It's been a busy week and a half. The first ever Boston International Ballet Competition took place May 12-16 at John Hancock Hall, climaxing with a gala awards ceremony and performance last Monday. On Wednesday, at the Opera House, Boston Ballet presented its second annual "Next Generation" performance, which spotlights the company's school. And on Thursday, the Ballet announced that principal dancer Larissa Ponomarenko, who's been with the company since 1993, is retiring.
The BIBC was the brainchild of former Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet principal Valentina Kozlova, who is currently director of the Dance Conservatory of New York, in Manhattan. One might have thought that with the legion of international competitions already out there — Varna, Jackson, Helsinki, not to mention New York — we didn't really need another. But this one justified itself with an impressive level of both organization and talent. Kozlova had the advantage of being able to use the Boston Ballet studio — a short walk from the Hancock — for classes and rehearsals, and that made for a compact, easy-to-navigate event, with the competitors and their coaches staying in nearby hotels. But she attracted 92 dancers from 23 countries, in three divisions: student (ages 13-14), junior (15-18), and senior (19-25). And she assembled an all-star jury that included former NYCB principal and Boston Ballet artistic director Violette Verdy and former Bolshoi star Andris Liepa, with Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen as president.
There were three rounds for the junior and senior divisions and two for the students. For the classical selections, there was an extensive list of 19th-century classics to choose from, everything from August Bournonville to Flames of Paris; competitors brought their own short contemporary selections, and the juniors and seniors also had to perform a compulsory piece choreographed by Edwaard Liang (for the men) or Margo Sappington (for the women). In the classical section of the third round, the dancers had the choice of performing two regular excerpts or a longer pas de deux with a competing or non-competing partner.
Aside from the inevitable occasional snafu with the pre-recorded music, the three sessions I attended ran like clockwork. Attendance was spotty; one area in which the competition can improve is publicity. (A flyer inserted into Boston Ballet programs would have reached most of the potential audience.) But the performances were stellar, no one falling, hardly anyone even falling off pointe. There was a gratifying level of self-possession in the students. And the option of a pas de deux gave performers an opportunity to show they could act and interact. Indeed, the gold medals in the senior division went to two South Koreans, Ji Young Chae and Young Gyu Choi, who had danced the Don Quixote pas de deux together. Another couple who did that pas de deux, Candice Adea and Jean Marc Cordero, both from the Philippines, won lead roles in a Chelyabinsk State Opera production in Russia.