Just as the World Cup brings soccer superstars from around the globe into the same arena, the USA International Ballet Competition (USA IBC) draws some of the world’s most promising young ballet dancers to Jackson, Mississippi, every four years for an epic dance-off.
USA IBC carries significant prestige in the dance world and international ballet stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov are among the 35-year-old competition’s alumni.
Colorado residents Emily Speed, Anisa Sinteral-Scott and Ariel Breitman are among the 100 dancers selected from 300 total applicants to compete in this year’s competition, which is underway this week and runs through June 29.
It’s the state’s biggest showing ever at the event.
Speed explains that competitors have to perform an intimidating four “pas de deux” -- or classical duets -- before the judges.
“I was really excited and also a little nervous because there’s a lot to do and a lot to prepare before you compete,” Speed says. “Usually, even if you are doing a full-length role as a principal, you wouldn’t have four different things. And it’s changing character so it’s a bit trickier.”
Divided by age -- Junior (ages 15 to 18) and Senior (ages 19 to 26) division -- as well as gender, competitors go through three rounds. The first is a classical ballet round, while the second focuses on contemporary repertoire. There are eliminations at every round.
Dancers receive a score between 1 and 10 for their technical skills, musicality and artistry.
Colorado Ballet artistic director Gil Boggs selected both Speed and Breitman for his company.
Boggs himself competed at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, in 1980 and has been working with Speed on preparing for USA IBC.
Earlier this week, Boggs spoke with Chloe Veltman, the host of CPR’s weekly arts show “The Colorado Art Report.” He shared his thoughts on USA IBC specifically and ballet as a competitive art form.
Here’s a preview of the interview, which can be heard in full on The Colorado Art Report this Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. The segment is also available online on demand.
CPR: What do you think of the USA International Ballet Competition? How does it rank among ballet competitions in the world?
Gil Boggs: I think it’s a wonderful competition. It got started in 1979. The original competition was the Varna Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. That one started back in 1964. They were looking for a place in America to start a competition. Jackson put a committee together and they were able to swipe people from New York to hold the competition there.
CPR: What are the biggest challenges that Emily, Anisa and Ariel will face when they compete in the USA International Ballet Competition?
Gil Boggs: Nerves. You have to be relaxed. You have to present yourself. You have to be an artist on stage and it’s a high-pressure situation. So, if you tense up, it’s just not going to be there. And that’s what I worked with Emily on before she left -- the use of her body, to relax and to relate to her partner. It doesn’t matter how many pirouettes you do, in the end. It’s the artistry that the judges are looking for.
CPR: How has the coaching gone so far?
Gil Boggs: Great. Emily has been very receptive. These are young kids. It’s a great learning experience for all dancers. Competitions aren’t for everyone. Very few are going to succeed at them. But, if you go for the experience, you’re going to see dancers from all around the world. You can learn from them.
Emily Speed, 24, has competed and won medals in ballet competitions like the Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York City and the Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria. She has danced with Alabama Ballet, Ballet Tuscan, Boulder Ballet and joins the Colorado Ballet for the 2014-2015 season. (Photo: Courtesy of Sue Daniels)
Anisa Sinteral-Scott, 21, trains with the International Ballet School in Littleton, Colorado. She began dancing at the age of nine. Sinteral-Scott has competed and won medals in the Youth America Grand Prix as well as the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland. (Photo: Courtesy of USA IBC)
Ariel Breitman is originally from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. He trained with the Ellison Ballet School in New York City and danced with the Washington Ballet’s studio company in D.C. for the 2013/2014 season. Breitman joins the Colorado Ballet for the 2014-2015 season. (Photo: Courtesy of Washington Ballet)
The USA International Ballet Competition runs through June 29.