BWW Dance Review: VKIBC 2016 Was True to Its Mission of 'Preserving the Past, Discovering the Future'
On April 30th 2016 at Symphony Space on NYC's Upper West Side, Valentina Kozlova glowed with well-deserved pride as she introduced the Awards Ceremony and Gala of this year's eponymous Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition. Originally called the Boston Ballet Competition, the event has mushroomed in just six years into a worthy contender for joining the ranks of such celebrated competitions as Youth America Grand Prix, Varna, and Jackson.
What makes VKIBC unique, though, is that Kozlova - who famously defected from the former Soviet Union in 1979 with her then husband Leonid Kozlov - keeps the proceedings warm and welcoming for participants, parents, and audience members alike. Her own passion for the art form is evident as she strives to fulfill the organization's mission of "Preserving the Past, Discovering the Future". She succeeds because even though the young dancers are of extremely high caliber, today's tricks and multiple turns never take precedence over profound contemporary works or faithful renditions of treasures from previous centuries. I have long said that because we cannot hang dance on the wall of a museum as we can a Rembrandt or a Picasso, each generation must be able to perform well all that came before even as the newcomers push the limits of what is technically and emotionally possible in the present. Kozlova clearly shares that belief.
Having just reviewed the Final Round and Gala of Youth America Grand Prix at BAM earlier in the week for BWW, I also noted several ways in which VKIBC outshone YAGP. Perhaps most important for this reviewer was that the VKIBC playbill, although perhaps a bit too big and glossy, listed the names and countries of origin of all the dancers along with their head shots and those of the prestigious panel of judges as well. Not only that, but the ebullient Margot Sappington in the role of VKIBC's on-stage emcee delivered the names clearly and with correct pronunciations during the proceedings. Sappington, a former Joffrey member and a Tony award-winning choreographer, was a huge improvement over YAGP's disembodied voices that offered mumbled and misspoken attempts to give the audience information not available in any printed material or on the Internet.
In addition, VKIBC didn't try to turn the evening into a multi-media extravaganza fraught with the potential technical glitches that plagued YAGP's Gala. YAGP's film montage paying homage to the late Shelley King was lovely, but I preferred VKIBC's decision to honor the memory of the late Violette Verdy with a performance in the flesh by New York City Ballet's Daniel Ulbricht and Erica Periera dancing Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Mr. B created the pas de deux for Verdy, Kozlova's beloved mentor, and Conrad Ludlow. Inviting the NYCB guest artists to bring the dance to life for us was an eminently fitting tribute to Verdy.
All of the other guest artists in the performance, along with Kozlova herself dancing an Isadora-inspired piece choreographed by Sappington, were wonderful. Yet the young competitors ended up stealing the show. In particular, Nikita Boris and Justin Valentine performing the pas de deux from La Esmeralda were outstanding in every way. They easily surpassed the Paris Opera guest artists I saw doing the same pas deux on Friday evening at YAGP's Gala. Boris nailed the fouettés with double and triple turns included, and she hit the iconic final pose with precision. Valentine was a perfect partner for her. He kept her on her leg during every sequence of waist pirouettes and promenades. In addition, this couple had personality plus that seemed sincere rather than coached. Having said that, though, I should note that these two future stars study with Kozlova at her Dance Conservatory of NY. She may well have imbued them with her legendary stage presence even as she taught them technique. Both Boris and Valentine have been invited to attend the Vaganova Academy in Russia for one year.
Other standouts among the young people were the Mary Gilbert Grand Prix winner Ildar Tagirov from Russia in a remarkably mature contemporary solo called "Narcissus"; Daniela Maarraoui, who received a company contract from the Columbia Classical Ballet Company, dancing Grahn's variation from Le Pas de Quatre; Seung Hyun Lee, Gold Medalist in the Classical Senior Division, who received a full summer scholarship to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Dance in Paris, dancing James' variation from La Sylphide; and Kye Cooley, soon to turn 13, the Division 1 Contemporary Gold Medalist who was offered a choice of three prestigious summer scholarships including Ailey, dancing a stunning solo entitled "Red Dolphin".
My only quibbles with the VKIBC experience were that the names of the composers were never mentioned, the names of the choreographers were mentioned but not printed on the playbill, and the final bows were not rehearsed or set to music as they were at YAGP. The VKIBC dancers, who had already changed into street clothes except for the last performers who were still in Black Swan pas de deux costumes, looked confused and surprised as Sappington urged them all to come on stage. They hesitantly formed a ragged line, taking hands and moving downstage to acknowledge applause only after Sappington asked them to do so. No flowers were presented. An evening that had been all but perfect ended with an unceremonious thud. VKIBC take note: You don't need to try to pull off a Grand Defilé in the manner of YAGP, but at least make the bows as professional as the rest of your offerings.
For a full list of the 2016 winners and the bios of the judges, visit http://www.vkibc.org/