by Patricia Boccadoro
21 December 2000 - "The Paris International Dance Competition
gave me the opportunity to dance in front of an audience, and to
interpret The Cigarette, a solo I had been longing to work on ",
Emilie Cozette, gold medallist in 1998, told me at the Palais Garnier
where she is currently working on Balanchine's Jewels.
had recently joined the Paris Opéra Ballet, and when you serve
your apprenticeship the first year, there aren't many occasions to
dance. Winning the junior section was not my main aim , but it
obviously helped my career, most of all because it brought me into
direct contact with Elisabeth Platel, the ballerina I most admire, who
was President of the classical jury at the time. When she offered to
work with me, I was over the moon!
Since then, I have been
trusted with several important roles at the Opéra and I also
get invitations to dance in galas from people who either saw or heard
about me. It was a fascinating and happy experience, more like a huge
rendezvous of dance for people from all over the world, than a
comment that the Paris competition was a huge melting pot of dance,
where directors contacted choreographers, and choreographers met
dancers, Cyril Lafaurie, the capable and highly organised director of
the competition to whom I spoke during rehearsals for the contemporary
finals told me that he liked to think of the contest more as a
continuation of the Dance Festival than an exam.
was so little dance in Paris in the early sixties, when there was only
one programme every Wednesday evening at the Paris Opéra . The
idea of the Festival, founded in 1963 ", he said," was to
encourage dance in the French capital, and then when The Ballet
Competition of Varna, in Bulgaria, was created the following year with
which it is twinned, the seeds were sown for one in Paris, but it
didn't come about until 1984. The first year was purely classical, but
then we decided to create a contemporary section two years later.
1988, the Competition took on the form it has today, when it is held
every two years, alternating with the New Paris International Dance
Festival, as the festival was renamed when Madame Jacques Chirac
became the President."
"What makes the contest
different from Varna, where the traditional role was to introduce new
classical stars to the ballet world, Vassiliev, Maximova and
Baryshnikov in the early years, Guillem, Letestu and Martinez more
recently, is the fact that it is a dance rather than a ballet
competition, and is divided into two distinct sections, contemporary
and classical, which are held on different days and with two different
panels of judges . A list of names of those on the jury over the past
few years would read like a Who's Who of dance."
This year, only one Grand
Prix de la Ville de Paris was awarded. In the contemporary dance
section. Mélanie Lomoff, aged twenty-two, won hands down (and
feet up) with Hé Wu!, a tongue-in-cheek solo created
for her by José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu. Mr Wu won the
Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris in 1998 , and both are members of
Montalvo-Hervieu's company in Créteil.
First prizes to
China and South Korea
First prizes went to Zhenyan Wu,
twenty, from China, and the expressive Young Jun An, twenty-four, from
South Korea, but many of the other competitors were noticeable above
all because they either danced in transparent underwear, or took off
their clothes at the end of their solo as did Jong- Chul Shin, also
from South Korea , who nevertheless carried off second prize with his
pants. The question in my mind was whether he would have come first if
he hadn't, or if he got the second because he had.
Because Mr Shin, as
well as a very heavy, muscular young French pair, devoid of grace or
charm , who obtained the first prize for couples, were not my personal
favourites, I asked Thierry Malandain, President of the contemporary
jury how choices were made, and which dancer he would hire if he had a
vacancy in his company. Hui Qiu , was his reply. "I
already went backstage to congratulate him, and make an offer. My
company is going on tour to Canton, in China next year, and I will see
him there as I hope he will come to work with us for three months and
then join my troupe".
When I pointed out that attractive
twenty-two year old Mr Qiu didn't win any prize at all despite the
fact he was one of the best dancers, Malandain commented that it was
often very difficult to differentiate the interpreter from the
choreographer. Voting had been very divided this year as the jury was
composed of "classical" contemporary choreographers like
himself and Nils Christe, and the more "modern "
contemporary choreographers, led by Odile Duboc , and marks had been
based on very differing criteria, not least, personal taste.
seemed a lot easier in the classical section, when half the marks were
given for technical ability, and half for artistic presentation, and
few would dispute the choice of the ravishing Aurore Cordellier,
sixteen, as gold medallist. Aurore, like Emilie Cozette before her, is
a pure product of the Paris Opéra school, and is serving her
apprenticeship in the company's corps de ballet.
Photo: Patrick Herrera
Second prize went to the
radiant young Yu Hui Choe, also sixteen, from Korea, while another
great favourite with the audience was the twenty year old Polish boy,
Marcin Krajewski, actually with the Jeune Ballet de France, who was
acclaimed for his brilliant illustration of Jacques Brel's Les
Bourgeois, and was awarded the AROP prize for interpretation.
Sarafanov, eighteen, from the Ukraine; was awarded first prize junior,
for his intelligent interpretation of Paquita, where he showed
off his high, soft jumps , and elegant style but no first prize was
awarded in the somewhat disappointing senior section, where the finest
dancer of all, Federico Bonelli, twenty-two, ( surely Italian ?)
presented himself in the couples category with an ill-assorted
partner. No gold medal was given here either, but a second prize was
awarded to impeccably trained Jean-Sébastian Colau, and
Lise-Marie Jourdain, twenty three and twenty-two, from the Paris Opéra
Ballet, who danced excellently together as a couple.
Jourdain and Jean-Sebastian Colau
Lise-Marie summed up
the general attitude to the competition. "I already went to Varna
with Jean-Sébastien, and we were so warmly received by everyone
that we decided to repeat the experience here. We've been able to see
dancers from all over the world and would have enjoyed it even if we
hadn't won a medal. We're both only quadrilles (the lowest rank) in
the Opéra so it's been a wonderful opportunity to interpret a
pas de deux, with just the two of us on stage. It was hard work, but
fun preparing for it, and if it helps us with our career , well then,
it's a bonus! We've a long way to go yet, and it's more a beginning
than an end".
All the prizewinners took part in a gala
with guest appearances from Tero
Saarinen , Grand Prix, 1988, and Yuval Pick , Grand Prix 1996,
in Saarinen's excellent work Could you take some of my weight?,
followed by Rolando Sarabia, the Cuban dancer, who won the Grand Prix
de la Ville de Paris in 1998, (as well as Varna and Jackson),
partnered by the adorable Brasilian ballerina Daniela Severian, who
won first prize in Paris four years ago, in the pas de deux from Le
Corsaire. Sarabia, now eighteen, who dances with the
National Ballet of Cuba, is one
of the most spectacular artists of his generation. The Orchestre
Colonne was conducted by Yannis Pouspourikas.
credits: Jean-Charles Gesquiere
writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The
Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus
documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for