SHEILA CHISHOLM shares her SAIBC 2020 review and the winners as the first-time virtual ballet competition finishes:

SAIBC 2020 review and the winners

Having spent hours between 13 to 18 July watching the virtual 7th South African International Ballet Competition (SAIBC 2020) I think its in order to rearrange the proverb “Where there’s a WILL there’s a way” to read “Where there’s a DIRK there’s a way.”

Yes, we know technology places Zoom, Skype, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at one’s fingertips, and video recordings capture movement for posterity.  But who’d believe that when Covid-19 struck, and world governments clamped down on all gatherings, Dirk Badenhorst, SAIBC’s CEO, founder and networker par excellence would, in May, declare to his team – Allison Foat (Publicist and Marketing), Chantelle Franco-Green (Website, Marketing and Graphic Design), and Lauge Sorensen (Video Editing and 3D Animations) – that, regardless of circumstances the SAIBC 2020 competition would go ahead.

“We have 155 candidates from 29 countries registered. They’ve trained hard for this biennial competition, cancelling is unthinkable. So let’s garner all technological resources available to present a virtual competition,” he said. And which is exactly what happened. Badenhorst & Co turned 2020’s SAIBC into a first ever virtual international ballet competition. Congratulations.

Different viewing experience

It’s a different experience viewing dancers, from the globe’s four corners, on a small screen at home, instead of sitting in a theatre. Candidates too were forced to readjust to this unprecedented situation. Having mentally prepared to perform on Artscape’s theatre stage, they were now required  to perform in a different space, not necessarily familiar. Photographers, sensitive to recording and editing a ballet/contemporary variation, needed to be sourced. One advantage though – numerous “takes” were allowed  to ensure the “most near perfect” recording went out to the ten international jurors.

SAIBC 2020 review and the winners

They – led by Ted Brandsen, Director and Intensive Teacher of Dutch National Ballet – were tasked to evaluate every performance, offer constructive criticism, and award a grand range of awards.

SAIBC’s rules placed dancers into individual categories. 1. Male and female dancers danced separately. 2. Everyone slotted into age groups – Scholars between 12 – 15; Juniors  between 16 – 20; Seniors from 21 – 28. 3. Each dancer performed a variation from the Classical Repertoire, and an Own Choice contemporary solo. Most competitors tackled these variations with aplomb working within their own technical boundaries.  However, I found the Own Choice contemporary too often leaning towards acrobatic and unimaginative choreography, unrelated to the solo’s title.

Much has been written on social media regarding SAIBC’s competition so I’ll try not to duplicate anything already posted.

Danced their hearts out

Firstly I award my own award to those young people who danced their hearts out in obviously unsuitable spaces.  Rest assured your performance was assessed only by your ability. And here I must mention training. As I listened to corrections given by Rungiao Du (Artistic Director, Kirov Academy of Ballet Washington) and Thoriso Magongua (Panellist and Intensive Teacher and Dancer at National Theatre of Brno) while teaching and in open discussions, I noted how basic these were … careful not to sickle, push with the heel forward, when you pose take your hips with you, lengthen inside both legs, use epaulement, place feet securely in 5th position, preparations need to be accurate. I even noticed a sensible 6th position of the feet introduced as well as many other positive pointers. While mature dancers can apply these, younger dancers are dependent on their teacher’s guidance.

Sad to say, from their first steps several candidates showed their training wasn’t up to scratch. I can’t remember when last I saw a girl pose en point THEN straighten her knee or couru with turned in legs and bent knees. Basic ballet technique is teacher dependent. Without that, young aspiring dancer’s talents cannot easily be brought to  full potential. Talking about which in a reply to a question “what do company directors look for at auditions?” Tamara Rojo (Artistic Director of English National Ballet) stressed the importance of knowing the company’s history, repertoire, and whether the dancer felt they could fit in.

SAIBC 2020 review and the winners

However, the wisest words and insight to our future came from Thoriso Magongua. He interprets Black Lives Matter as meaning inclusivity, not separate development. “No one, regardless of race, sexual orientation or political views,  should ever be excluded from society or the arts. Ballet is an international language that speaks to the soul … let no one ever be excluded from that right,” he says.

The results below indicate where currently ballet training is at its strongest. Thank you Dirk Badenhorst for showing what can be achieved when there is a Will/Dirk to lead.

SA International Ballet Competition announces awards & special prizes for the 2020 virtual event

The top scoring country was China with 17 medals followed by South Korea with 7winners. Double gold medalists were Brady Farrar, 15 (USA), Francisco Gomes, 17 (Portugal), Xinyue Zhao, 20, (China) and Jiayuan Ou, 23 (China). Three South Africans placed, namely Paige McElligott, 17 who tied for silver in the Junior classical section; Ane Bierman who tied for bronze in the junior contemporary section and Alexia Munn, 13, who tied for bronze in the scholar contemporary section. Other South Africans who won special prizes for excellent performances were Miguel Kenneth Franco-Green, Gia Lipschitz, Navin Jacobs, Irisa Van Niekerk and Emma Wood.  South Africans Sikhumbuzo Hlahleni from Cape Town and Navin Jacobs from Johannesburg received a CEO Commendation along with Yu Jin Jang, Ha min Park, Dmitri Donaldson Govertson and Caroline Costa.

The SAIBC 2020 results are as follows:

SCHOLARS

Contemporary

Male

Gold          Brady Farrar, 15   (USA)

Silver        Alberto Gil Vicente, 14  (Spain)

Bronze     Zihan Kong, 15 (China)

Female

Gold         Margarida Gonçalves, 15  (Portugal)

Silver       Madison Brown, 15 (USA) and Mengxuan Yan, 13 (China)

Bronze    Minseo Chung, 14 (South Korea), Alexia Munn, 13 (South Africa) and Juliana Wilder, 13 (USA)

SCHOLARS

Classical

Male

Gold         Brady Farrar, 15   (USA)

Silver       KangWon Lee, 15 (South Korea)

Bronze     Alberto Gil Vicente, 14 (Spain)

Female

Gold        MinSeo Chung, 14  (South Korea)

Silver      Yoon Seon Jun, 13 (South Korea) and Yujeong Kang, 16 (South Korea)

Bronze   Mengxuan Yan, 13 (China) and Yaeri Kim, 15 (South Korea),

JUNIORS

Contemporary

Male

Gold    Francisco Gomes, 17 (Portugal)

Silver   Yasiel Bello Hodelin, 18 (Cuba)

Bronze  Sun Pengxiang, 18 (China)

Female

Gold       Xinyue Zhao, 20 (China)

Silver      Alice McArthur, 16  (New Zealand)

Bronze   Ane Bierman, 18 (South Africa) and Margarida Abreu, 17 (Portugal)

JUNIORS

Classical

Male

Gold          Francisco Gomes, 17  (Portugal)

Silver         Yasiel Hodelin Bello, 18 (Cuba)

Bronze      Sun Pengxiang 18 (China)

Female

Gold      Xinyue Zhao, 20 (China)

Silver    Alice McArthur ,16 (New Zealand) and Paige McElligott, 17 (South Africa)

Bronze  Brianna Guagliardo, 16 (USA) and Eugin Ahn, 16 (South Korea)

SENIORS

Contemporary

Male

Gold         Chongzheng Guan, 21  (China)

Silver       Yeodong Sun, 23 (China)

Bronze      Ze Wu, 23 (China)

Female

Gold       Jiayuan Ou, 23  (China)

Silver     Yongyu Chen, 21 (China)

SENIORS

Classical

Male

Gold         Chongzheng Guan, 21  (China)

Silver       Yeodong Sun, 23 (China)

Bronze      Ze Wu, 23 (China)

Female

Gold       Jiayuan Ou,23  (China)

Silver     Yongyu Chen, 21 (China)

The special awards are as follows:

Ted Brandsen, Jury Chair and the Artistic Director of the Dutch National Ballet offered several dancers, both medallists and dancers who didn’t place on the podium,  various opportunities at the Dutch National Ballet School, ranging from scholarships, summer schools and  student residencies with connections to Dutch National main and junior companies, all to be realised once COVID19 is no longer a threat. They are Paige McElligott, 17 (South Africa), Eugin Ahn, 16 (South Korea), Francisco Gomes, 17 (Portugal), Dane Head, 17 (New Zealand), Navin Jacobs, 17 (South Africa), Alice McArthur,  16  (New Zealand), Sun Pengxiang, 18 (China) and Yasiel Hodelin Bello, 18 (Cuba).

Juliana Wilder, 13 (USA) was granted a week at the Zürich Dance Academy by Juror Roberta Martins, and Gia Lipschitz, 11 (South Africa) and Francisco Gomes (Portugal) were awarded the opportunity to participate in the international ballet competition in Cuba next year, without having to do the first round.

The Ballet Beyond Borders (BBB) Grand Prize was awarded to Anthony Mmesome Madu, 11, from Nigeria. Madu won a full Scholarship to attend BBB in Los Angeles or Montana in 2021, accompanied by his teacher Daniel Owoseni Ajala, with all expenses paid. Additionally, twenty-five contestants have been invited by BBB’s Charlene Campbell Carey to attend the Ballet Beyond Borders (BBB) in Los Angeles or Missoula, Montana next year. They are  Soyul Kim, Miguel Kenneth Franco-Green, Yaeri Kim, KangWon Lee, SoJeong Park, Jihye Shin, Seunghwan Hyun, Gia Lipschitz, Madison Brown, Irisa Van Niekerk, Bo Gyeong Kim, Emma Wood, Maria Balinha, Lucas Henry, Mengxuan Yan, Jadeline Gardner – Sandiford, Brady Farrar, Claire Ancell, Wing Yan (Ibby ) Chow, Na-eun Kim, Natalie Henry, Minseo Chung, Sarah Van Breemen, Alberto Gil Vicente, Paige McElligott, Laura Viola, Sun Pengxiang, Francisco Gomes, Yasiel Hodelin Bello, Navin Jacobs, Natalia Bovio Pineda, Tianbao Guo, Alice McArthur, Chloe Windell, Zihan Kong and Larissa Pinto.

 WS