2014 Competition Review

From: Denise Rinaldi, Executive Director CUSA

After three years of working and planning, CUSA board and committee members were proud to finally see the fruits of their labors when they hosted the 2014 Cecchetti International Classical Ballet competition held at the CenterStage Theater in Richmond, Virginia, August 7-9, where 39 young aspiring pre-professional dancers stepped into the limelight. Competitors represented Cecchetti organizations from Australia, Canada, Southern Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

For the competitors, the week began with inspiring classes taught by Evelyn Cisneros, Kirk Peterson and Angeline Wolf. Afternoons were spent with coaches on perfecting final details of the variations.  At the same time the Residential Summer Course was happening in other studios throughout the building and attendees were looking forward to the first glimpse of the contest.

Thursday morning was the official opening on stage with the contemporary class that was observed by the adjudicators but not marked. This class was set by Competition Contemporary Mistress, Angeline Wolf, and accompanied by Bentley Cobb, Jr., percussionist. There was an enthusiastic audience of summer course attendees, coaches and parents. From the beginning it was evident that the caliber of the dancers was very high.  These young people from the ages of 15-19 were beautifully trained and many are headed toward professional careers. Thursday evening the contemporary solos were seen.  The wide variety of choreography shown demonstrated the breadth of movement in the world of dance – something these dancers will need in today’s ballet companies.

On Friday morning, the first adjudicated event occurred with the on-stage ballet class, competently accompanied by Catherine Schane-Lydon, and choreographed by the Competition Ballet Master and Mistress – Kirk Peterson and Evelyn Cisneros.  We were met with a huge challenge as the barres available for this class were circular in shape!  Dancers were arranged by number both outside and inside the “corrals” and shifted every exercise to ensure that everyone was seen in the front at some point. From the audience point of view it was lovely to be able to see all of the competitors.  The adjudicators, however, found this arrangement to be quite challenging! In the center, the dancers showed their work in smaller groups arranged by number.  Near the end of class, the boys were surprised with a request to show their double tour en l’air on both sides.  They all gave it a valiant try and CUSA’s Daniel Salinas stood out as he thought he did quite well on his “bad” side.  I am sure the girls breathed a sigh of relief when they were not required to do their fouette turns on both sides!  Contrarily, CUSA’s Natalie Hackett (one of the few to be able to literally whip out 16 fouettes) expressed disappointment at only performing to one side because she felt her left side was “even better”! That evening we were treated to the classical solos. These are, of course, more familiar and beloved by all. All did beautifully and the judges managed to whittle the finalists down to 15.

And finally the date of the gala arrived!  The finalists once again performed both the classical and contemporary variations.  While the judges were conferring to make their choices, the audience was treated to a performance by several professional dancers.  Thomas Baird portrayed Louis XIV in Entrée d’Apollon, breathtaking in full regalia, a fitting acknowledgement of the roots of ballet.  He was followed by Chelsea Cambron, the winner of the Contemporary award in 2011 in England, dancing Black Earth, a contemporary solo choreographed by Valerie Huston.  We were then treated to an excerpt from Kirk Peterson’s Tears of the Moon, danced by Cameron Auble-Branigan and Shaye Firer, performing courtesy of American Repertory Ballet (Artistic Director Douglas Martin).  And finishing with a duet from La Follia by Mauro Bigonzetti, performed by Ballet Next Artistic Director, Michele Wiles (former Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre) and dancer, Tiffany Mangulabnan.  We were very grateful that all of these guest artists were willing to travel to Virginia and perform at our Gala evening.

The final moments of the competition included the awarding of many scholarships and of course the monetary prizes.  The audience had a wonderful time voting for their favorite, Melissa Eguchi representing Canada.  From South Africa, Kathleen Videira won the Contemporary Award and Kirsten Johnson the Musicality prize.  Rebecca Blenkinsop, from Australia, was noted as the Most Promising Dancer – this being given in honor of CUSA’s Administrator Emeritus, Shiela Darby.  And finally, Jenny Hackwell of the United Kingdom, came away with the top prize, the Maestro Enrico Cecchetti Award.  We would be remiss if we did not give a round of applause to the stellar Adjudication Panel who worked tirelessly to reach a unified agreement regarding the winners.  Although Ben Stevenson, Artistic Director of Texas Ballet Theater, had to cancel due to illness, we were very fortunate to obtain the services of Malcolm Burn, Resident Ballet Master for Richmond Ballet, to fill in for the final evening.  He presented a lovely plaque and $1000 to Ms. Eguchi for the Audience Choice Award.   The other four awardees were each given a CICB Medal on a beautiful blue ribbon hung around their necks by an adjudicator! Best Musicality (Bronze medal and $1500) was awarded by Susan Jaffe, former Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre and Best Contemporary (Bronze medal and $1500) was awarded by Joshua Peugh, Artistic Director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance; Most Promising Dancer (Silver medal and $2500) was awarded by Trinette Singleton, former Principal Dancer with the Joffrey Ballet; and the Maestro Enrico Cecchetti (Gold medal and $5000) was awarded by Nancy Kilgour, herself a final diploma holder and awardee of the Order of Canada medal.   We all celebrated with champagne and cake in the lobby afterwards.  It was a fabulous time of joy and relief as we said goodbye to both old and new friends, and handed over the mantle to Italy for the next CICB competition in 2017.  We all are looking forward to Florence!  It will be especially delightful not to be working!

A special thank you goes out to those who gave tirelessly these last three years to make this happen.  I would especially like to thank my co-Hostess, and Chair of CICB, Betty Seibert, who is also a long-term member of the CUSA Board of Directors.  Besides her dogged determination that we would make this the “Event of the Century”, it was a pleasure sharing the stage each evening with her.  The competition was polished and professional from start to finish, all accomplished by our relatively small group of Board members, Committee members and volunteers.  A huge dose of gratitude goes out to our Sapphire donors – Cecchetti International Classical Ballet and Cecchetti Ballet Theatre.  While we are still finalizing the numbers from the Residential Course and Competition, this could not have happened without the generosity of so many people.  WE DID IT!!!  Looking forward to seeing you all in Italy.

Congratulations CUSA:

The competition was so interesting and exciting. There were so many scholarships and prizes that I truly believed that every country participating has had a wonderful experience, and felt that the whole process was fair and equitable. I know I did.

– Robina (Beard-IFM, CICB)

Thank you for your exceptional work, which resulted in a well-organized and worthwhile competition that was a pleasure to attend.

– Deb Bowes (Delegate-Canada)

I would just like to thank you (Betty Seibert and Denise Rinaldi) both and your team of helpers who made the Cecchetti International Competition 2014 such a success. All the students from Victoria have come home better for the experience of dancing alongside so many wonderful students. They have all made new friends which I know they will meet again-the dance world is very small.

– Anne (Butler-Delegate, Australia)

Congratulations CICB on a wonderful celebration of dance. My student Chloe Hollow had a truly amazing experience and we would like to thank all the CICB organisers, teachers, coaches, judges and sponsers without whom we know this opportunity would not be available to our young students.

– Monique Feain (Teacher from Australia)

With warmest congratulations and my sincere thanks for kindly sending me a copy of this spledid reminder (program) of what was clearly a hugely successful occasion.

– Richard (Glasstone, IFM, CICB)

On behalf of The Perth School of Ballet, we wish to thank all involved wit the recent Ceccheti International Competition held in Richmond, Virginia. Our student Genevieve MacNulty, and teacher Simone Jackson-Pike were made to feel very welcome and found the whole experience to be fantastic. The competition was extemely well run and a credit to the committee on their organisation of the event.

– Mellinda Govan, The Perth School of Ballet-Administrative Assistant

Just wanted to say thank you for a job well done. Every detail of the CICB was perfect and the atmosphere was great.

– Pam (Moore-CCA)

Firstly, an enormous thank you to both you (Betty Seibert) and CUSA for your warm hospitality and generosity extended to South African delegates, coaches and competitors during the CUSA Residential Course. Huge congratulations are especially due to you and all concerned for a wonderful and superbly organized competition. As Chairman of Cecchetti International Classical Ballet, all aspects of the week were handled by you with such elegance and professionalism and I salute your really great accomplishment!

– Gail Myburgh-Delegate, South Africa

Congratulations on what clearly was a beautifully orchestrated event.

– Mavis (Staines-Artistic Director, Canada’s National Ballet School)

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