossible for him to have had that opportunity had he not decided to compete.

With Ms Kanter’s second point I to some extent concur. I imagine that at that point in their careers the young dancers I saw would be working hard in order to succeed in a professional career anyway, so competing would make little difference to their work load. However I must take issue with her description of a competition audience as “braying”. The audience for the competition I went to was one of the most informed audiences I have experienced anywhere, made up of dancers, teachers, dance students and Moscow balletomanes, some of whom I got to speak to. I can assure Ms Kanter that NOBODY brayed!

Judges? Hmmm… In Maya Plisetskaya’s recent autobiography she writes about how the Moscow competitions were all rigged, even with such luminaries as Jerome Robbins (she says he was totally bemused by what went on) sitting on the panel. Then again, maybe Madame Plisetskaya isn’t the right person to protest as I have a video of one of her “Maya” competitions held in St Petersburg. The winner was a graduate of Madame Plisetskaya’s school, which doesn’t exactly indicate impartiality.

Regarding the Paris Opera Ballet’s competition for promotions, I am grateful to Ms Kanter for explaining the procedure. I had always understood that the company required its dancers to re-audition annually to retain their positions within the company and had thought it an excellent idea for clearing away “dead wood” and creating employment for young dancers. Now that I know the competition is for advancement through the ranks, I have to agree that it doesn’t sound like an ideal arrangement at all.

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Renee Renouf Hall

21-03-02, 04:38 AM (GMT)
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2. "RE: 'Competitions and The POB Concours' discussion"
In response to message #0
   Ms. Kanter writes a vigorous argument, but I wonder whose
quotations she has used, or whether she dreamed them up in order to rebut them. Certainly, they sound all too familiar.

I have not been to a competition outside the United States, and only can speak of the Competition in Jackson, Mississippi which happens every four years. Let me try to respond, mainly from my own perspective, which may not reflect on its validity for dancers.

The Jackson, Mississippi owes its genesis to Thalia Mara, a Preobrajanska-schooled dancer who hailed from Chicago but had
Russian parents. What distinguishes this Competition is that the bulk of the arrangements and the operation of the Competition comes from the community which labors away for two weeks on an entirely volunteer basis. The first year it happened, in 1979, the City had been ravaged by an unexpected flood by the Pearl River, which wrecked the studios of the Mississippi Ballet,
and the floor of the auditorium. Both has to be replaced days before the first competitors arrived. Parenthetically, let me say that Jackson is the capital of the state of Mississippi and was known as Chimneyville after Sherman started his march from Atlanta to the Sea in the last year or two of the American Civil War. Prior to the Civil War, Mississippians were noted for traveling, via the Mississippi River, down to New Orleans and thence to Europe for the Grand Tour.

The City School System lent its buses and the firemen provided the drivers, shuttling dancers between college dormitories and
and rehearsal halls spread throughout the city and one of three or four college campuses. One woman, in charge of the limoursine service,handled the departures, responsible for seeing that visitors and competitors were seen safely off to their points of origin. She was virtually without sleep for two days in the process.

Another practice to Jackson is that the Competition provides each competitor, juror and honored guest with a host family who meets them at the airport, provides hospitality, run errands, provide care packages, and try to make them as comfortable as possible in the late spring muggy climate of Jackson.

At Jackson, there also is the practice when a competitor gets eliminated that they are allowed to remain on at the Competition
taking classes and living in the dormitory without charge. In the last two Competitions, Dennis Nahat has taken the eliminated dancers, utilized sections of their contemporary dances and woven it into a group number which continues to keep the eliminated contestants in full view if they choose to remain.

Another practice which will probably be in place for the third time (a 12 year space) is that a team of evaluators are available to the eliminated dancers to discuss their presentations, and to
who read the jurors' comments to the dancers. It is a delicate job, but those who choose to listen seem to have gained quite a bit from the sessons.

These practices have evolved over the 20 years of the Competition with the stated belief that the Jackson Competition sponsors try to make the Competition a learning experience, that the process is as important as the ultimate prize.

Some remarkable things do happen, such as the young competitor who came from, I think, Bulgaria with lost luggage. People came forward with shoes, practice clothes, costumes.

So Jackson has three or four singular approaches which I donot
think are held in common with other competitions, trying to be as human about the two week marathon as possible.

Jenny Velduis came perhaps eight years ago and remarked to me
when she saw the enormous influx of Russian competitors following
glosnost. "It used to be that countries sent competitors to represent the country and the style. Now it is anyone who can scrape together the money."

I have seen towards the end of any of the Competitions at Jackson an enormous influx of company directors. Certainly there are a fair number of coaches present from the beginning. Some dancers, of course, look upon the sessions as an audition,while other dancers, affiliated with a company, regard it as a challenge and perhaps a spur for recognition within their given company.U.S. companies are liberally dotted with foreign dancers whose performance and style won the attention of an artistic director.

It takes a certain personality to undertake a competition, that's for sure. It is not the only way to rise to the top, that's also for certain. But it also is a way of measuring what is out there
and what's happening in various schools and companies.

Like the competitors I have made friends with individuals who have come to Jackson, and I certainly have broadened my perspective on foreign dancers because of being there.

Finally, let me say that Competitions are the result of jet travel. They really did not exist before, but came about as the result of companies touring by air. If companies, why not individuals, seems to be the reasoning. We in the United States would not have seen Ulanova, Fonteyn, Assylmuratova without access, air tourist or any other class. So we wouldn't have had any means to measure schools, let alone dancers.

One final downer needs to be mentioned. In 1990 Jose Manuel Carreno won the Grand Prix de Jackson. The prize money languishes in a Jackson bank collecting interest because the U.S. Government does not permit funds won by a Cuban national to leave this country. Presumably this also happened to Ramos and Sorubia, the two junior Cubans, who won the silver and gold medals in 1998.

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