Sixth International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize

Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, ON

May 20, 2002
By Malcolm Tay

The Competitors

  • Michele Wiles and David Hallberg, American Ballet Theatre
  • Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté, The National Ballet of Canada
  • Amy Watson and Ask La Cour, The Royal Danish Ballet
  • Clara Blanco and Gonzalo Garcia, San Francisco Ballet
  • Alicia Amatriain and Friedemann Vogel, Stuttgart Ballet

    The Judges

  • Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director, American Ballet Theatre
  • James Kudelka, Artistic Director, The National Ballet of Canada
  • Frank Andersen, Artistic Director, The Royal Danish Ballet
  • Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director, San Francisco Ballet
  • Reid Anderson, Artistic Director, Stuttgart Ballet

    i. Opening remarks

    James Kudelka - the competition is not about competing, but about "pleasing Erik."

    Chan Hon Goh and Rex Harrington as hosts.

    ii. Film: I'm the Same - Only More by Lennart Pasborg

    - Not a biographical account, but tries to capture what Erik Bruhn stood for: "artistic expression at its best." Bruhn's voice is heard; among other things, he says "I was not born a dancer; I happened to dance..." Much footage of Bruhn, both in photos and video. Among many other things, he is seen: dancing the variation from Don Quixote pas de deux; partnering Carla Fracci in La Sylphide in 1962 for the Bell Telephone Hour; in Etudes from 1969; in Giselle and Carmen in 1968; in Miss Julie, 1975; playing the Witch in La Sylphide, 1974; as Dr Coppélius in Coppélia; rehearsing with Rudolf Nureyev in the studio; conducting classes in the studio. What a dancer. I never realised how handsome he was as a young man.

    iii. Classical repertoire

    In the context of the competition, technique becomes everything. That is, the audience likes to see more turns, higher jumps, and more flexibility. The little stumble and extra adjustment suddenly become more noticeable... maybe even less forgiveable?

    1) Black Swan pas de deux, choreography by Peter Martins after Marius Petipa (Amy Watson and Ask La Cour, The Royal Danish Ballet)

    - Lacking in confidence, finish. Slight stumbles here and there. Not all 32 fouettés are done; several are done, then completed with piqué turns.

    2) Black Swan pas de deux, choreography by James Kudelka (Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté, The National Ballet of Canada)

    - Yes, yes, 2 of the same duets. But Kudelka's version is different. Odile advances toward Siegfried by herself in the beginning. There seems to be more extension, more lifts. A little fumble here and there. Looks like almost all 32 fouettés were done (wasn't exactly counting, sorry). Standing ovation from an understandably biased audience.

    3) Grand Pas Classique, choreography by Victor Gsovsky (Michele Wiles and David Hallberg, American Ballet Theatre)

    - She's a soloist, he's a corps member, but you would never have guessed because they were quite excellent. Long balances on point, once with the leg at the head. He is secure in his tour en l'airs, jumps, pirouettes. She whips through her piqué turns, knocking doubles in between her multiple fouettés. Standing ovation.

    4) Pas de deux from Giselle, choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa (Alicia Amatriain and Friedemann Vogel, Stuttgart Ballet)

    - Unlike the first 3 performances, this isn't exactly a crowd-pleaser, but the audience liked this nonetheless. Everyone gasps at her high extensions. He looks like he's struggling a little to lift her though I could be wrong. Both emoted this duet well, nothing over-the-top.

    5) Paquita Pas de Deux, choreography by Marius Petipa (Clara Blanco and Gonzalo Garcia, San Francisco Ballet)

    - Blanco isn't your usual ballerina; she's not as tall, more curvy. I find that very refreshing, encouraging. A noticeable fumble when he tries to drop her into a fish dive after carrying her over his head. But otherwise quite clean, I think.

    iv. Contemporary repertoire.

    Here's where technique isn't everything, though mistakes aren't welcome anyway. I don't know how they can actually judge this, since all the duets on display were quite different.

    1) Adagietto from the 5th Symphony of Gustav Mahler, choreography by John Neumeier (Amy Watson and Ask La Cour, The Royal Danish Ballet)

    - Originally made for Erik Bruhn and Natalia Makarova - talk about pressure. Mahler's score is peaceful, serene. Sometimes they dance in pairs, sometimes not; they make shapes of togetherness, controlled and lyrical. Sparseness of gesture, touching each other lightly. He stumbles a little while carrying her.

    2) CollectiveSonataForTwo, choreography by Dominique Dumais (Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté, The National Ballet of Canada)

    - World premiere. A voiceover - both a man's and a woman's - comes and goes, in English and French. Tense relationship, stool as regular stage fixture. They sit on it, or carry it, put elsewhere. Sometimes one sits and watches the other dance.

    3) Bedroom Pas de Deux from Manon, Act II, choreography by Kenneth MacMillan (Michele Wiles and David Hallberg, American Ballet Theatre)

    - Ah, that lovey-dovey duet, complete with a long smoochie. Perhaps the most traditional-looking of the lot. The difficult twisting lifts were done well (not that I could spot any mistake, I think).

    4) Pas de Deux from In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, choreography by Willian Forsythe (Alicia Amatriain and Friedemann Vogel, Stuttgart Ballet)

    - Hmm. I have never seen this ballet, and therefore this duet, before though I've heard much about it. Everyone loved it. The look is hard, severe. Audience gasps at her flexibility. Must be punishing, painful. Standing ovation.

    5) Continuum, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon (Clara Blanco and Gonzalo Garcia, San Francisco Ballet)

    - Fast, quick, light, accented with little frenetic gestures. They face each other at one point, mirroring each other in movement, crawling, rolling while attached to each other by the feet. You feel they are more like friends, like equals rather than lovers. I thought they did better here than in their classical selection.

    [The National Ballet Orchestra plays some music from The Contract while results are being tabulated]

    v. Communiqué from the PPF Summit
    A Conference on the Past, Present and Future of Ballet.
    PPF Summit facilitators Penelope Reed Doob and James Neufeld

    - They gave some highlights from the forum. Artistic directors of ABT, NYCB, PNB, RB (Asst. AD), Stuttgart, Royal Danish, ENB, Boston, NBoC (later grew to include the ADs of Ballet Jorgen, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and maybe Alberta Ballet; I'm not sure) invited to discuss - allies, not competitors. Plans to meet annually; communicate electronically. Topics discussed include: beyond training towards education; combatting ballet sterotypes of being traditional, elitist; new works as legacy for future; experimentation with choreography, allow for failure; speaking to new culturally diverse audience; bridging gap between Europe and North America by having companies from both continents perform in the other, among many other things that I couldn't catch.

    [Rex Harrington sings a little song while the judges STILL tabulate the results]

    vi. Award ceremony

    And the winners are:

    Best Female - Michele Wiles, American Ballet Theatre

    Best Male - Friedemann Vogel, Stuttgart Ballet




    Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

    Edited by Marie.

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