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The Paris International Dance Competition : a huge melting pot of dance

by Patricia Boccadoro

ARIS, 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.

I 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 contest."

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Emilie Cozette

Reiterating Emilie's 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.

"There 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.

"By 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.

Melanie Lomoff
Melanie Lomoff

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.

Young Jun An
Young Jun An

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.

Voting 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.

Aurore Cordellier
Aurore Cordellier
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.

Leonid 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.

Lise-Marie Jourdain and Jean-Sebastian Colau
Lise-Marie 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.

Photo credits: Jean-Charles Gesquiere

Patricia Boccadoro 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

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