Top international ballet event in Miss. in 2010

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 3:57 PM

The USA International Ballet Competition has attracted the world's best young dancers to Mississippi for 30 years. And while many ballet companies have seen budgets shrink in tough times, the IBC says a record number of dancers want to compete here in 2010.

The United States' top international ballet competition is as strong as ever, growing despite the global economic slowdown, organizers announced at a news conference Tuesday.

USA IBC Executive Director Sue Lobrano said an unprecedented 350 applications have been received from dancers in 44 countries. Usually the competition draws about 300 applications, though only about 100 dancers are ultimately picked to compete.

"We are definitely going to have the International Ballet Competition. I can't say the economy hasn't hurt us some. I can say that it is not that severe," Lobrano said.

Lobrano was joined by Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson and others in announcing the competition scheduled next June 12-27 at Thalia Mara Hall.

The competition was first held in Jackson in 1979. It is held in Mississippi every four years and is one of the oldest international competitions. Lobrano said it's still held in other countries, including Bulgaria and Russia.

Bruce Marks, former artistic director for the Orlando Ballet and Ballet West in Utah, has served as chairman of the competition for 20 years. He said the USA IBC is one of the world's leading competitions.

"I just judged the Seoul International Competition in Korea. There essentially were no Europeans and no Americans. That may be due in good part to people saving up to come to Jackson," Marks said. "Jackson is a world series."

An Olympic-style competition, the USA IBC has accelerated the careers of many prominent dancers, including Cuban-born Jose Carreno, now at the American Ballet Theatre in New York.

Carreno is quoted on the IBC Web site as saying his life changed after winning in 1990. "Everything started to cook," he said.

Johnson said Tuesday he hopes the competition will continue to help the local economy. He said the last competition in Jackson had a $7.5 million economic impact on the city and state. About 40,000 tickets were sold in 2006, drawing tourists from 41 states and seven countries.

And while the competition has lost one longtime sponsor, it still has several others.

"Because of the artistry, because of the athleticism, the USA IBC is known as one of the world's most prestigious dance events," Johnson added. "The arts mean business. It means big business."

Also Tuesday, organizers unveiled the 2010 IBC poster by artist Brent Funderburk, a Mississippi State University faculty member. "Firebird 2010," is a watercolor image of a black dancer with cherry blossoms framing her head _ inspired by the Ballets Rousses, which premiered in Paris in 1910.

The opening ceremony will feature former medal winner Rasta Thomas and the Bad Boys of Dance.

Medal winners receive scholarships and other awards. Lobrano said one-year dance contracts will be offered from Miami City Ballet, Ballet San Jose, Columbia City Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Nashville Ballet and The Washington Ballet.

The jury, or judges, for 2010 will come from 12 countries, including Russia, South Africa, Australia, South Korea, Latvia, Cuba and Finland.

Marks said fundraising has been "healthy" even while ballet companies elsewhere nationwide confront cash flow problems.

"Many of their government grants have been cut in half or cut out. The audience for ballet is growing, but contributing income is diminishing," Marks said.

Several ballet companies have closed in recent years, including Ballet Pacifica in Los Angeles, Dance Fever of Harlem and Ohio Ballet, said John Munger, director of research for Dance USA, a trade group for professional dancers.

Munger said those companies had budgets that exceeded $1 million.

The IBC's budget for the 2006 competition was $2.8 million. The 2010 budget is $3.1 million, Lobrano said.