Asian dancers dominating ballet competition

Published 1:55 pm Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Asians are dominating the stage as the USA International Ballet Competition heads into its final round, with nearly half the 34 finalists announced Monday hailing from Asian countries.

Among those dancers was Maki Onuki, a petite Japanese ballerina who said she’s not surprised so many Asians made the final cut.

Onuki and her non-competing partner, Tamas Krizsa of Hungary, practiced “Juanita y Alicia,” a contemporary ballet created by Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre.

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During her rehearsal of the percussion-heavy dance, Onuki was confident even as Krizsa chided her about keeping her legs straight and close together as he slung her over his shoulder and held her in the air.

“I think Asian people have strong technique. We’re short and have really compact bodies that are easy to control. Girls who have long legs, it’s hard to control,” said Onuki, a 24-year-old dancer with the Washington Ballet.

The USA IBC, considered the United States’ official international ballet competition, began June 12 with 103 dancers. They’re all competing for medals, cash awards, company contracts and scholarships. There are junior and senior divisions in the two-week competition that officially ends Sunday.

The winners will be announced Friday.

Among the Asian finalists are 16 dancers from the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. The United States and European countries have the next largest contingent of finalists with five each, IBC officials said.

“It certainly reflects the fact that Asians are working more or spending more time on ballet,” said Bruce Marks, former artistic director for the Orlando Ballet and Ballet West in Utah and chairman of USA IBC. “I’ve just come from Vietnam. Vietnam is booming. There’s a beautiful opera house in Hanoi.”

Marks said the competition has always been in tune with what’s going on in the world. During the early years of the USA IBC, which was first held in Jackson in 1979, “we were very aware of the Soviet bloc,” Marks said.

Marks said 13 of the judges came from countries that included Russia, Bulgaria and East Germany during one of the early competitions.

Hae Shik Kim, a judge this year from Seoul, South Korea, said an emphasis on ballet in her country has come about as more dancers are given opportunities to study abroad.

Kim said she was the first South Korean awarded a government scholarship to study at the Royal Ballet in England in 1966.

John Munger, director of research at Dance USA, the national service organization for professional concert dance, said the Asian dominance at the competition isn’t surprising. Munger said over the past 25 years, there’s been increased ballet activity in Pacific rim countries, such as the Philippines, China, Korea and Taiwan.

“The other side of the coin is there has been a notable internationalization of ballet around the planet,” Munger said.

A 2006 study he conducted of 76 dance companies with annual budgets of $1 million or more found the dancers represented 73 nations.

Munger said it’s possible Caribbean or northern South American dancers will figure prominently when the USA IBC is held again in Jackson four years from now.


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