May 31, 2016

The Charismatic Dancer

Talent and technique - all of the dancers at the International Ballet Competition (IBC) Helsinki have plenty of both. Every day I've been awed by their highly fine-tuned instruments and athletic feats, in class and on stage. Double-split sissone ouverts (I don't know the correct term), over-head attitude tambourine kicks, tours en l'air, multiple pirouettes (as much as ten), double fouetté turns, hops and balances on pointe, breathtakingly beautiful arabesques... But there's one skill that you cannot measure or count: stage presence. Some dancers just have it. They draw you in the moment they set foot on stage, not with tricks but with personality, the light in their eyes, their entire countenance and presence.

Present yourself - on stage and in class

We all know about the hard work that goes into ballet technique, but how do you practice presence? Is charisma something that you're born with - and if so, where does that leave the rest (of us)? The way I see it, the most charismatic dancers are not necessarily the prettiest girls, or the most princely danseurs. Not that having beautiful features has ever been a disadvantage to a performing artist, especially in in the world of ballet. Even so, much can be done with the right stage make-up, emphasizing eyes and features to suit the dancer, mood and lighting. Charisma, however, is not cosmetic. It's not a pasted on perma-grin, but a radiant smile that reaches the eyes - and the audience. Even if the choreography is somber or tragic, the dancer with stage presence knows how to present and project - all the way into the nosebleed section.

"Present yourself, be beautiful, make it interesting, be generous..." Some of the advice I've been given by my own ballet teacher. Despite ballet being a performing art, the aspect of performance came very late to me. I was already 40 when I had my first show! And scared stiff, literally. I was way too nervous and unprepared to enjoy any of it, but it was also a valuable learning experience. Stage presence starts already in class. The way you use your épaulement, your head and eyes, your stance, every step you take. Confident, believing in yourself, standing tall, elongating your body, reaching out, never being stingy with yourself. Also, your attitude and mood, the way you present and conduct yourself: positive, attentive, alert, energetic, respectful, 100% happy to be there. I have always loved being in class, working hard, dancing... Everybody I know knows I'm passionate about ballet - but I'm not exactly known for possessing charisma. Rather, I'm the student with concentration face (focused, not mad), and timid demeanor. You know, it's okay to be shy and sensitive and introvert... But when you feel small, it actually helps to dance big!

First Round, last day

Sitting in the audience in Almi Hall, I again had the pleasure of seeing many awe-inspiring and beautiful performances. Yimeng Sun (China, seniors, b. 1993) was a delightful Sleeping Beauty, pure and delicate with crystal clear lines and lovely musicality. Anastasia Tillman (USA, juniors, b. 1999) was in her element as Kitri, nailing the traveling turns-from-fith diagonal with doubles at the end. You can always tell when someone is dancing their favorite variation... Fangqi Li (China, juniors, b. 1998) danced a stunning Esmeralda with exquisite balances and, yes, stage presence. The boys/men continue to be absolutely incredible with their athletic prowess, roof-high jumps and dizzying turns. For the men, classical solo variations are all about showing off bravado technique, it is their forte. Variations from Le Corsaire, Esmeralda, La Bayadère, Don Quixote were most popular - standard competition fare. Frederico Loureiro (Portugal, juniors, b. 2000) displayed extraordinary flexibility and ballon for his young age. Kengo Nishiko (Japan, seniors, b. 1992) and Hojin Leon (South Korea, seniors, b. 1991) were among the many double-splitting flyers.

Frederico Loureiro and Yimeng Sun. Photography by Mirka Kleemola.

Other dancers and performances were not quite there yet. Ella Puurtinen (Finland, juniors, b.1998), I think, would benefit from a scholarship... She still needs to build strength and confidence, but certainly has a lot of potential. Sara Antikainen (Finland, juniors, b. 1997), on the other hand, was both secure and confident, but the tempo of her Giselle variation was too slow for my liking. Giselle is delicate, and dreamy - not lethargic. I've seen Antikainen dance before, in La Sylphide at the National Ballet School's showcase, and it was an absolutely lovely performance. One dancer's big chance was sadly ruined by the poor quality of her pre-recorded music. Maria Martyanova (Finland, seniors, b. 1995) has gorgeous lines, but both variations were a pain in the ear. After her performances, there was actually an audible rumbling of disfavor among the viewers. It is one thing to use a poor recording for practice, but not in front of a live audience and jury. It's a disservice to the dancer as well - her dancing clearly suffered from the bad sound.

Of course, two variations do not tell the entire story... Competitors who are already company members have to fit training into their rehearsal and performance schedules. Ballet students have school and homework to take care of. Seasoned competitors (juniors or seniors) have the advantage of experience. Some rise to the occasion, others need more time and practice to mature. It is good to remember that there are no losers at IBC Helsinki - even the dancers who don't win medals or scholarships, have gained unique and valuable learning experiences.

Mesmerizing Esmeralda

For me, the highlight of the evening was Yoshiko Kamikusa (Canada, seniors, b.1995). Her variation from The Nutcracker (chor. Lev Ivanov) was not flashy, but flawless and radiantly elegant. I had last seen Kamikusa four years ago, when she competed in the junior division at IBC Helsinki, but I did not know what to expect. I knew she had already danced principal roles at the Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet - despite being in the corps, so I wasn't worried... But her first variation was still a most delightful surprise. Her second variation, Esmeralda, brought the house down. Technically both brilliant and flawless, super-secure multiple turns, above-the-head attitude tambourine kicks - which she still managed to look elegant, not circus-y, high extensions, strong jump. But most of all: stage presence. Yoshiko Kamikusa's interpretation was mature, spell-binding, musical, and mesmerizing. The definition of charismatic.

Yoshiko Kamikusa. Photography by Mirka Kleemola.

May 28, 2016

Work to Impress, Dance to Express

Multiple pirouettes, tricky steps on pointe and acrobatic jumps are eternal crowd pleasers, and rightly so - after all, it takes exceptional talent and years of training to achieve such technical feats. If you're a strong jumper, or a natural turner, that's what you want to show (off). Dance to impress the audience, and most of all, the judges. But there's more to ballet than athletic tricks, no matter how awe-inspiring. Otherwise, a ballet competition would be a sporting event, instead of a showcase for emerging artists. To dance is to express, to tell stories, interpret roles and music, convey moods and emotions. When a dancer knows how to marry impressive technique with beautiful expression... Then we have an artist - and a winner.

It's not so very different for the recreational dance student, albeit for different reasons. For most adult ballet dancers, it's not possible to progress to very advanced levels, certainly not to the level of a professional dancer. Time restrictions, age, physical abilities and limitations - all factors which determine how far we can go. But ballet is about the journey, not the destination. No dancer is ever done learning, and if you really think you're "done" - that's when growth and personal development stops. I love this aspect of ballet, because it's the same for everyone, whether you're a young competitor, a professional ballerina, or a middle-aged student like myself. There's always something to improve, refine, to make your own. I may never figure out quadruple turns or achieve higher extensions - but I can focus on quality, pointed toes, elongated lines, épaulement, port de bras, musicality, even artistry. To dance ballet is to love the process, the work you do in class - otherwise it would be just too hard. For me, there are no competitions, no prizes to be won... Dance itself is the reward.

I wonder sometimes, how it is for young competitors... So much discipline, drive and dedication goes into classes and rehearsals, countless of hours, sacrifices - when the actual performance lasts only a few minutes. Sometimes, the pressure shows. Dancing turns into performing a task, an exercise, a routine. Facial expressions can become static, smiles don't quite reach the eyes... But I want to see dancers who love to dance, not just workers or athletes. Please, you do not need to cram well-known variations full of new tricks. One or two can be fabulous, if the musicality and mood of the choreography doesn't suffer.

Then there are those dancers with magnetic stage presence and sparkling eyes. Something about them that makes you want to see more.

Stand-outs of Day Two of First Round at IBC Helsinki:

Eliana Vogel, to the left, and So Jung Shin to the right. Photography by Mirka Kleemola.

South Korean So Jung Shin (juniors, b. 1996) danced Odette's variation with elegance and soul, making the entire audience sigh... Beautiful lines and easy balances, regal in her countenance. So Jung Shin's Kitri was a nice contrast; fast bourrée entrance with arms allongé to the back - almost like a swan. Not sure how much of Petipa was left, but interesting nonetheless.

Eliana Vogel (juniors, b. 1999), USA. Don't be fooled by her tiny size, this 17-year old is surprisingly strong for her size, and mature for her age. Her Esmeralda was not circus-y, but elegant, and I loved the single fouettées in-between her tambourine kicks.

Yeojin Shim (juniors, b. 2000), South Korea (again). A very difficult variation from Harlequinade, danced with wonderful ease. Lots of hops on pointe, extra pirouettes. Her Esmeralda was quite different from Vogel's, although I appreciate both. Liked the surprise turn-kick at the end of her tambourine diagonal.

Gento Yoshimoto (seniors, b. 1991) Japan. Yoshimoto is a flyer! Crazy ballon and elevation, clean lines, very athletic - and that big smile! His variation from Le Corsaire would earn him Olympic Gold, if dance were sports. To be fair, classical male variations are meant to be showcases for bravado athleticism. But I did enjoy both of his performances, and after seeing him in class this morning, I'm sure Yoshimoto will proceed to the Final Round.

Yeojin Shim, to the left, and Gento Yoshimoto. Photography by Mirka Kleemola.

Byul Yun
(seniors, b. 1994), South Korea. Another dazzling variation from Esmeralda, great jumps. I don't now wherefrom these young men get all their ballon!


Arutiun Arakelian (senior, b. 1994) Armenia. Another athlete jumper & natural turner. He also made a nice save when he dropped his tiara (do men wear tiaras, or is there another word for it?) coming down from Corsaire's big jump into a the kneeling cambré. Seemed completely unflustered - and stayed in character.

Finnish competitor Suvi Honkanen (seniors, b. 1993) was a pretty Sleeping Beauty, delicate yet secure. For her second variation she chose a rarer variation from La Halte de Cavalier, which was a smart choice - and danced in a lovely manner.

Suvi Honkanen as Sleeping Beauty. Photography by Mirka Kleemola. 

May 25, 2016

Dance Like No One is Judging

Dance like no one is watching, is what we often hear... All you have to do is be in the moment, listen to the music, apply what you have learned - and enjoy the dancing. Easier said than done. I don't perform on stage, so class is never just warm-up, but the only place where I get to dance. Ballet is my passion, not profession - which doesn't mean I don't take practice seriously. Sometimes, too much. I've always been focused on progress, applying corrections, improving, pushing myself, working hard... But then I can also be too hard on myself, disappointed when I don't meet my own expectations, forgetting what dance is all about: expression and the joy of moving to music. You learn technique to play your instrument, but you cannot paint music without soul.

As an adult ballet student, I have to work with a lot of physical limitations, and accept my shortcomings (lack of turnout, low arabesques, not having the lines I dream of). But there are also advantages: I don't have to go on stage when my body is tired and aching, my (future) career and livelihood does not depend on my performance in class, there's no pressure to do well, no competition, no stress. Hard work, sweat and challenges - yes. But those are an integral part of the experience, and I would not want it any other way.

Two Coppélias. South Koreans Han Dahuin (blue background) and So Yun Park.
Photography by Mirka Kleemola for IBC Helsinki. 

For a young and talented dancer competing in a prestigious ballet competition, it's a very different experience. Every moment is essentially your calling card, a live resume in the making: how you work in class, how you present yourself on and off stage, and finally, how you perform in front of an audience. Those dancers who rise to the top, win price money and prestige, and may be offered job opportunities or scholarships. Not to mention making important contacts for their future careers. It's no wonder tension and nerves run high! Some competitors are, of course, more experienced than others, and many have already secured their first or second contracts with companies. Still... Can you imagine dancing in front of a distinguished jury of notable Artistic Directors? Maina Gielgud, Nina Ananiashvili, Angel Corella, Jorma Elo, to mention a few but not all. Yesterday evening, as I watched IBC Helsinki's jury take their seats, I could feel the electricity building in the air... A ballet competition is serious art (I don't want to say business, even though ticket revenue is what keeps the boat afloat).

What then do the judges look for? I was seated two rows behind (the jury is shielded by unoccupied rows, to their front and back), and could see them scribbling down notes and whispering to each other, but I can only guess... Certainly, it has to be a combination of technique, musicality, expression, stage presence (presentation & projection), personality, artistry - relative to the dancers' age and experience. But, while technical merits are fairly easy to judge, artistry and expression is not. Sometimes, it comes down to personal preferences and tastes. That's why there are seven judges, to bring a variety of views and experiences to the table, and to balance out subjective opinions. Well, that's how I think it works, as I haven't actually talked to any of the judges... In my most humble opinion, I also believe that each judge wishes for every dancer to do well and succeed. Just like the audience does. We want everyone to feel excited and happy on stage, to give us their all, to be lifted with their grand jetés, and touched by their performance. Dance like you love it!

Yesterday evening saw the first day of First Round at IBC Helsinki. Twenty-one dancers took to the stage, 12 juniors and 9 seniors. They performed variations from Giselle, Paquita, Coppélia, Harlequinade, Raymonda, Swan Lake, La Bayadère, Don Quixote, La Fille Mal Gardée, Esmeralda, The Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, and Le Corsaire. Usually, the audience gets to see most variations performed more than once by different dancers, so it's easier to compare technique and interpretations. Or you can just sit back, and enjoy without looking at technical details too much. I try to do both. Glittering costumes, nerves, happy smiles, amazing jumps and turns, failed balances, disappointment, triumphant recoveries, hard work paying off, athletes, emerging artists... The excitement of it all!

Looking at the first evening of three (round one), the South Koreans rule. So Yun Park (seniors, b. 1996) was a smash hit in her gravity-defying and completely secure Paquita variation. Wonderful ballon in the exhilarating grand jeté entrance. That girl can fly! To top it off, turns like there's no tomorrow, effortless, joyful expression and a pleasure to watch. Another South Korean, Han Dahin (juniors), danced the same variations and was equally delightful without being identical. Not as impressive in the Paquita variation as Part, but I did like the softness in her fingers. Too often, energy and nerves make hands and fingers stiff or over-extended, when they should add the final touch... Of the boys, Korean Jeongmin Cheon (juniors, b. 2000) dazzled me the most. He danced a variation from Harlequinade, which is not one of my favorites, but Cheon really sold it. Incredible jump and turns, bounces like he has trampolines under his feet. And that happy smile!

Other stand-outs: Oben Yildirim (juniors, b. 1997) from Turkey. Her Paquita did not convince me, she seemed tense and lost balance... But her comeback after the intermission was impressive! Yildirim danced Esmeralda's variation with gusto and spirit, hitting those tambourines like she's never done anything else in her life. The audience loved it!

Ketlin Oja (left) and Oben Yildirim. Photography by Mirka Kleemola for IBC Helsinki.

Ketlin Oja (juniors, b. 1997), Estonia. A perfect princess in her Nutcracker variation. She reminds of a music box ballerina, blonde and delicate, with the face of a precious doll. Very precise and controlled. Sure to proceed to round two, where I'll be very interested to see her dance something different and contemporary.

Xinlun Zhan, (seniors, b. 1991), China. Certain to proceed to the Final Round. She danced Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote variations with utmost precision, and has that perfect physicality we have come to expect from the Chinese schools. Perhaps a bit reserved/polite in her expression... I would like to see the dancer beneath the role, something that makes her unique. Having said that, her dancing came across as effortlessly elegant.

Christian Pforr (juniors, b. 1997), USA. Very promising, great jump. I liked his variation from Coppélia better than his first one from Giselle. Hope to see him in the second round, and not stress about the performance too much. Enjoy, and engage with the audience. Forget about the judges.

There were others too, lots of potential and promise. Every dancer had something special about them even if there sometimes was still an element of youthful inexperience. Ballet is hard, competitions are even harder, travel days, jet lag, new surroundings, nerves... It all takes a toll. Failed balances are understandable. Tomorrow is another day. See you on the stage, toi toi toi!

- Johanna Elina Aurava

May 17, 2016

Aim High, Enjoy the Ride - Six Alumni of IBC Helsinki 2012 Look Back

Four years ago, I worked as a volunteer at the International Ballet Competition (IBC) Helsinki. It was an exciting experience, to see the inner workings of such a prestigious competition, and most of all, to meet all those talented and hardworking young dancers. I could not help but be drawn in, and keep my fingers crossed for everyone! And while IBC is a competition with a total of 80.000 € in awards, it's not all about taking home places and prize money. There's so much more: learning experiences, performing opportunities, dancing in front of knowledgeable and appreciative audiences, making important contacts, meeting dancers from all over the world, forming new friendships... And let's not forget the joy of dance! Since IBC Helsinki 2012, it's been my pleasure to follow the blossoming careers of many alumni, to see students grow into professional dancers, and competitors into artists.

Before IBC Helsinki 2016 kicks off next week, I interviewed five alumi about their past experiences and how competing affected their career path. Here are their answers:

Candice Adea (Philippines), 1st prize seniors

Candice Adea with Juan Cordero, in the grand pas de deux from Diana and Acteon, at IBC Helsinki 2012.

What did you take home from the competition?

I took home the 1st place, but, more than that, I took home new friends, lessons, and most definitely new experiences.

How did it affect your career?

It opened many doors but, I believe, more than affecting my career, it inspired a lot of young dancers in the Philippines to pursue their dancing dreams. Seeing them gives me so much joy and it inspires me to work even harder.

What are your favorite memories?

My favorite memory was when a Finnish group came to me and said, "Thank you for your performance." I'm used to people saying, "Wonderful," "Beautiful," and "Congratulations." But, up until that point, I had never had an audience member thank me for our performance. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate all kinds of compliments but hearing those words affected me. After all of the blood and sweat and late rehearsals for the competition,"Thank you for your performance" acknowledged the hard work we put in to get this far. That it was worth it. It was a moment money could never buy.

What advice would you give to this year's competitors?

My advice is to enjoy the whole experience, both the stresses and the triumphs. The experience will be beneficial to your growth towards becoming a better artist.

Photo courtesy of Candice Adea: Dance Page

Candice Adea was Principal Dancer for Ballet Philippines and Soloist for Hong Kong Ballet. Currently, her season with Ballet Met (USA) is coming to a close. She essayed principal roles in Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, and Amada, among others. Candice Adea was trained in the Philippines at the CCP Dance School, the Philippine High School for the Arts, and earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree Major in Dance, from De La Salle—College of Saint Benilde. She credits her training to Victor Ursabia, Nonoy Froilan, Brezhnev Larlar, Noordin Jumalon and Cecile Sicangco. Adea was the first Filipina to win at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition taking 1st Place, Senior Women’s Division in 2012 and at the USA International Ballet Competition with a Silver finish for the Senior Women’s Division in 2010. In July 2011, she garnered the Third Prize at the 8th Seoul International Dance Competition in South Korea, Senior Women’s Division, among other.

Katherine Higgins (USA), 3rd prize juniors

What did you take home from the competition?

I think the biggest thing I took away from the competition was self awareness. The environment of HIBC that I experienced promoted learning and artistic growth before any prizes or negative competition, and I really felt that I grew through working with new people and performing in such a welcoming place. I met all kinds of artists from all over the world that taught me more about the art form, and in studying that, I learned more about myself. The competition was a big step forward for me in terms of feeling comfortable onstage. It was my first IBC, and of course nerves are a part of such a prestigious institution, but I felt surrounded by such positive energy from all the competitors, teachers, and staff around the opera house that it was so easy to just have fun onstage. The opportunity to perform so many different pieces in a beautiful place, around great people is one I will always cherish.

How did it affect your career?

After my experience at IBC Helsinki, I felt excited to try other competitions and performing opportunities, which have all shaped me into the dancer I am today. The structure of the competition helped me become more comfortable with taking 'risks' onstage, and finding what I wanted to present to the audience. The competition was definitely a springboard for the years to come, and it makes me happy to think about!

What are your favorite memories?

It's so hard to pick a favorite memory! But I would have to choose the master class where I got to see Kenneth Greve and Nina Ananiashvilli try some pas de deux steps together. Seeing such amazing dancers and now teachers together having fun in the studio was fabulous! I also loved the work of the pianists who played each morning in the classes. They played with such heart and chose songs that really inspired me. That is something that really touched me and I won't forget.

What advice would you give to this year's competitors?

The only advice I can give to this year's competitors is to keep an open mind and just have fun. Enjoy the incredible people, the setting, and this time to learn and grow. I wish everyone all the best at this year's HIBC and I hope that anyone who is a part of the competition will walk away with a positive experience to cherish, like me!

Photograph (c) Katherine Higgins / facebook

Katherine Higgins was born in Wilton, CT, United States, and began dancing at the age of 3. At 15, she began training at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp in Belgium, graduating in 2013. Katherine has competed in and earned medals in many international ballet competitions all over the world, including the Prix de Lausanne, the Grand Prix at Youth America Grand Prix, a bronze medal at Helsinki IBC, the prize for promising finalist at Varna IBC, and a bronze medal at Moscow IBC.In August 2014, Katherine joined l’Opera de Paris, earning a lifetime contract in August 2015 and was promoted to coryphée in November 2015. 

Yoshiko Kamikusa
(Japan), finalist, juniors

Yoshiko Kamikusa, taking Nina Ananiashvili's master class at IBC Helsinki 2012. Photo by Johanna Aurava.

What did you take home from the competition?

Competitions are a great place to meet new people and make valuable connections in the dance world. The most important network that I treasure are of the dancers I met there. The majority of them now dance in professional dance companies, and I still keep in touch with them. They continue to inspire me on a daily basis.

How did it affect your career?

Although attending the competition at the time didn't lead to job contracts right away, I believe that having competition experience is an advantage when applying for a job, and even for after you get the job. For one, I personally think it helps during the audition process when you have competition experience in your resume. You need to turn the director's attention towards you when mixed among the thousands of possible applicants. It takes a lot of dedication, potential, versatility, hard work and passion to even be accepted to compete in the first place, and usually companies look for such qualities in a dancer. Competitors who do well are also accustomed to handling high pressure and nerves. They have to prove their best on stage with only one chance in order to make a lasting impression and set themselves apart from the many other talented dancers. This is much the same in a professional dance company. In order to thrive and rise through the ranks, professional dancers must have nerves of steel and strong performances. So, my participation in the HIBC has definitely played a role in helping me get to where I am today - a professional ballet dancer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, having already danced various soloist and principal roles despite my short time in the company :).

What are your favorite memories?

Taking daily ballet classes with the wonderful guest teachers in the beautiful studios at the opera house. Watching the Manon PDD at the gala, performed gorgeously by Barbora Kohoutková. Eating lunch beside the opera house, facing the Töölönlahti Bay on a lovely sunny and warm day.

What advice would you give to this year's competitors?

To not stress too much, observe and learn from the other competitors, and to just enjoy every minute of every rehearsal and performance. It's not everyday that you can participate in an amazing opportunity like this and you can gain so much positive things from competitions even if you don't win... don't let it go to waste by letting any kind of negativity into your head!

Yoshiko Kamikusa and Luzemberg Santana in Nutcracker, 2015. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Photo by Rejean Brandt

Yoshiko Kamikusa joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as an Apprentice in 2013 and was promoted into the Corps de Ballet the following year. Since joining the Company, she has performed such leading roles as Odette/Odile (Swan Lake), Clara (Nutcracker), Puck (The Faerie Queen - A Ballet Based On A Midsummer Night’s Dream), among others. Yoshiko Kamikusa began her training in ballet at the age of seven in Hawaii. She later moved to Vancouver to pursue professional training under the tutelage of Vera Solovyeva and Nikolai Levitsky. She has competed at various international ballet competitions, and won First Place in the Japan Grand Prix International Ballet Competition (2013).

Giovanna Lamboglia (
Brazil), junior

Giovanna Lamboglia dancing Kitri's variation at IBC Helsinki 2012

What did you take home from the competition?

It was one of the greatest and best experiences of my life. Interacting with people around the world with different cultures is enriching -  and you learn something different with the dancers and teachers.

How did it affect your career?

In addition to enriching my curriculum, it was my first international competition. I got to see live how the world is working, which level I was in and which I wanted to reach.

What are your favorite memories?

Dancing on stage and to compete with great dancers who were principals and soloists was what I most loved. I have made great friends who I still talk with and meet and each one is dancing in a different place around the world. And, of course, the opportunity to take class with Nina Ananiashvili (one of the judges) and get her advice.

What advice would you give to this year's competitors?

Enjoy every single minute in this great competition because they are valuable - and later you will miss it so much! It will be kept in your heart for the rest of your life. The treatment given to the dancers, the competition organization and all volunteers you will never find elsewhere. And give your soul to the audience when on stage, because it is not a competition that will only count your turns, but they want to see art. Good luck everyone!

Giovanna Lamboglia, photo by Rachel Ribeiro

Giovanna Lamboglia has since danced with Ballets de France, and is joining Ballet Jörgen in Toronto next season. Giovanna est née à Goiânia, au Brésil, et commence sa formation de danseuse à Fortaleza. Plus tard, elle étudiera auprès de Ronaldo Martins et Rachel Ribeiro à Rio de Janeiro. En 2012, elle est acceptée à l’école Maria Oleneza et dansera dans les productions du théâtre municipal de Rio de Janeiro avant de sortir diplômée de l’école en 2014. Giovanna est lauréate de nombreuses compétitions : Séminaire internationale de la danse de Brasilia, American Dance Competition et Entreatos Dance Festival, entre autres. Son répertoire inclue les plus grands rôles du répertoire classique : Swanilda dans « Coppélia », Aurore dans « La Belle au bois dormant », ou encore le rôle de Medora dans « Le Corsaire ». (Biography courtesy of Ballets de France)

Václav Lamparter
(Czech Republic), junior

Václav Lamparter, far left, taking Nina Ananiashvili's master class. Photo by Johanna Aurava.

What did you take home from the competition?

I took home many experiences. Helsinki IBC was my first big ballet competition. It was wonderful to meet and to see so many great dancers and their coaches around me. I also liked very much to dance on the stage of the Opera house.

How did it affect your career?

Because I didn't make it to the finals I think it made me definitely a bit stronger and taught me not to give up too early, because later on I got some medals at other international ballet competitions. I think it affected my career in a way of gaining more experience in performing on stage because at that age (I was 16) I hadn't yet danced many times on stage alone, and until then I had never prepared so many pieces at the same time.

What are your favorite memories?

Among competing and ballet classes with such a great teachers like Barbora Kohoutková or Nina Ananiashvili, I also enjoyed sightseeing (there was a cool sightseeing bus organized by the competition) and the reception at the City hall for all the competitors.

What advice would you give to this year's competitors?

I would advice to watch as much as possible during the competition. It's an amazing opportunity to learn from other dancers. Most important is to have fun and to enjoy your dancing. Then the audience will enjoy it as well.

Václav Lamparter at The Semperoper Ballet. Photo by Mathieu Rouaux.

Václav Lamparter is currently a member of the corps de ballet at The Semperoper Ballet in Dresden, Germany. He was trained at the American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company at the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis School, USA, and The Dance Conservatory Brno, Czech Republic. Lamparter has won numerous awards: 3rd Place Beijing International Ballet Competition (2013), Placed in the Top 12 Finalists of Youth America Grand Prix (2013), 1st Place Youth America Grand Prix Semi-Finals (2013), 3rd Place International Ballet Competition Prague (2012), 1st Place Istanbul International Ballet Competition (2012), 2nd Place Olomouc Ballet Grand Prix Award (2011), 1st Place Vancliffen International Ballet Competition For Young Talents (2011).

Betsy McBride (USA), senior finalist

Warm-up before class. Betsy McBride (in burgundy hoodie) talking to Simon Wexler. Photo by Johanna Aurava

What did you take home from the competition?

I had the best time at the competition. I learned a lot from the other competitors and also the teachers. I appreciated the fact that a lot of people in the competition had wonderful artistry that I think is usually neglected at competitions. I left feeling enlightened by everyone’s passion and focused energy.

How did it affect your career?

At the time of the competition I was so accustomed to my usual performance routine that the whole experience was so foreign to me. I was used to being rehearsed by my artistic staff and having them encourage me and prepare me along the way. I went to the competition without a coach or teacher (which was very unusual for most of the competitors there) and for the rehearsals I would just run things alone. It was a wonderful growing experience learning to trust in my own dancing and not need validation from others. I think this is a really important aspect in this career because it can be hard to feel confident in yourself or your dancing when you aren’t getting any feedback but chances are most of the time no feedback is good feedback.

What are your favorite memories?

My favorite memory was dancing in the final round. It was just such an exciting show to be a part of. The audience was completely full and so excited to be there!

What advice would you give to this year's competitors?

While I was at the competition it definitely had more of a workshop feel to it rather than what most would expect from a competition. I really enjoyed the sense of camaraderie. I would advise this year’s competitors to support each other and create a nicer environment to perform in. Performances are stressful enough without the overly competitive attitudes and a relaxed atmosphere will help prepare everyone to do their best.

Photograph by Ballet Zaida.

Betsy McBride joined American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in June 2015. Her repertoire with ABT includes Columbine in The Nutcracker, and Fleur de farine (Wheat flower), Silver Fairy and Red Riding Hood in The Sleeping Beauty, as well as roles in all of the Company's full-length ballets. McBride is originally from Coppell, Texas. She began her training at the Ballet Academy of Texas. At age 14, she continued her training at Texas Ballet Theater’s School. She performed Clara in The Nutcracker with Texas Ballet Theater and joined the company under O.B.E. Ben Stevenson at age 15. McBride was an American Ballet Theatre National Training Scholar and performed in George Balanchine’s Mozartiana during ABT’s tour of Texas at age 11. She was awarded the Grand Prix at the 2007 Youth American Grand Prix Regional Competition and was a finalist at the 2012 Helsinki International Ballet Competition. McBride danced for Texas Ballet Theater from 2007 to 2015.  Some of her principal roles include Ben Stevenson’s Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Nutcracker, Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow, Svetlana in Stevenson’s Dracula, Green Lady and Solveig in Stevenson’s Peer Gynt, Waltz Girl and Dark Angel in George Balanchine’s Serenade, Solo Girl in Balanchine’s Rubies and the pas de trois in Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries, as well as roles in Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort, Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena and Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria. (Bio from ABT)

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, ...