Dancers compete at a ballet competition, and the jurors disappear into a conference room to deliberate. But what really determines the scoring? The USA International Ballet Competition, the quadrennial event in Jackson, Mississippi, will be held June 12–27 this year. Jurors from 13 different countries assess the skills of the 119 competitors, who have submitted video applications to be considered for the rigorous three rounds of competition. Once admitted, these dancers compete for cash; bronze, silver and gold medals; company contracts; and scholarships.
Bruce Marks is the chairman of the international jury and has been associated with the competition for 21 years. He says, as far as the criteria for judging, there is no one single answer. “We expect high technical ability, but that is only one part of this. I continue to emphasize in my jury orientation that elusive thing called artistry—not only the ability to connect with an audience, but also to show the multifaceted nature of the artist,” he says.
Marks stresses diversity of opinion among the 13 judges—each pair of eyes sees something different. During the two preliminary rounds and final, the scores are based on a 1–10 system, with the high and low numbers thrown out, like at the Olympics, so that bias won’t creep in. Marks won’t allow jurors to discuss the artists in the jury room until the final deliberations. “I want people to score based on what they think and not to be intimidated by anyone,” he says. About half the competitors move on to the second round.
There are two categories, the junior division (ages 15–18) and the senior division (ages 19–26). “In the junior round we are looking more at the potential or future of the competitor,” says Brooke Wyatt, the USAIBC artistic administrator. “In the senior round we are looking at the whole package.”
Judges don’t always agree. When Robert Joffrey and Yuri Grigorovich were co-chairs of the competition, deliberations would go on until 3 or 4 a.m. Marks expedites the process, he says. The top senior award with a cash prize of $10,000, the Grand Prix has only been awarded four times since 1979: to José Manuel Carreño, Nina Ananiashvili, Andris Liepa and Johan Kobborg. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded, but only when deemed fitting.
Marks admits that ballet competitions are not for all dancers. “Some of my favorite artists—Galina Ulanova, Carla Fracci and Alessandra Ferri—I’m not sure those kinds of people could win this kind of competition.”
The greatest benefit is experiencing the USAIBC, with its classes, competition and camaraderie. “A medal is nice if you get one, but the process is the prize,” Marks says.
Joseph Carman is a contributor to Dance Magazine and author of Round About the Ballet.
Photo courtesy of USAIBC.