June 5, 2012

HIBC: And the Final Round Goes to..

Maria Baranova, "Angry Bird".
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

There were a few suprises when the results for the final round came in, but from a Finn's point of view it was nice to see that three Finnish dancers made the cut. Maria Baranova of course sailed through, no surprise there. Her portrayal of Giselle in the first round was both technically secure and ethereal, despite the competitive setting. But I can't say that I liked Baranova's contemporary number very much. The title "Angry Bird" sounds like it came from the marketing department of the Finnish Tourist Board. For those of you who don't know, "Angry Birds" were indeed hatched in Finland (Finns tend to be very vocal and proud of any international fame or recognition). The dance with it's controlled twitchy handmoves made me think of a Swan on acid - which may have been the purpose! But you have to credit Baranova for making any choreography look great on stage. She's a real artist.

My personal highlight of the evening came from China. Chinese dancers are often claimed as balletic machines, technically as perfect as one can hope to get. But they have also managed to retain expression and artistry, in both classical and contemporary variations. Yun Wang (senior, female) was already sublime in her variation of the Nutcracker pas de deux. In the contemporary round she presented us with a pas de deux of "Sacrifice". It was intensely emotional, sincere and sustained from the first second until the last "sacrifice", when the woman changed into a red cloth and walked away from her partner. Was the red cloth a symbol of the Chinese flag? Or an allusion to the red apple in Paradise? Whichever way you decide, I think "Sacrifice" is a strong front-runner in the choreography competition!

Yun Wang (China) with non-competing partner Yang Jiao.
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

There were other delights too. Yoshiko Kamikusa (female junior, Japan) started her dance without music, and dared to draw the wait out. It worked because she had a very strong presence on stage, and because it was so different from all the classically infused dances. Another Japanese competitor, Yonen Takano (male senior), made me think of a Japanese salaryman in his black suit and white shirt. The tie had already come undone, and Takano was letting loose. For once, the tours en l'air matched the contemporary choreography! Katherine Gazda (junior, Canada) danced her own choreography, which is quite a feat for a fifteen-year old. Much of the dance showcased her considerable physical abilities, but it was danced with conviction. Gazda is a young talent to look out for!

Yoshiko Kamikusa (Japan). "Blume der Nacht".
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

I was happy to see most of my personal favorites make it to the final round, if only to see them perform again! Katherine Higgins from the USA (junior) has been a pleasure to watch, both on stage and backstage. When I observed one of the warm-up classes, she looked happy just to be there. That and effortless technique, plus beautiful balances. Alys Shee (junior), also from Canada, is another very talented and secure dancer - can't wait to see her again! Betsy McBride (USA) has solid technique and lovely stage presence. She's got one of those radiant smiles that cheer you up, no matter what. András Rónai (junior, Hungary) has technique, looks and showmanship - qualities that should land him a contract easily enough.

Ballet is an incredibly tough job, and if there's no love for the work and for the dance, it's just too hard. I do hope all the dancers get what they came looking for, whether that's a learning experience, a contract or a prize. As a member of the audience, I only ask that you keep calm and dance full out. Enjoy the experience, forget about the competition. Dance for us - we are there to applaud you!

Katherine Higgins (USA), Odette's variation.
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.


  1. Odile has a white tutu...

    1. Thanks.. Too many nights at the opera, and too little sleep will do funny things to you. :D


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