June 11, 2012

HIBC: Sheer Pleasure

Dear Readers, it's a wrap-up: the Helsinki International Ballet Competition is over. The results are in, happy dancers have been awarded, signed out and shipped back home - but this ballet blogger isn't done yet! The last days of the competition flew by in a heady rush, I'm still feeling dazed by it all. HIBC 2012 was such an intensely ballet-infused time, that getting back to my regular schedule seems a bit of an anti-climax. Thankfully, I still have fresh memories and a few blogs to write!

I wish I could have posted them real-time, but performances ended late and bed-times came even later. After the last final round I observed class the following day, dashed home to change clothes, hurried back to watch the gala, stayed to enjoy the gala buffet, joined some volunteers and dancers for après-gala beers, slept five hours, woke up to sign out the last dancers at the hotel and get everyone on the right bus, then was wired enough to take my own ballet class. Spent most of Saturday and Sunday in bed and or couch. Would I have traded it for anything? Nope. I loved every moment of it! Now, time for some back-tracking..

Alys Shee and Jonathan Davidsson in the Black Swan pas de deux.
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

The second round of the finals opened with a big bang. Alys Shee and Jonathan Davidsson danced the Black Swan pas de deux - and they blew the audience away! Canadian Alys Shee (born 1994) competed in the junior division, but she has already virtuoso technique. She was utterly fearless in her dancing, killing those famous fouettés with doubles and even triples from beginning to end! I don't know how she does it. But what really made this particular PDD spectacular, was Shee's interpretation of Odile. Some might consider her too young to be convincing, but she played her youth in her favor. Odile came across as tempting, alluring and wickedly irresistible. The audience has to believe why Siegfried would be willing to betray his love for Odette, and blaming it strictly on Rothbart's magic robs the story of its delicious layers. A cold Odile just doesn't do it for me, I find Swan Lake much more fascinating if the audience is also seduced by Odile! Alys Shee and her partner Jonathan Davidsson had great chemistry together, and that last moment where she pulled him in, as if by an invisible string.. Wicked and wonderful!

Next came 16-year old Katherine Higgins, who has been a delight throughout the competition. She is not yet there where Shee is, but I don't doubt that we will hear more from her yet. Katherine has exquisitly long limbs and beautiful lines, effortless balances, and a rare maturity and finesse for someone so young. She was also lovely off-stage. In the final round, Katherine Higgins danced the solo variation from Grand Pas Classique. I have seen GPC performed about a hundred times and even danced it myself. Well, a shorter and much simplified version - remember I'm just a recreational dancer! Anyway, Katherine did really well. She was elegant and secure every step, but perhaps a little nervous.. Although I have to foreshadow and say that she did even better in the gala!

After the girls came a young boy, Taiyu He (born 1996) from China. Oh, boy! He pulled off octoplet pirouettes like I do doubles (on a very good day), and his elevation was through the roof! Seriously crazy stuff. I was already getting worried that there was no more to this kid than bounce and balance, accompanied by a boyish grin - but I was proven wrong in the contemporary round. Taiyu He had suprising intensity and sincerity in his dancing. But I do wonder.. He's short even for Chinese standards, and that might hinder his career. Hope he finds his place in the world of dance!

Taiyu He, this might have been from Paquita.
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

Katherine Higgins (USA), in a variation from Fairy Doll.
Photo: HIBC / Sakari Viika.

I'm not going to cover every competitor, but there were some that stood out. Among others: Ruichen Sun from China. He was a formidable danseur noble in the Grand Pas Classiqe pdd, but I really loved his non-competing partner Wang Ye. Had she been two weeks younger at the beginning of the competition, she would have placed above some of the other seniors. But the line had to be drawn somewhere, and one has to remember that experience is also reflected in artistry. Competitions are sort of (pre-)professional meet and greets. You present yourself, mingle and exchange ideas with your peers and hope for new career opportunities.

But who's to measure and evaluate art? We can look out for technical aspects, count the numbers of turns, check for turn-out, elevation, ballon, épaulemant and line - but how do you rate artistry? With different schools, styles and personalities come different qualities and interpretations, and this is as it should be. Readers often ask me who's my favorite dancer, but I can place none above the rest. It depends on the ballet, the choreography, the role, the dancer, the day it was danced and time I saw it performed. Tastes change, dancers evolve, nothing is ever the same. Thank goodness!

Next post: Wrap-Up!


  1. I often ask the question you brought up about who can judge art. Ballet is an art form over a show of tricks, which is why I think competitions shouldn't be a dancer's main focus. That being said however, I think a competition is a wonderful opportunity to perform, learn how to handle pressure, and get exposure to the dance world, which could possibly lead to a career.

  2. "Competition is healthy because we compete with ourselves, not the prizes or points." Candice Adea. Sheila Riikonen interviewed two dancers on June 5, before the Gala Awards...Read more from‘Pilipinas,-we-got-gold!’&id=53306

    1. That's a smart way of looking at it. You also have to remember that besides a jury there's a whole audience to dance to. Any dancer's first and foremost "job" is to give to that audience, not to dance for points and prizes. I think Adea accomplished just that. :)

  3. Not sur Alys Shee be in junior category even fair. She already principal level techniq dancer who guest for many major companies as solo or pairs guest. At Paris Opera trials this year she place in final group of 12 compete for contract out of 250 dancer trying out from other company all over world. Next youngest in final twelve almost 8 yrs older. Some say she next big thing.

    We see her at Gala des Etoiles and she amazing - best of night of all top dancers. it said she go to Royal Ballet but other big companies try to woo her - she be big draw and catch for them if so.

    1. Well, Alys Shee is only 18 years old - and the junior age limit for HIBC was 15-19 yrs. I think she's a wonderful dancer, insanely talented and hard-working too. She will go places, for sure. If I remember correctly, she will dance with Royal Birmingham Ballet next season.

    2. I find out she 17. Incroyable! Not realise so young given ability. Royal Birmingham must excited be for her to arrive. I told Bolshoi want her but who take chance of living in Russia - very dangerous!


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...