Korean Dancers Excel in
VKIBC Competition

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Gwan Woo Park and Hee Won Cho, Korea, Silver Medalists. Click for more photos.

South Korean dancers dominated the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition (VKIBC), winning 13 of the 26 awards in the Classical Competition and five of the 20 prizes in the Contemporary Competition (see results on the VKIBC website).

I photographed the finals of the Senior (18-26) division Friday with very impressive performances from Hee Won Cho and Gwan Woo Park in the Don Quixote Pas de Deux and Da Woon Lee and Dong Hyeon Kwak in the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux. All won Silver Medals with Seung Hyun Lee winning the Gold Medal. Gwan was a high-flyer in his solos, with great height and separation on his double cabriole derriére, controlled turns in second position, with alternating single and doubles, with a few turns in attitude thrown in, and a breathtaking jeté passé to the side diagonal. His has nice technique, but needs to be more animated-smiling more would help. Hee was up to the task, with a rapid grand fouetté section with alternating singles and triples.

The Korean participants in the Senior division are from the Korea National University of the Arts along with eight participants from the Contemporary competition. It is impressive that the university has a number of dancers with professional level classical ballet technique. The university, established in 1993 as part of the Ten-Year Project for Cultural Development by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, is a national university dedicated to preparing young artists for artistic professions.

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Da Woon Lee and Dong Hyeon Kwak, Korea, Silver Medalists. Click for more photos.

Winners were first announced at the VKIBC Gala at Symphony Space in NYC Saturday evening. The bill featured gold medal performers along with guest appearances by New York City Ballet’s Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht; Washington Ballet’s Kimura Ayano and Brooklyn Mack; and Soo Bin Lee of Korea. Highlights of the evening, consisting of 23 short works:

  •  Eun Soo Lee performing Harlequinade. Eun was the Gold Medal winner in the Classical Student (13-14) division. Eun, from the Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Arts has outstanding control and technique, far beyond his young age. Noteworthy were his nicely controlled five pirouettes performed multiple times and saute de basque performed with bent knees done in character of a jester. My reaction to Eun was similar to seeing Isaac Hernández compete over 10 years ago as a 13-year-old. It was easy to see that young Isaac had a bright future; he is now a Lead Principal dancer at the English National Ballet.
  • Caroline Grossman of the Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory of NY, Gold Medalist in the Youth Division (11-12). It is amazing how advanced some young dancers are. Caroline is an example, dancing Grand Pas Classique with advanced technique, particularly on her turns with hands on hips.
  • Vivian Lorena Bobadilla and Willer Rocha of Pavilhão D in Brazil, Gold Medalists in Contemporary Duet, were dramatic, with unpredictable, interesting movements in the modern work Sense Fragmentado.
  • Yun Je Lee, Gold Medalist in Division III Contemporary from the Korean National University of Arts, displayed ample extension and dramatic flair in frenetic segments in Silent Blade.
  • Risa Mochizuki and Leonid Flegmatov (guest performers I think) from the New Jersey Ballet displayed nuanced dramatic touches to a haunting score in Retorno.
  • Ildar Tagirov, a 21-year-old choreographer from the Leningrad Center, had great energy and flair in an interesting work he choreographed, Narcissus. Ildar, winner in the Ukrainian version of So You Think You Can Dance, won the Mary Gilbert Grand Prix award, which carries a $7,000 prize.
  • Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht of NYCB set the stage with the first work of the evening, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Daniel demonstrated to the young dancers how it’s done, with great technique in addition to abundant gusto, radiating the joy of dance. The latter part is missing in some young dancers that have great technique. I marvel at how Daniel can pull off nice, high double tours without much preparation. He also had a solid tour/pirouette combination. After the performance, Daniel returned to his regular job at NYCB, performing Saturday evening. Erica displayed nice phrasing in her solos. Washington Ballet’s Ayano Kimura and Brooklyn Mack performed the Giselle Pas de Deux, a solid effort by both. Brooklyn is no stranger to ballet competitions, having medaled in the 2006 US IBC, 2009 Helsinki IBC, 2012 Boston IBC, 2012 Istanbul IBC, and 2012 Varna IBC.

Judges included Nina Ananiashvili, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Ben Stevenson, Martine Van Hamel, with Andris Liepa as the Chairman of the judges.

The gala paid tribute to Violette Verdy, former NYCB Principal Dancer and early mentor of VKIBC.