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USA International Ballet Competition

Davit Karapetyan and
Vanessa Zahorian

by Dean Speer & Francis Timlin

June 2006 -- Jackson, Mississippi


We chatted with IBC competitor Davit Karapetyan and his “non-competing partner” Vanessa Zahorian over an early breakfast at the “Olympic Village” of the IBC, Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi – Mr. Karapetyan having been advanced to Round II. Both are principal dancers with San Francisco Ballet.

Please tell us, each of you, a little bit about your backgrounds, and then Davit, if you could talk about why you are here at the IBC and what you hope to gain from it.

Vanessa Zahorian: I began as a young student – I was five – at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and was there for seven years before going, at age 13, to Universal Ballet Academy in Washington, D.C.  I won the Prince of Monaco Scholarship to attend the Kirov School in St. Petersburg, being the first American girl to do so. I got to work with Andres Liepa and actually did a lot of competitions, including the one in Moscow. I returned to CPYB to graduate from high school but also wanted to get back to the quick style we have here in the States. I auditioned for San Francisco Ballet in New York and was hired on the spot in 1997. Two years later, I was promoted to soloist rank and in 2002 to principal.

Davit Karapetyan: I studied in Yerevan [Armenia] and began serious ballet study at 13, having first taken Armenian folk dancing, moving on to classical  I was in the school for three years before going to Zurich Ballet for six years. I auditioned for San Francisco Ballet in 2004 and 2005-06 was my first season and I came in as a principal dancer.

I won the Prix de Lausanne in 1999 and had always wanted to come to the Jackson IBC but my director in Zurich did not support letting dancers go to competitions. I feel it’s a very good opportunity to see and learn from a lot of good dancers.

What did you do to prepare? Anything special?

VZ: We were coached by Ricardo Bustamante in the Black Swan Pas de Deux. We’re on layoff now, so the timing is good for us. We’ve prepared for about three weeks and this was my début as Odile. Since we just came off a heavy performing season, stamina is not an issue for us.

DK: I had already done Black Swan in San Francisco, so it’s easier when one is experienced. I tried to enjoy the performance as much as possible and not worry about “competition.”

VZ: The choreography and characterization has a lot to it. I tried to make it a real performance as much as I could. I didn’t have the pressure of competing and could be a little more relaxed.  I enjoyed being here.

What did you bring for the Round II, the contemporary round? What else are you performing?

DK:  A member of the San Francisco Ballet, Nicolas Blanc, has made a contemporary duet on us set to Bach’s Suite No. 2 in D minor for solo ‘cello.

How would you describe the movement quality? What is the dance like?

VZ: It’s very legato, soft, sensual. There are two forms following each other, together and in canon. It’s entitled, “After Having Been.”

DK: For Round III, we’ve prepared the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire.” I’ve choreographed a piece for the contemporary section and it’s the first time I’ve danced to my own choreography.  I’ve selected one movement of Vivaldi’s “Summer” and it’s a “black and white” duet originally made for two men in Zurich, but I’ve modified it for Vanessa and myself. It’s more about style – a dream of a girl dancing with me. It’s very energetic and different from the Blanc duet.

How would you describe the USA IBC and what’s been your experience so far?

VZ: It’s very nice and well organized. We like the hot, humid weather as it’s good for muscles. Even though the new studios here at Belhaven College are nice, the surfaces are too hard and we cannot jump much. It’s just the opposite at the Thalia Mara Hall (which has a new stage surface, donated by Harlequin) – springy but a little slippery; I’ve had to “score” the bottoms of my pointe shoes. And we’re not allowed to use rosin on stage. We get 20 minutes of stage time – and they stick to it!

DK: There are so many talented dancers here. For those who didn’t make it beyond the first round, they should realize that ultimately it comes down to opinions, and not be discouraged.

Many of our readers are “dance people” and I’m sure would be curious what kind of pointe shoes you wear...

VZ: I wear Freed, size 4XX, and my maker is R. My previous maker retired.

What have been some of the highlights for you from last year’s SFB season and what are you looking forward to this coming year?

VZ: Last season, I enjoyed Mark Morris’ “Sylvia” and we’ll get to do it soon during our upcoming tour to New York. Next season, I’m looking forward to “Sleeping Beauty” and “Don Quixote.”

DK: We are very fortunate that we have a great repertory – it’s always balanced between the classics and contemporary ballets.

VZ: And we’re also fortunate to have the best therapy, chiropractor, massage...

DK: A gym – everything!


Any hobbies or things of a personal interest that you might like to pass along?

VZ: We’re dating!

I’m sure you must be a role model for boys who may be aspiring to be dancers.  Any advice or words of wisdom you’d like to pass along?

DK: Be patient. It can be painful, but the results are worth it. Everything comes with the work.  Make use of everything you see and hear from coaches.

VZ: Don’t lose the love and passion – it’s not just work for the sake of work – don’t lose the heart in performance.

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