As a whole, the competition was a raving success. The audience members were engaged and were even allowed to cast a vote for their favourite ballet dancer. This kept attention and focus en point as we all relished the role of discerning critic, crucial to bringing the show together.
Each of the 12 candidates, chosen from seven countries, had to perform three pieces; a 19th Century variation, a 20th Century variation and a commissioned variation choreographed by Kirsten Isenberg. The first round established some favourites, in particular Chinese competitor Jin Hao Zhang, but the more the evening progressed the tougher it became to discern who was the cream of the crop.
There were of course those who were painfully adequate, boasting solid technique but no personality. Then there were those with personality and technique, like the quirky antics of 17 year old Mana Ogawa from Japan, or the charm of 15 year old Jessica Brown from Australia. But the outright sensation of the night, who with poignant sensitivity, razor-sharp technique and divine grace encapsulated all that it means to be an artist, was 17 year old Simon Jones from Australia. Bravo I say, Bravo.
Obviously he was not awarded a medal as the competition was partially rigged. Did I say rigged? What I meant was ‘politically engineered’. [See Editor’s note below] It was way too suspicious that out of the five medals that were handed out, two went to South Africans. And I can bet that next year when the competition takes place in New Zealand, a significant proportion of the winners will miraculously turn out to be New Zealanders. I can’t help but think that the judges’ choices were based more on reputation and political diplomacy than on the skill level of the dancers.
Artscape and Diva P.R. must be congratulated on the event as a whole. The theatre was filled with a cosmopolitan crowd of people, perhaps the most well attended ballet event since Swan Lake. Moreover, the audience voting ran smoothly and media personnel were granted the opportunity to mingle with the dancers afterwards. All in all it was a fine evening and although the orchestral pit in the opera house remained empty, the piano pieces played by Jonathan Still, Richard Norriss and Michael-John Sheehan were more than sufficient to set the mood.
I cannot end this without congratulating Cape Town City Ballet for their electric performance. A big thumbs up to Robin van Wyk for the choreography. The piece did start off a bit shaky and unfocussed, but in true South African style, they managed to pull themselves together and wow the audience. The choreography was filled with energy and flavour; a wonderful cultural artefact for the foreign members of the audience to take home in their hearts. And the coolest part was that the dancers each wore outfits that were a colour from the South African flag. So what at first seemed to be a reaction against the general toned down colour scheme of the competition, turned out to be a delightful surprise.
If I had the chance to go to New Zealand for the next competition I would certainly go. Even with the diplomatic undertones of the event, there is still so much beauty and talent to be absorbed from this event. The most interesting piece of commentary about the competition came from a friend of mine from the Cape Town City Ballet. “I don’t believe in the idea of a ballet competition” he said. “Everyone works equally as hard.” I would argue that this competition shows that hard work and dedication coupled with innate talent is the only way to be truly remarkable. But most of all I would say that true magic happens only when the performers let a little bit of themselves shine through.
The Genee International Ballet Competition, London’s Royal Academy of Dance’s annual competition, took place at the Artscape Theatre 6 – 9 October 2011.
[Editor’s note: WhatsoninCapeTown has since spoken with the organisers of the competition who deny all possibility of the vote being rigged. We apologise for any offence caused – the remark was intended in a light-hearted manner and no offence was intended. We wholeheartedly congratulate all the medal winners. ]