Prestigious ballet competition in Jackson

Published 1:34 am Sunday, July 2, 2006

Misa Kuranaga knew the repertoire — Black Swan Pas de Deux and Diana and Acteon — was her weakness. But the petite, nimble dancer forgot her fears when she took the stage, convincing a panel of international judges to award her gold.

Kuranaga, 23, of Japan on Friday was named the women’s senior gold medalist for the USA International Ballet Competition, considered one of the most important ballet contests in North America.

“The repertoire I brought was not my decision. It was my weakness, actually. It was my first time being on stage doing that so I was a little worried,” said Kuranaga, who has performed with the Boston Ballet for three years.

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“I don’t really think about a medal. I always try to think ballet is an art form and should not be framed,” she said.

Daniil Simkin, 19, of Germany, who won the gold in the senior men’s category, said he inherited his dancing skills. The son of two former ballet dancers, Simkin has performed on stage since age 6. “The audience doesn’t see the really hard work — hours and hours. Then you come out and dance in 1 1/2 minutes,” said Simkin, his body lilting back and forth as he described training and performing.

The USA IBC is the United States’ official international ballet competition. For two weeks, 99 dancers from 24 countries performed in the three-round competition, many eliminated along the way. On Friday, judges awarded the medals, cash, scholarships and contracts. A final performance from the winners will be Sunday.

Winning the silver medal in the senior gold was the USA’s Brooklyn Mack of Elgin, S.C., who currently dances with the American Ballet Theatre in New York. The 19-year-old spontaneously erupted into dance moves, throwing his legs and arms in the air as he told the story of Acteon, the hunter who sees the goddess Diana bathing in the nude.

“It seems like they’re in love, but she turns him into a deer,” he said of the characters. Mack said he hopes his win will inspire other African-American youth to pursue the arts “so they can see that they can do that no matter what race or color or background they have. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Jurgita Dronina, 20, of Lithuania, the silver medal winner in the women’s senior division, was excited about the honor, but lamented she had no one with whom to share her joy. Her coach was ill and couldn’t attend the awards ceremony.

“I wish I could have her now so much,” said Dronina, who later added. “I just came to dance, with all my heart.”

“I thought this was a phenomenal competition. I had to keep myself from applauding or yelling ’bravo,”’ said Bruce Marks, chairman of the USA IBC and director. Marks said Simkin was “so comfortable in air that he changes shape” and Mack “has a jump that legends are made of. He literally hangs in the air.”

Dancers this year ranged in age from 15 to 26, and competed in junior and senior divisions. The USA IBC was brought to Jackson in 1979 by Thalia Mara, an internationally known dance educator and author of several ballet textbooks. Mara died in 2003. The competition is held in a downtown Jackson auditorium that bears her name.