This year’s Genee was held for the first time in New Zealand. Karen van Ulzen was there.
Students from 12 countries came to compete at the Royal Academy of Dance Genee International Ballet Competition in New Zealand in 2012. But in the end the 12 finalists chosen came from close to home, either Australia or the host country. The 10 girls and two boys stepped out on the stage of the St James Theatre in Wellington in December in front of a full house and the three illustrious judges – David McAllister (artistic director of the Australian Ballet), Li Cunxin (artistic director of the Queensland Ballet) and Christopher Hampson (artistic director of the Scottish Ballet) – who awarded five medals in total.
The winner of the girl’s Gold Medal (NZ$9750) was Montana Rubin (15), a pupil of The Dance Spot in Sydney. The girl’s Silver (NZ$5750) was awarded twice: one to Ariana Hond (16), and one to Kaena Ahern (17), both pupils of the Mt Eden Ballet Ballet Academy in Auckland.
Of the two male finalists, the Gold went to Aurelian Child-de Brocas (15), a Kiwi who studies at the Alegria Dance Studios in Sydney, while the Silver went to Harry Davis (17), a pupil at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School.
In an interview immediately after the finals, adjudicator David McAllister said that, of the girls, Montana was an outright winner. “She was so incredibly solid. For someone so young – I didn’t realise she was only 15 – she was extraordinary. She did very difficult solos with such ease and beauty and assurance – it was extraordinary to see that clarity of technique. She had beautiful use of her feet, beautiful line and incredible poise for one so young.”
Of the two girls’ Silver medallists, he praised their “great attack and fearlessness”.
“I love seeing someone who takes the risks. They both had beautiful phrasing and musicality and attack – that’s why we felt we couldn’t split them.”
He was also full of praise for the male medal winners, but said that in the end the judges awarded the gold to Aurelian because “he’s such a beautiful performer.”
“I think that’s what we all really loved about him – his performance quality was so strong, and he is so musical and had a beautiful quality about his movement – that’s what we felt was really outstanding.”
He said that Harry was also a “beautiful dancer, with wonderful facility, beautiful legs and feet and a charming quality”.
“I think he’s going to really develop over the next couple of years, but he’s a particularly talented young gentleman”.
No Bronze medal was awarded to the girls, he explained, because he felt the two silver medallists couldn’t be separated. Awarding an additional bronze medal would have meant dividing the prize money up too much. “And we really did feel there was a clear line between the place-getters and the other finalists.”
Just getting to the final was an achievement in itself. All the contestants took part in a week-long program that included daily classes and solo coaching with the artistic director of the Royal Academy of Dance, Lynn Wallis. They also had to learn a solo that was commissioned by the RAD from guest choreographer Adrian Burnett. This solo was then performed in the finals, along with a variation chosen from a set repertoire. In addition, the contestants had to perform their own solo (Dancers’ Own), that could be choreographed by themselves or a teacher or peer.
The judges agreed that the standard was very high, but McAllister passed on a few technical tips to consider. The first was to do with the placement of arabesques. He reminded the students that the leg should be behind the body and not out to the side. He also mentioned the importance of “in between” steps, and that the feet should be articulated all the time. “Sometimes the beauty is in how you get on or off pointe”, he said. And lastly, he felt that in classical variations the students did not show as much expressiveness through their upper bodies as they had in their Dancer’s Own variations.
In a separate interview, Christopher Hampson reiterated that advice, and particularly the need for more “resistance when transitioning from one step to another. “Sometimes I think people achieve positions physically too easily, if that makes sense,” he said, “rather than resisting into a position with strength. It’s creating that illusion of the space around you having weight, rather than just snapping into position.”
He also expressed his disappointment that there weren’t more male candidates (there were only four, after one withdrew).
The Genee competition is only open to students of the RAD method who have passed RAD Intermediate, Advanced 1 as well as Advanced 2 examination in Classical Ballet (Advanced 2 with Distinction). However, the RAD recently expanded its reach to younger participants with the new Genee Dance Challenge (dubbed the Junior Genee). For this competition, regional heats are held around the host country, with prizes awarded at four levels, from Grade 4 (or 13 years and under) to Advanced 2). The NZ Challenge classes were held by Sara Roe (classical tutor at the New Zealand School of Dance) and the solos were rehearsed by Matz Skoog, former artistic director of the Royal NZ Ballet and the English National Ballet. Forty-three competitors made the final, which was also held at the St James Theatre and was judged by Lynn Wallis and Li Cunxin.
The winners were:
- Level 1: Larissa Kiyoto-Ward (taught by Heather Palmer)
- Level 2: Damen Astens (taught by Elizabeth Marler)
- Level 3: Jana Baldovino (taught by Helen Hunt)
- Level 4: Riki Kudo (taught by Philippa Campbell).
In announcing the winners, Li Cunxin praised their freshness and expressiveness, particularly of the younger candidates.
See www.danceaustralia.com.au for photo of all the finalists.
This article was first published in Dance Australia magazine February/March 2013