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Calliope, January 3, 2002
Posted January 3, 2002
When and where did ballet competitions start?
Good question, and I hope someone with more knowledge on the subject than I can answer it.
According to Horst Koegler's Oxford Dictionary of Ballet (odd, I keep reaching for this old one rather than the new, improved version which has half the information in it of the old, but I digress), the International Ballet competition at Varna began in 1964 and was started by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture. I don't know if that is the first, though. The Moscow competition may predate it.
Jeannie? Do you know this one?
Posted January 11, 2002
I moved this over from Anything Goes and am posting to bump it up. I'm sure Jeannie can give a more thorough answer.
Posted January 12, 2002
Thank you. I was wondering what if any is the feeling about these competitions and does it feed the feeling that we're pushing dancers.
Calliope, I'm sorry to say this because I'm the one who moved the thread -- I thought you were just asking about the history. But if you want to discuss whether competitions are for the best or not, could I ask that you raise that on Aesthetic Issue, or Anything Goes? It's been discussed several times here -- it can always be raised again, as there are always new people, of course -- and I intended this forum (as noted in the posts about it on Ballet Alert! Online) to be about the competititons, not whether or not there should be competitions.
I really don't want to start this forum off with a debate about whether or not there should be competitons so replies to this question, on this forum, will be deleted. I'm going to move a copy of this thread BACK to Anything Goes -- we can debate the question there.
[ January 11, 2002: Message edited by: alexandra ]
You could almost begin a new topic on your 2nd question -- that of people's feelings about whether or not competitions push young dancers too far or in the wrong direction. In fact...I now see that Alexandra has addressed this. I agree - we can discuss the 'Are competitions good or bad?' stuff over in Aesthetics.
Now for your initial question, re. history:
Alexandra is right, in that the 'grand-daddy' of all UNESCO-endorsed competitions falling within the "IBC" (International Ballet Competition) heading is the one in Varna, Bulgaria, which is flourishing to this day & will celebrate its 20th edition this July.
There have, of course, been 'ballet competitions' of sorts at the Paris Opera Ballet, as part of their annual promotions process. I'm not sure when those began but I would guess in the 1920s or 30s...Estelle or Francoise or Jean-Luc, can you shed light?
There were several 'All-Soviet' Ballet Competitions among young dancers of the former Soviet Union, commencing at least in the early 1950s. For example, the Kirov's Alla Sizova & Rudolf Nureyev won the 1958 All-Soviet Competition, held in Moscow. That's the competition that truly brought Nureyev to the eyes of the ballet world, dancing 'Le Corsaire pdd' in his panther-like manner. The b&w film of that competition made its way to the west & he (& Sizova) became quite well known even before Nureyev defected to the West in 1961/62. Portions of that pdd, in the All-Soviet competition, are available in one of the Kultur compendium videos, by the way.
By the time that Varna 1964 took place, dancers of the Eastern blok were quite familiar and comfortable with such competitions. The French, too, fared quite well at such competitions, perhaps due to their familiarity with the rigorous internal POB competitions.
[ January 11, 2002: Message edited by: Jeannie ]
Re the internal competitions in Paris, I can't give the date without looking it up, but they're mentioned in Ivor Guest's "The Romantic Ballet in Paris." Taglioni was on the first jury! Talk about intimidation It's interesting that this competition started in Paris at the time the Romantic Ballet was winding down, and there was a lack of stars. I would guess that the early Paris competitions were to insure a high technical standard -- as they still do today -- but I wonder if it was also part of an attempt to find/make stars? That's total speculation on my part
Jeannie, thanks for the information. I thought there were Soviet (but not international) competitions earlier than that, but didn't know the dates. I think it's also worth mentioning that one of the reasons for the Soviet's interest in competitions in the 1950s and 1960s was because of the Cold War -- the dancers couldn't get out, the international interchange among dancers stopped. Since the dancers couldn't tour -- there are generations of Russian dancers that are unknown, or little known, in the West, the competitions were a way for the Soviet dancers to achieve recognition. Perhaps a "consolation prize" for not being able to tour. During the Cold War, I've heard/read American dancers say that they loved going to the competitions because it was the only way they had exposure to Russian dancers and Russian training. Mary Day, the head of the Washington School of Ballet, entered several girls for that reason.
That's right to this day -- the part about the desire of lesser-known dancers to gain some exposure & 'get their names out.' It sure hasn't hurt -- say -- Renata Pavam, Xiomara Reyes, Alina Cojocaru & umpteen other very young dancers gain entry into the very best ballet companies of the west.
However, I must disagree on the part about Soviet dancers using competitions *primarily* to gain Western-public exposure back in the 50s & 60s (although eventually a few names seeped out...Nureyev at that All-Soviet event...Makarova et. al. at Varna 64..it helped to have Robert Joffrey or Arnold Haskell as jurors in the early years - they brought back to the West news of fine 'unknown' dancers). But that's not the main reason why ballet competitions flourished in the East. You see, the entire culture of 'sporting competition' was -- in a way, still is -- one of the pillars of Eastern European society. On top of that, sport, in and of itself, is considered an art...so the lines that divide art and sport in western society aren't quite there in the east. For example, the martial arts are, indeed, considered an ART in Russia, as well as China & Japan, to this day (not karate but, say, judo & sambo or tai chi). In figure skating, there is an ARTS Union for professional teachers & performers of that art. So, you see, in the East there is no negativity associated with coupling ballet & sport...because sport can be art....and IS art, in many disciplines. This is especially true with any sport in which there is subjective judging. The art of diving, the art of judo, the art of fencing, the art of figure skating, etc, etc.
And -- believe it or not -- even in this era of 'glasnost' the printed programmes at the Bolshoi, Kirov, or any other ballet theater in Russia specifically cite "winner of such-and-such competition" beside the name of a dancer. For example:
Aurora - Diana Vishneva (laureate of 21st prix de lausanne)
Desire - Andrian Fadeev (laureate of 3rd Vaganova Competition)
Lilac Fairy - Janna Doe
(Janna Doe never won a prize so - poor thing - she has no special citation next to her name!)
You get the picture...
It's an entirely different mind-set over there in the east.
p.s. - Thanks, Alexandra, for the info on Taglioni & the first POB competitons. So it's even earlier.
p.s. on the above:
here's another thought:
Why on earth have already-established and universaily-known stars of the Bolshoi (& other Russian) theaters chosen to compete in recent IBC-style competitions? I'm thinking about the Bolshoi's Anna Antonicheva & Dmitri Belogolovtsev at 1998 Jackson....or the Bolshoi's Nikolai Tsiskaridze at 1997 Moscow...or Nina Ananiashvili & Andris Liepa at 1986 Jackson (they already were well known then)? Not because they needed the exposure but because it was (is) a tremendous honor to person & to Mother Russia to win a top medal at an IBC. Those guys go to win - anything short of Gold or maybe Silver is a shame. Imagine, for example, Miranda Weese taking the risk to compete in an IBC, to bring glory & honor to the USA...risking a great reputation. What if she wins only a bronze medal against a couple of teens from Romania? That's what happened to the Bolshoi's young star, Ekaterina Schipulina, at last year's Moscow IBC - she took the risk & fell short (won only bronze). She hasn't received many premieres since.
When Bolshoi or Kirov or Stanislavsky or Maly-Moussorgsky or Perm or Kiev stars decide to compete at IBCs then, doggone it, they better win the gold. But they take the risk because it is such a great prestige to come back home as a Gold Medalist & have that little 'laureate' line in the printed programme...at every performance, until the end of their careers...that 'laureate' recognition will be with them forever...and Rusian (& Eastern) audiences take their hats off to this sort of thing. They eat it up. (And there's some financial compensation for the 'laureate' dancers, too, of course.)
The difference in mindset is an interesting thing to ponder. Is it because Russia still is not a commercial society in the way the West is (I'm sure it's fast becoming so, but, again, the ethos of the society was formed where honor meant more than money). If everyone -- spectator, competitor, judge, director -- is concerned with art and performing at the highest level rather than being on the Wheaties box, that might make a difference.
I remember in one recent Olympics a commentator comparing European and American skiiers. The American had been expected to win a gold and tanked -- coming away with nothing. A European woman who had also been expected to medal high had come in fourth, or something. The American was in Deep Despair giving different reasons why he'd fallen. The European woman was having chocolate with her competitors, enjoying the day. It was a totally different mindset. (Allowing, of course, that there are undoubtedly some Americans who care for more than medals and some Europeans who are deeply mercenary )
Even I am still trying to figure out the Russian Soul, Alexandra!
At least in the more serious arts & less-than-commercial sports, in which 'special criminal elements' (not to use the "M-word") are not interested, the idea of 'fight hard and you will get ahead/be promoted' still holds true. It is a big-big deal for any performing artist to receive the invitation to go to the Kremlin & have Vladimir Putin stick a medal in his/her lapel. Such ceremonies are shown on TV quite often. What's the equivalent in the USA? Kennedy Center Honors once a year for five seasoned performers?
Sadly, figure skating has recently become more 'high-level commercialized' in Russia, meaning that the "Big M" is rearing its ugly head in certain aspects of the art-sport. In fact, there have been murders of famous skaters and/or relatives in the past year (world champ Maria Butyrskaya's boyfriend beheaded & body found in a forest a month or two ago; Maria's car blown up last year before the Russian Nationals; 1984 Olympic bronze medalist Kira Ivanova -- of late a top coach at the Dynamo Club of Moscow -- stabbed to death a couple of weeks ago). But I rather keep this element out of our forum & not elaborate any further, OK? Just wanted to touch on it briefly, so that folks are aware that there is trouble even in Camelot. Sad.
Hopefully ballet will never be seen by the "Big M" as very profitable...not that ballet is profitable anywhere on earth, uh? So it's better to keep awarding 'order of the motherland' medals at the Kremlin to underpaid dancers & making them feel proud with the 'laureate' headings on programmes, than to be on a box of Wheaties & having to deal with "Big M."
About the POB competition: you're right, Alexandra, Marie Taglioni was in the first jury. On the sheet given to the audience of the latest POB competition (including mostly the list of the competitors), there's a small note saying that the first "Examen de la danse" took place on April 13, 1860, and the jury included Alphonse Royer (director of the Opera), Marie Taglioni, Amalia Ferraris, Emma Livry, Lucien Petipa and Louis Mérante. Quite an impressive list! (It's not clear if the list is complete). It also says that the idea originated from Marie Taglioni (then teaching the "classe de perfectionnement") and Bernard Sciot (a professor of the POB dance school).
The POB dancers have been variously involved in ballet competitions. Several POB dancers got medals in Varna, like Patrick Dupond, Elisabeth Platel, Karin Averty, Sylvie Guillem, José Martinez, Aurélie Dupont, Yann Bridard, Clairemarie Osta, Jérémie Bélingard, Laetitia Pujol... Also some were involved in the Paris competition (Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Wilfried Romoli, Delphine Baey, Stéphane Phavorin, Emilie Cozette, Aurore Cordellier...) I don't know if the POB encourages them to participate or not.