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Erik Bruhn Prize 2009

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Thanks for the news, Paquita! I am so excited. I've known Noah since he was 14 (he's now 22) and just starting to "look" like a dancer. He had quite a way to go back then. Being a hard worker, he worked wonders on himself, with great teachers and great determination. He's been featured in many solo parts in the last two seasons and this competition will be a wonderful challenge for him. I know he's up for any challenge!

When he was 15 his older sister was "managing" his emerging career and she and I arranged for my daughter and her brother to prepare for a dance competition with a ballet pas de deux. They started learning the Grand Pas from last act Sleeping Beauty together under the coaching of Nadia Veselova-Tencer. (Noah was studying at the Academy of Ballet & Jazz at the time, before he went on to the Goh Academy).

Noah's and my daughter's partnership didn't gel and they abandoned the project. That would have been his first competition in ballet. It would be a hoot if he were to compete with Elena with the SB grand pas! Noah is a wonderful young man and I'm crossing my fingers for him.

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Here's the release:

Competitors and Repertoire Announced for

The Eighth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize

March 18, 2009

March 10, 2009... Karen Kain, Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada, today announced competitors and repertoire for The Eighth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize that takes place Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 7:30 pm at the

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

The competition, named after one of the greatest male dancers of the 20th century, will showcase a total of ten dancers between 18 and 23 years old. One male and one female dancer from The National Ballet of Canada, American Ballet Theatre, Royal Danish Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet will compete in a programme of classical and contemporary work.

Each participant receives a medal and the winners each receive a prize of $7,500 and a sculpture by Canadian artist Jack Culiner generously donated by Artcast. New this year is a Choreographic Prize. The couples will perform a contemporary work commissioned for this occasion by each of the participating companies. The winner of the Choreographic Prize will also receive a Jack Culiner sculpture in addition to the $2,000 cash prize

Ms. Kain has commissioned a new work, Dénouement, from Canadian choreographer Matjash Mrozewski for Corps de Ballet members Elena Lobsanova and Noah Long to dance as their contemporary work. They will also perform a pas de deux from Le Corsaire.

Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns from American Ballet Theatre will dance the Black Swan Pas de Deux from Act III of Swan Lake and End. by Marcelo Gomes. The Royal Danish Ballet will be represented by Hilary Guswiler and Alban Lendorf who will dance the pas de deux from Act II of La Sylphide and An Elegy for Us by Iain Rowe. San Francisco Ballet’s Dores Andre and Anthony Spaulding will dance the pas de deux from Act II of Giselle and Ebony Concerto by Val Caniparoli. Rachele Buriassi and William Moore from Stuttgart Ballet will dance the Black Swan Pas de Deux from Act III of Swan Lake and La Grande Parade du Funk by Bridget Breiner.

Don’t miss this exhilarating evening of dance!

Past winners of The Erik Bruhn Prize >

Biography of Elena Lobsanova >

Biography of Noah Long >

The National Ballet of Canada’s Winter Season continues with John Cranko’s classic retelling of Romeo and Juliet at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts March 11 – 22, 2009.


Prices range from $20 - $200.

Discount rates are available for groups of 10 people or more. Rush seats are available on the day of performance in person at the box office for $30. DanceBreak members aged 16 to 29 can purchase $20 tickets on the day of the performance, depending on availability. Visit DanceBreak.ca.


Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto.

Box Office:

The box office is located at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West) or call 416 (toll free 1 866) 345 9595. Tickets can also be purchased online at national.ballet.ca.

Website: national.ballet.ca.

The 2008/09 season is presented by CTV and The Globe and Mail.

The Eighth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize is presented by John & Claudine Bailey.

Supporting Partner: Deloitte

Official Hotel of The National Ballet of Canada: Fairmont Royal York

Elena Lobsanova is sponsored through Dancers First by Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan.

This production of Romeo and Juliet entered the repertoire of The National Ballet of Canada on February 8, 1995 and was totally underwritten by Walter Carsen, O.C.

The National Ballet of Canada gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of the Canada Council for the Arts; the Ontario Arts Council; the City of Toronto through the Economic Development, Culture and Tourism Department; The Government of Canada through the Honourable James Moore, Minister, the Department of Canadian Heritage; the Government of Ontario; the Ontario Arts Foundation; the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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Choreography prize: Matjash Mrozewski (National Ballet of Canada) for "Dénouement"

Male winner: Cory Stearns, ABT, soloist

Female winner: Elena Lobsanova, National Ballet of Canada, corps de ballet

My review and comments to follow!

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The official press release:

Elena Lobsanova of The National Ballet of Canada and

Cory Stearns of American Ballet Theatre Win The Erik Bruhn Prize

Matjash Mrozewski Wins Inaugural Choreographic Prize

March 19, 2009… Elena Lobsanova, 22, of The National Ballet of Canada and Cory Stearns, 23, of American Ballet Theatre won The Eighth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize on Wednesday, March 18 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. They each received a cash prize of $7,500 and a sculpture by Jack Culiner. Canadian choreographer Matjash Mrozewski won the new Choreographic Prize for his work, Dénouement, and also received sculpture by Jack Culiner and a cash prize of $2,000.

Elena Lobsanova, a member of the Corps de Ballet with the National Ballet, danced a pas de deux from Le Corsaire for the classical section and the newly commissioned work, Dénouement, by Matjash Mrozewski for the contemporary section of the competition with Noah Long.

Cory Stearns, a soloist with American Ballet Theatre, danced the Black Swan Pas de Deux from Act III of Swan Lake for the classical section and End., a new work by Marcelo Gomes, for the contemporary section with Isabella Boylston.

Ten dancers in total from The National Ballet of Canada, American Ballet Theatre, Royal Danish Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet competed for the prestigious prize. Five choreographers competed for the Choreographic Prize which was new this year.

Principal Dancers Chan Hon Goh and Aleksandar Antonijevic hosted the evening. The National Ballet of Canada performed excerpts of Sabrina Matthews’ DEXTRIS which made its world premiere as part of the National Ballet’s winter mixed programme Innovation earlier this month.

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The Eighth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize

March 18, 2009, 7:30 PM, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ontario

In a competition where past winners include Rose Gad Poulsen (1988) and Silja Wendrup-Schandorff (1989) of The Royal Danish Ballet, Julie Kent (1993) and Michele Wiles (2002) of American Ballet Theater, Johan Kobborg (1993) of (at the time) The Royal Danish Ballet, and Vanessa Zahorian (1999) of the San Francisco Ballet, the bar is set high for the rising young ballet stars of today.

The 5 companies which have sent competitors since 1988 are all those with which Erik Bruhn had close relationships of one kind or another: The Royal Danish Ballet (RDB), The Royal Ballet (RB), American Ballet Theater (ABT), San Francisco Ballet (SFB), Stuttgart Ballet (SB), and The National Ballet of Canada (NBoC) . There have been 4 winners from RDB, 1 from RB, 2 from ABT, 2 from SB, 1 from SB, and 5 from NBoC.

This year’s winners change the totals to 3 for ABT and 6 for NBoC.

I don’t know about all the other years, but this year, for example, there were no competitors sent from Royal Ballet, and last time (2007) there were only 4 companies present (San Francisco and Stuttgart ballets were absent), so the numbers don’t really represent any real comparables when all companies are not included every competition.

The evening began with opening remarks by an elegantly-but-simply-sheathed Chan Han Goh striding to the podium with Aleksander Antonejevic, whose baggy-at-the-ankles pants I couldn’t help but notice. They spoke simply and with smiles, lauding the competitors and explaining the rules and order of the competition.

They also read Bruhn’s statement that the prize is meant for dancers who "reflect such technical ability, artistic achievement and dedication as I endeavoured to bring to dance."

(I would have put the emphasis on the “I” in reading this, but it was read without accenting any words.)

The ages of the competitors are limited to those 18 to 23 and we had the full spectrum, from first year corps member 18 year old Hilary Guswiler (RDB) to the 23 year olds: soloists Cory Stearns (ABT) and Anthony Spaulding (SFB), demi-soloist William Moore (SB), and corps member Dores Andre (SFB).

Those in-between were 19 year old Alban Lendorf (RDB), 21 year old Rachele Buriassi (SB), and 22 year olds Isabella Boylston (ABT), Elena Lobsanova (NBoC), and Noah Long (NBoC), all corps de ballet.

Dancers would not be performing in the order presented in the program, but in the order of the lots they had drawn earlier. (That order would remain the same for the second half of the competition.) The first dances to be presented were the classical pas de deux and variations, the second set, all the contemporary pieces.

The judges (who would not be judging their own contestants) were the artistic directors (and one associate) of the ballet companies who brought competitors. The list printed in the program:

Kevin McKenzie, AD, ABT

Karen Kain, AD, NBoC

Nikolaj Hübbe, AD, RDB

Helgi Tomasson, AD, SFB

Tamas Detrich, Artistic Associate, SB

In actuality, Tomasson was not there, being replaced by SF Ballet Master Ricardo Bustamente.

First, I’ll review the classical portion of the program:


With dancers names and their dances' info shown briefly in surtitles before the curtain opened, the competition began with “Pas de Deux from Act II of La Sylphide” performed by The Royal Danish Ballet’s Hilary Guswiler and Alban Lendorf, choreography by Auguste Bournonville.

Hilary and Alban are the youngest dancers in the competition, ages 18 and 19, and in their first year in the corps of RDB. Taking that into consideration, their performance was very good and showed great promise for both. But I did not read the program notes before the evening started and took each performance at face value, not thinking of the age of the competitor at all.

Hilary’s sylph was not quite soft enough, she had little stumbles, and wobbled her landing from a jump. Her développé to the back was not entirely secure and her last développé could have been more stretched. Her feet were not pointed enough during her entrechats and échappés. As the dancing progressed, however, she got better. Hilary had a particularly nice lift to a jump where she hung in the air for a second. She moved as lightly as she could and her adherence to Bournonville style (as much as I know of it) was admirable.

Alban’s acting was somewhat stilted and amateurish. But his beats were glorious! The trademark of James’ variation, these entrechats showed why this piece was chosen for their entry. His other allegro was very clean and bright.

All in all, they were like very good students, and like students, had unavoidable weak spots. I gave the RDB competitors an overall B-.

Hilary Guswiler

Alban Lendorf

Next came the first of two Odiles and Siegfrieds: “Black Swan Pas de Deux from Act III of Swan Lake”, performed by American Ballet Theater’s Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns, choreography after Marius Petipa.

This performance was one of such perfection that I can’t find a single thing to gripe about. Isabella was stunning, both in technique and artistry. I sat close enough (2nd row orchestra) to see every facial expression, and she really acted her role well. Every arabesque, turn, renversé, jump and supported pirouette were exceptional. Notably tantalizing were Isabella’s movements in a repeated sequence of supported penché attitude, where she was held almost upside down toward the audience as she waved her arms and upper body with a delicious cant to her head and evil expression on her face. Also remarkable were her blurring supported pirouettes, anchored sharp as a dart to the ground, and too fast to count. The only thing – the ONLY thing – that happened that would cause anyone who knows the choreography to mark a teensy tick next to her name, was the end of the fouetté sequence. Her 32-fouettés-to-be carried her in a straight line downstage, as if intended to, until, perhaps in danger of finishing by twirling into the orchestra pit, she used the last four turn counts to piqué perfectly in a half circle back upstage. The coda with Cory was exciting and dramatic, performed with mounting intensity and fervor to the last note of the music which occurred just as her fingertip stretched her hand to its fullest behind her back and her head fell backwards in triumph.

Cory was the ideal prince, with noble bearing infusing his long limbs. He partnered Isabella expertly and the two performed as experienced ballet veterans. In his variations, Cory showed beautiful line, lofty grands jetés, soaring manège. His technique is so solid, you just sit back and enjoy his dancing with the same confidence that he performs it.

I gave the ABT competitors an overall A+.

Isabella Boylston

Cory Stearns

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Third up: Stuttgart Ballet. “Black Swan Pas de Deux from Act III of Swan Lake”, performed by Stuttgart Ballet’s Rachele Buriassi and William Moore, choreography John Cranko.

In a difficult position, following the perfection of Isabella and Cory with the same PDD and variations (different choreography), Buriassi and Moore might have experienced more stress than the other contenders. The very first supported pirouette was off-kilter. Rachele's foot was not stretched behind her in lifts and she was musically late, missing arriving together with the music at the last dramatic beat in her first set of turns. William Moore was a considerably weaker partner than we saw in the last black swan PDD, and both lacked the dramatic flair so necessary in this piece. Rachele tried to use her facial expressions to convey the character of Odile, but the rest of her didn't follow suit. Both danced more position to position, which gave their partnership less flow. Their insecurity showed in the supported arabesque turn as well as in other portions of the PDD. William in his variation displayed the mark of a good student, but has things that need fixing, like getting his toe to touch his leg in turns instead of hovering in passé in the air.

Still, there was much to enjoy in the dance. I took it apart as a judge might because we were, after all, watching a competition, and doing our own judging as audience members. Had they been the only ones to dance the black swan PDD and variations, it might have been easier for them. This is a dastardly hard PDD to make look easy, and this couple has many more practice sessions ahead of them before they even approach a semblance of "easy". Perhaps they should have been given a different PDD to compete with .....La Fille mal Gardée or Coppélia, for example.

John Cranko's choreography for this piece is topsy-turvy. If one is well-versed in who dances to what music in the variations, it is disconcerting to see Odile doing her variation to Siegfried's music, and Siegfried doing his to Odile's. Even the choreography for Odile in her variation was strange. It included some simple echappés, presented seemingly out of context, as if they were a center exercise, followed by a circle of piqué turns. Little of what we expect Odile to dance was evident. However, the fouettés in the coda were still there, and they presented an obstacle for Buriassi. Starting off well, they travelled forward rapidly and stopped suddenly, way too soon, leaving Rachele standing in plié in fifth position until the end of the music. I don't even remember much of the rest of the coda after that, but they did recoup and finished in the standard position, Odile's head thrown back (a little behind the music again) with Siegfried kneeling before her.

I gave the Stuttgart competitors an overall C.

Rachele Buriassi

William Moore

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Fourth in the lineup: San Francisco Ballet. "Pas de Deux from Act II of Giselle", performed by Dores Andre and Anthony Spaulding, choreography: Helgi Tomasson after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa.

The curtain opened with Dores Andre and Anthony Spaulding standing upstage, stage right, in the position of the cross, Giselle in front of Albrecht, as they do in front of Giselle's grave, which I've always seen downstage, stage right (there was no set design or props in the competition). Andre's développé was very good, her promenade in plié arabesque just a little unsteady. Her entrechats sounded clunky (not good for a wraith who should move soundlessly), but her bourrées were exceptionally lovely. She danced the whole PDD and her variation with an unvarying far-off, glazed look in her eyes, her face never changing expression. It was as if Giselle wasn't seeing Albrecht instead of the other way around. Dores's articulate use of her feet was beautiful to see. Her ronde jambe en l'air to each side while in a jump were lacy, delicately precise, and very quick. Giselle's trademark soubresauts, however, didn't get very high off the ground, leaving her with more of an earthly rather than airborne connection. Still, the general feeling one got from her rendition of Giselle was of a lonely spirit, haunted by an intangible loss. But for a few instances, she and her partner didn't really connect.

Spaulding, with his long legs and princely bearing, should have left a better impression, but I found his technique merely adequate, and he didn't take the opportunity to explore his acting lexicon, either. It seemed also to have only one facet -- a look of ambiguous longing. There's something that bothers me about his arabesques and every leg extension to the back: his leg movement does not come from the hip but from the back, giving his line an awkward look. I began to cringe every time he lifted his leg. He also danced very much position to position instead of presenting his role as an organic whole. It made me appreciate the skill of so many professional danseurs whose performances flow with logical movement, their in-between steps as important as the positions they help the dancer attain. Anthony's landings from jumps were sometimes sloppy, with feet open in a quasi-fourth position instead of closed in a tight fifth. I thought he was the weakest of all the contenders in classical ballet.

I gave the San Francisco competitors an overall B (Andre's performance pulled the grade up).

Dores Andre

Anthony Spaulding

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Fifth and last of the classical repertoire: The National Ballet of Canada. "Pas de Deux from Le Corsaire", performed by Elena Lobsanova and Noah Long, choreography: after Marius Petipa.

Difficult for me to review because I've known Noah since he was 14 years old and because he and my daughter danced together, I will nevertheless be as objective as possible.

Noah Long grand jetéd onstage with a light, high jump, signaling the excitement he would bring to his role as Conrad's slave, Ali.

(The program notes give the impression that Noah is dancing the role of Conrad by stating, "At this point in the story, Conrad the pirate has rescued Medora, a Greek slave girl from sale to a Pasha's harem and taken her to his underground grotto, where, having fallen in love, they dance in celebration of her rescue." Of course, Conrad is nowhere to be seen, and we have the standard pas de deux between his slave Ali and Medora. I fault the NBoC blurb writer with this misleading info. It is Conrad who is in love with Medora, not his slave. When the piece is performed as a pas de trois, Ali serves as Conrad's aide, handing Medora off to him several times as a duty to his master.)

With the above clarification, we can understand the bent head and obsequious posture characteristic of this role. However, there are points when Ali exhibits bravura, and Noah's was more of the ostentatious style bravura than the technical sort. Not that his technique wasn't good, but that his showiness outshone it. The home audience, composed in part by students of the National Ballet School and dancers in the company who weren't performing later while the votes were being tallied, went wild, as was to be expected. Those close to Noah watched with a critical eye and hope in their hearts, but had to admit his performance was a bit raw. Noah could do wonders with a good male coach. Still, there was so much right about his dancing the old warhorse that it could be enjoyed with confidence that it was in good hands (and feet).

Noah's "snake" turns worked out really well for him the second time he did them, and his turns à la seconde were excellent. Dancing with elan, his variation mounted in excitement until the final dramatic fling to the floor. I would have liked to have seen a delicious breath-holding développé into second after his pirouettes. That's one of the highlights of the Ali variation and there are a couple of chances to apply it. In PDD, Noah is a very good partner and he guided and supported Lobsanova with complete assurance.

Elena Lobsanova is a lovely dancer with beautiful lines and demeanor. I don't know why she feels it adds something to her arabesques and attitudes to break the line of her leg by winging her foot in that characteristically NBoC style which is so ugly! Through the years I have watched female dancers at the National do this (not all of them, to the credit of those who don't) as if they couldn't call themselves NBoC dancers if they didn't. It ruins the effect of a stretched pointed foot and adds nothing to the line -- nothing! It has been one of my pet peeves about the National for years and it stresses me to see it passed on from generation to generation. I used to call it a "cupped" foot because it looks like you could pour a demitasse of espresso into it. Photos abound of National dancers, from principals down, who do this at the height of their arabesque. I am begging everyone at NBoC to please stop it!!

While Lobsanova showed us she was up to tackling the Medora role, there were still a few problems. Her arms were usually stiffly held (this is also a hallmark of the National), especially noticeable in fifth en haut. This does not look pretty. Arms should be fluid, continuing the movement of the rest of the body, softly and with plastique. Such graceful port de bras was totally lacking. My notes (written in a stream as I watched) are peppered with "arms!", "stiff arms!", "terrible arms". There was a jerky développé, too-low jumps and wobbles on landings. Her fouettés were a disaster, after a good start, like a top spinning out of control, first from center stage to stage left (she's a left turner), then forced back to center stage, losing form all the while until she plumb fell out of the last of them into an ungainly position.

Were I to ignore the negatives outlined in the above paragraph, then I could say that Lobsanova danced beautifully and winsomely, doing a creditable job with difficult choreography that is in the domain of prima ballerinas and principal dancers. However, all the competitors danced such lead roles. And, I reiterate, I am wearing my armchair judge's hat, my opinions informed by my own and my daughter's training in ballet. I might not be so harsh otherwise (but, then, I might!).

Despite my nitpicking, I gave the National an overall B+.

Now you can understand why I was flabbergasted that Isabella Boylston's name was not called out as female winner of the competition. I'll bet it had a lot to do with the choice of contemporary piece. My reviews of the contemporary repertoire will be next.

Elena Lobsanova (click on her name in the list)

Noah Long (click on his name in the list)

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THanks, Marga-- veyr interesting to read about everybody, and also particularly to hear how our dancers looked in hte competition.

Ms Andre is a very fine classical dancer. She doesn't do Giselle here, but soloist and corps roles, where she's one of hte clearest onstage. Spaulding is a musical dancer and a strong partner in the modern works -- Forsythe, van Manen, and can handle very strong dancers like Sofiane Sylve. He's good in hte classics though not great; Ive never seen him in a "white tights" role but would not expect perfection. He probably made his partner look very soft and floating in htose lifts. Wonder how "Ebony Concerto" went over.

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Thank you so much again, Marga, for your richly detailed reviews.

I don't know why she feels it adds something to her arabesques and attitudes to break the line of her leg by winging her foot in that characteristically NBoC style which is so ugly! Through the years I have watched female dancers at the National do this (not all of them, to the credit of those who don't) as if they couldn't call themselves NBoC dancers if they didn't. It ruins the effect of a stretched pointed foot and adds nothing to the line -- nothing!
May I disagree? I find a winged foot tends to "lighten" the look of an arabesque. Also, as a noted teacher once explained to my class, most dancers have at least a slight bow to the leg, and winging the foot helps "correct" the line to a viewer's eye. Of course, when the effect is exaggerated, the benefit is lost.

Congratulations to all the competitors :off topic: , and especially to ABT's Cory Stearns, who returns to quite a healthy assortment of new assignments for the Met season.

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